“The New Good Life”

You probably don’t know who John Robbins is. Me too. But that was until I came across one of his books a few weeks ago. And I have got to say his life has been nothing short of intriguing.

I am sure you have heard of Baskin-Robbins. It’s one of the world’s largest chain of ice-cream specialty shops and John Robbins is the son of one of the two founders, Irv Robbins. Yup, he was born into riches and was slated to take over a company that was making millions of dollars even in the sixties.

But amazingly, he rejected both the opportunity to take over the business and his father’s wealth at the age of 21! So to pay for his university studies, he washed dishes for twenty hours a week and upon graduation, he moved to an island off the coast of British Columbia with his wife. He bought some acres of land in a remote corner of the island and lived there for the next 10 years.

It was a life of simplicity where they grew most of their own food and made do with the most basics of furniture. They conducted some yoga classes and retreats that made them about $2,000 a year for that decade and generally spent only about half of that each year. Each fall, they would spend about $300 on a bulk purchase of beans, grains and nuts that would last for a year.

From the average man’s viewpoint, John probably lived in poverty during the seventies. However, for John, he was deeply inspired by Thoreau and reckoned that that decade was one of the best of his life. For the first time in his life, he felt enriched.

His life got even more interesting as he wrote a book Diet For A New America that became a bestseller. He then had two grandchildren with special needs and to ensure their future financial needs would be well taken care of, John invested in a well-established fund. Unfortunately, the manager of that fund turned out to be one Bernard Madoff and he literally lost all his financial assets.

So it’s a story of riches to rags and then riches to rags. Thankfully, over the past few years, John’s financial situation has somewhat stabilised again.

And instead of listening to inexperienced me preach about frugality, early semi-retirement and financial independence, you get to hear from this impressive man as I summarise some of his key writing in his book: The New Good Life: Living Better Than Ever In An Age Of Less.    


Different Money Types

According to John Robbins, all of us have different dispositions and attitudes towards money and it’s imperative for us to know our own money archetypes so that we can understand the strengths and improve upon our weaknesses. Here’s the six:

  • Savers: Frugal people who knows where to get cheaper gas and generally don’t waste stuff. The darker side appears when frugality descends into miserliness and everything else is sacrificed for the sake of saving money.
  • Innocents: Warm, creative people who have little skill or understanding of the basic laws of money. Carefree with money. The darker side appears when financial woe happens and disrupts their entire life. They then become dependent on others for financial help.
  • Performers: These people focus on external signs of wealth and beauty and for them, attention is equivalent to love. The darker side appears when shopping goes overboard in their quest to impress. Envy could also destroy relationships with others.
  • Sensualists: Happy when spending money to provide themselves or others with pleasure. Enjoys throwing parties. The darker side appears when spending becomes compulsive and the pleasure derived from spending money diminishes, leading to a feeling of emptiness.
  • Vigilants: All about responsibilities and hard work. Likes an environment with rules and directions and keep track of their financial records. The darker sides appears when the vigilant becomes pre-occupied with finances and can go emotionally numb or worse, intensely focusing on what could go wrong.
  • Givers: Will always help a friend in need and might even compromise his own goals in the process. The darker sides appears when this “giving” is out of guilt and his self-worth is also contingent on giving, leading to spiraling debts.

Yours truly has learnt some ways (provided in the book) on how to become a more evolved Saver and Vigilant and ensure that these “darker sides” are kept at bay.

4 Decisions that Make or Break Your Finances 

Sometimes, we sweat too much about the small stuff when we’re trying to save money. Like checking 20 different locations to find out which place has the cheapest parking when you’re around town or trying 10 different methods to eke out that last bit of toothpaste. John Robbins believe it’s much more useful to spend time thinking over our decisions on these 4 major issues instead:

  1. House: The main decision is how big a house do you want or better yet, need. Besides the higher price tag at the point of purchase, there is the additional cost of renovations, furnishing, and of course, heating or cooling it. It’s not just about the money only since a larger house requires more time, energy and resources (if you’re concerned about the environment, which you should) to maintain.
  2. Transport: This is especially useful in the context of Singapore with sky-high car prices. John recommends some useful ways to reduce the cost of transport. If you’re in a multi-car household, think about how to operate a one-car household. Besides lightening your wallet, buying used also means no sniffing of vinyl and plastic out-gassing present in most new cars. And how about exploring public transportation or cycling as possible alternatives?
  3. Food: Some households spend thousands of dollars on food and dining out in fancy restaurants is almost a daily affair. Is it necessary to eat a slab of steak everyday? Eating low on the food chain is not only cheaper, but it’s likely to be healthier and less demanding on your stomach. And instead of relying on others, how about cooking yourself? John recommended some nutritious and cheap food like carrots, sweet potatoes and tofu and even provided some simple recipes on how to prepare a tasty dish using these ingredients.
  4. Children: The more children you have, the more costly it is to bring up all of them. Basic math. And there’s the mommy tax where mothers are somehow discriminated at the workplace. Promotion prospects and wage increases are often compromised directly (maternity leave) or indirectly. In our increasingly overpopulated world, a smaller family could mean more resources and time per child. That could also be ideal towards raising healthier and more engaged kids.



As usual, I managed to get this book The New Good Life: Living Better Than Ever In An Age Of Less at our libraries and do check it out since my short summary hardly does it justice.  🙂

2 thoughts on ““The New Good Life”

  1. B

    Hi 15hww

    I’ve heard of this book previously.

    Glad that you emphasized it once again. I will find time to read it, it should be a very good one.

    1. My 15 HWW Post author

      Hi B,

      I am surprised you have heard of this book since I have never seen it on the local bestsellers list.

      It’s a pretty thick book and besides finances, there’s a good focus on health and environment impacts that arise from our decisions too.