How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously

Author:   Jerrold Mundis
Publisher/Date:   Bantam Books / 1988 (Revised 2003)
ISBN:   0-553-28396-0 (Paperback, 255 pp.)
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The back cover of Jerrold Mundis' book How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously states that its methods are "...based on the proven techniques of the national Debtors Anonymous program." Below that, though, you read that the book isn't "...sponsored or endorsed by Debtors Anonymous."

So apparently, when it comes to handing out endorsements, the folks running Debtors Anonymous aren't particularly bright.

I can see absolutely no reason why anyone whose methods formed the basis for a wonderful work like this wouldn't want their name further somehow attached to it. In fact, if the people at DebtAnon don't hand out a copy of Mundis' book to each of their clients, then DebtAnon is shortchanging everyone involved. (In 2010, reader Frances emailed with her thoughts on this, which I share in my blog post "Mundis and the 12-Steppers." Feel free to take a look.)

The paperback edition is 255 pages long, and honestly, this is one of the very few personal-finance books that I've found difficult to put down. The book's twenty-three chapters are each broken down into small subsections, often no longer than four or five paragraphs apiece. There's a sort of bumpiness to it, but on the whole, it works nicely. Pulling yourself out of a debt quagmire isn't exactly a smooth ride, either.

The following passage comes from Chapter 6, "Laying the Foundation." It is representative of Mundis' writing style:

In the course of this chapter, you have laid a strong foundation on which to build your recovery. You have surrendered to the fact that you have a debting problem; taken steps against denial; recognized that bankruptcy is not a solution; and begun a thirty-day period free from worry about debt.

Here is a simple action you can take to complete your foundation work:


Not one.

  • Don't borrow $2 from a friend.
  • Don't accept a service you plan to pay for later.
  • Don't take a loan from a bank.
  • Don't charge anything on your credit card.

    This is easy. Anyone can do it. Just go through today, this one small twenty-four hour period, without taking on any new debt in any form. No matter when you're reading this, and regardless of whether or not you've begun your thirty-day grace period or taken any other action, just do not incur any new debt today. If something is absolutely essential − which is rarely the case − find another, nondebting way to get it. Or defer it for twenty-four hours.

    Fine. Now close this book, enjoy the rest of the day, and begin reading again tomorrow.
  • Mundis' second-person narration speaks directly to the reader. Some people will likely be turned off by the ever-present direct addressing of the reader as "you," but Mundis' message requires it. The author's words carry an exposed, been-there-done-that vibrance that could come only from personal experience — and personal struggle — with his own debts, and the personal shortcomings that caused them. I've noticed that practically all authors of financial self-help books point out that that they themselves dug out of their own money pits (Good for you, but can you communicate with the rest of us?). So far, Jerrold Mundis is the only writer I've come across that successfully harnessed the energy of his personal struggles and transcribed it to the written word. His writing carries a forcefulness that only first-person knowledge could provide.

    That forcefulness is, in my opinion, where this book sets itself apart. (Suze Orman's work reaches a silimar transcendence on occasion, but Mundis instills it on every single page, and his words don't ever come off as self-aggrandizing, which Ms. Orman's sometimes do.)

    It's education, yes, and it's self-help, but it's engrossing. It's direct. It's pointed and sharp. And as each page goes by, you just know that it's time to turn off the TV or radio in the background. This guy is worth your listening and full attention. Mundis' skills as a novelist are evident, and I'd surmise that they helped him greatly in raising the "readability factor" of this particular book.

    As financial self-help books go, this one is rare: It's dirt cheap, and worth many multiples of its price. My paperback edition (published 1988) shows a cover price of $6.99, but How to Get Out of Debt is worth about a hundred times that much, I'd say, when I consider how much viable content it offers. You could read some competing books in this category that might cost you $16 or or $20 or more, and not get half as many go-back-and-read-that-again motivational passages and useful tactics as Mundis provides.

    How to Get Out of Debt may not be the absolute, top floor of the personal-finance realm, but I'll say here that the elevator doesn't go much higher.

    Michael • April, 2003 (Updated April, 2010)

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