Thursday, March 16, 2006

Review of Free Money to Change Your Life by Matthew Lesko



If you've ever watched any of those late-night infomercials, then you've probably seen Matthew Lesko a time or two. He's the sort of odd-looking guy with wild hair and glasses that wears a purple suit with yellow question marks all over it who very enthusiastically encourages people to buy his products. Lesko is known for publishing a series of books that purport to give the reader insight into how to get things for free: free money, free training, free products and services, etc. As you can tell from the title, Free Money to Change Your Life is along those same lines.

I had seen the infomercials before, but never really had any interest in buying this particular book. But as I was browsing at my local secondhand bookstore, I saw Free Money to Change Your Life on the bargain rack and decided to shell out a couple of bucks to give it a try. After all, it was a very thick volume, so I was pretty confident that I would be able to find some useful information in there that would at least be worth the discount price I paid for it.

The book starts out with a huge warning label on one of the very first pages telling me "this book is out of date." Hmmm, I thought that was a rather inauspicious beginning. I gave the rest of the warning label a cursory glance and saw that Lesko is simply pointing out that phone numbers, fax numbers, email addresses, and even website addresses constantly change these days, so he couldn't make any guarantees that the information in Free Money to Change Your Life would be current or accurate by the time it made it into the hands of a random reader. I thought that was fair enough (and true, since many of the email addresses and phone numbers that I personally tried resulted in dead ends), and continued on to the actual content.

The first part of the book is called "Lesko's Lessons on Life," and in it, he tells readers pretty much the opposite of what they probably want to hear. For example, he says that having more money won't necessarily solve all our problems, and that true success can only be achieved through hard work. He goes on to discuss even more platitudes ("it's never too late" to do what you want, "strive for failure" because that's the only way you'll learn how to succeed, and "the best information is free." This last gem is particularly interesting when viewed in light of the fact that the information contained in Lesko's book carries a cover price of $37.95. It seems that he markets the book in one way (think about the mindset of a person who would buy something called Free Money to Change Your Life), but then he immediately begins by essentially saying that money isn't really that important after all. This set off some red flags, but I plodded on.

After this introductory section, we get to the good stuff. The rest of the book is divided into separate topics that contain information specifically geared towards helping readers interested in those topics. The list is actually quite comprehensive, and includes sections for entrepreneurs, students, artists, writers, inventors, volunteers, and job hunters, to name just a few.

I read through many of the sections that personally appealed to me in order to see what kind of information Lesko offered. I was surprised to discover that there's not really much original text in these chapters. Instead, Lesko gives a brief overview of the topic and then dives right into to the various government agencies that offer grants or jobs related to the topic.

If there's not much original written content in the chapters, then why is the book so thick? Well, it's because Lesko gives listing after listing after listing of state and federal government agencies. Wherever applicable, Lesko's lists begin with Alabama and end with Wyoming. In other words, approximately one-fiftieth of the listed agencies can help you, since residency in a particular state is a usually a requirement for grant consideration.

Frankly, I have to say that I was extremely disappointed in Free Money to Change Your Life. Although the infomercials make it seem like the average person can get government grants simply by applying for them, that's really not the case at all. If you've ever applied for educational scholarships, then you know what I mean. In most cases, there are very strict qualifying criteria for applicants regarding age, income level, ethnicity, experience in a particular field, and things like that. For example, in the chapter called "I Wanna Travel," Lesko informs the reader of such programs as how people can get grants to study agriculture in Israel. Of course you have to be a postdoctoral fellow to do so!  

Another of Lesko's titles for a particular program in the Travel chapter is "A Caribbean Working Vacation." Sounds great on the surface, but when you read the requirements, you see that in order to be considered for the program, you have to be a doctoral student interested in doing "dissertation field research in Latin America and the Caribbean on grassroots development topics." Oh, well, I guess that rules me out.

For the grants that are pretty much open to anyone, you can expect fierce competition, with the edge probably going to those people who have experience in grant-writing, which is a special field unto itself.

Another thing I didn't like about the book was that some of the "advice" was so obvious that I couldn't believe it was actually included. For example, there is a chapter called "I Wanna Get Money and I'm Out of Work." One might expect this kind of book to direct you to lesser-known sources of financial aid, but that's not the case at all. Instead, Lesko merely lists the contact information for government-run unemployment agencies in every single state. Are there really any unemployed people out there who aren't aware of the existence of the unemployment program or who need this book to put them in contact with the proper agency in their state? Again, the inclusion of this chapter baffles me.

There are a couple of positive things that I can say about Free Money to Change Your Life. First of all, it's obvious that a lot of research went into the book. Although you could definitely track down the contact information for all of these same government agencies online or at your local library for free, you might not have the time or the inclination to do so. In addition, some people simply might not know where to begin looking for information when it comes to applying for grants. So as a time-saver or extremely basic reference guide, Lesko's book does appear to have some value.

Secondly, I think the book is fairly well-organized. The chapters are clearly identified and Lesko sticks to the topic at hand. So, again, if you use the book as a reference guide, you'll easily be able to find exactly what you're looking for within the pages.

I don't think the information Lesko gives is quite what the average person who buys the book is looking for. In addition, not everything contained in the book shows you how to get "free money," which is of course what the title proclaims. Some of the programs Lesko talks about, particularly in the chapter about starting a small business, are loan opportunities rather than grants. As everyone knows, loans have to be repaid and certainly shouldn't be considered free money.

Overall, I would recommend checking it out at your library and jotting down any information you need, borrowing the book from someone who has previously purchased it, or buying a used copy of the book instead of paying the original suggested retail price.



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