Book Review – “It Is Only Money: and It Grows on Trees!” by Cara MacMillan

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Cara MacMillan is an MBA and adjunct professor in the School of Business at Algonquin College in Ottawa, Canada.  In “It Is Only Money and It Grows On Trees!” she presents a story through the framework of a conversation in a fictional classroom led by the teacher, Catherine, and her students as they explore their own worldviews surrounding money.

As we go through the book, we hear from each of Catherine’s students about the way they were raised to view money from their unique backgrounds, and how that upbringing affects their behaviors into adulthood.  The predominant worldview lens that MacMillan chooses to filter the students’ experiences through is that of religion, which initially excited me since my faith is so integral to everything that I do.  I was a little disheartened when the first student, a Christian, shared the parable of the talents to start the book off.  MacMillan faithfully copies Jesus’ teaching from Matthew 25, but then proceeds to skewer it through the classroom discussion afterwards.  MacMillan seems to either have a misunderstanding of what a biblical “talent” was (a round disk made of gold or silver, used as wages) or is reading too far into the parable.  After the passage is read to the class, Catherine discusses which skills the students have and which ones are likely to make them money, at one point implying that God is more interested in “talent”ed soccer goalies than He is in faithful, responsible investing when it comes to material wealth.

I would have let the misinterpretation go, but MacMillan refers to the parable several more times throughout the rest of the book, each time applying the modern-day definition of “talent” rather than the historic definition.  She also proclaims that the bible teaches that money is evil, which is another misconception (“For the love of money is the root of all evil,” 1 Timothy 6:10, emphasis mine). The issue the bible warns against is a heart issue for the possessor of the money.  Money itself has no soul, no autonomy, and therefore can’t be good or evil on its own.  She then goes through the rest of the class, with one representative from Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, atheism, and even West African viewpoints.  Each student shares their upbringing’s main tenets, but with such little apparent research done on the teachings of Christianity, I don’t know how accurate MacMillan’s portrayal of the other religions are.

Religious misunderstandings aside, the rest of the book has some good insights on basic concepts surrounding money.  Catherine leads her class in a discussion about how our understanding of what money means impacts how we handle it.  If money means power, we feel powerless without it.  She also goes over investing in a way that’s more engaging than most of the other “how to invest” books I’ve read.  The conversational format made the “boring” parts easier to digest, and though there are technical terms, it’s clear that MacMillan has the heart of a teacher as she explains what they mean and why they’re important.

This book would be a good starting point for someone completely brand-new to the world of personal finance.  There’s a workbook in the back that’s sort of a “check for understanding” and makes the discussions more personal.  Personally, I feel that this is the most beneficial part of the book, since it redirects the conversation from between Catherine and her students to between MacMillan and the reader.  This is where the reader can really feel the impact of his/her decisions on his/her situation, and I wish it was somehow implemented within the main body of the book.

Overall, It Is Only Money: and It Grows on Trees! is a good launching point for someone who is getting interested in becoming more responsible with their money.  Just don’t stop there.

The Good: Sprinkled in throughout the book are great little nuggets of information for beginners on investing, risk, and business economics.

The Bad: The misinterpretation of Christianity (and I can only assume the other religions as well) is glaring, and severely inhibits my ability to accept the rest of what MacMillan is trying to present.  Additionally, I feel her writing style would be much better suited to a conversation between herself and her readers, rather than trying to invent a classroom for the purposes of presenting different viewpoints.  The students and Catherine all had the same voice, and the conversation was very wooden and robotic.  It read more like an after-school special than a classroom full of individual students with rich backgrounds.

Buy/Borrow/Pass: Borrow. Unless you happen to see this book in a library or at a friend’s house, I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to search for it.  It is certainly a quick read, I finished it in two nights, and I don’t feel they were wasted by reading this book, but it just didn’t inspire me enough to want more after I was finished.

Disclaimer:  I received a free digital copy of this book from a representative of the author for the purposes of this review.  I have not received any sort of compensation, with the exception of the book itself, in exchange for this review, and all opinions are my own.

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