Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry
Helaine Olen is a freelance journalist who has been interviewed on countless talk shows and radio stations on the topic of this book, which apparently caused quite a furor. The book is a call to action more than anything, because while it debunks the advice offered by most personal finance gurus of recent years, it certainly does not provide any answers to our problems. Olen highlights that the most important aspects of the financial services industry go on behind the scenes and thus don’t make the headlines.
The book’s main point is that none of our nation’s economic problems are going to be solved on an individual level, but must be addressed on a national level, something I believe most of us were already aware of. In arriving at that point, Olen accuses personal finance gurus of talking out both sides of their mouths as they played into our sense of personal guilt and shame over going bankrupt, losing our houses, running up credit card debt, and offered us false reassurances and empty empowerment as they personally benefitted from our desperate need to believe in those promises.
Olen takes on many famous and popular gurus such as Suze Orman, David Bach, Robert Kiyosaki, devoting entire chapters in the book to each, while supporting a few more traditional personal finance experts such as Sylvia Porter, Liz Weston, and Jane Bryant Quinn. Olen points out that while the gurus’ fame grew to cultish heights, many of the more prescient financial experts’ warnings were ignored, such as Notre Dame Professor Teresa Ghilarducci, who defended traditional pensions against the onslaught of 401K plans and whose name is hardly a household word. Olen’s evaluations are fair (and often hilarious!), presenting both the positive and negative aspects of each person’s approach. Olen’s main beef with the gurus is that they tried to demonize debt, make it seem like a personal failure, when it is actually due to a failure of the system, which needs to change.
The author devotes a chapter to the financial literacy movement, which many have held up as a solution but which she attacks as an unscrupulous attempt to skirt the main problem. On pg 217, she states “If the financial services industry were truly interested in promoting financial literacy, they would offer up products that are easy to understand…” In fact, Olen states, “an educated consumer is, for many firms, their worst customer” (p 216). Olen goes on to describe how many companies refer to their customers as goldfish or deadbeats based on the potential profits to be made from them.
Olen doesn’t mince words when it comes to the mess we’re in, and even worse, what is coming. She very baldly states that as individuals there is absolutely nothing we can do to fix our financial situation because the systems we are depending on are unpredictable, unregulated and unfair. Our only hope, according to Olen, is to unite, protest, and demand that the government provide us with a saner solution. If we belong to the lucky few who don’t have any problems, we cannot turn our heads and walk away—it is all our problem. As George Costanza said in a Seinfeld episode “You know, we’re living in a society!” and if we go down, we’re all going down together.
ISBN 13: 978-159184-489-1 (cloth)
292 pages; $27.95
The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches: A Practical (and Fun) Guide to Enjoying Life More by Spending Less by Jeff Yeager
I almost missed the funniest part of this book, and you will too, unless you pay attention to the publisher’s credits page. You know, the page where the author, in the case of a novel, claims “this is work of fiction and is not intended to represent, etc, etc.” Yeager puts his own humorous spin on this disclaimer—a must-read! I think these few paragraphs alone justify the purchase price of the book, but you may disagree! (In which case, check out the book from your local library! I’m sure Jeff would approve of your thriftiness!)
Yeager’s irrepressible personality is inseparable from his advice; it’s hard to ignore his presence in the book, so if you don’t like him, you may not like reading about his ideas. This is a risky choice to make as a personal finance writer; sometimes the reader has a hard time separating the good ideas from the author’s voice. But it certainly pays off in Yeager’s case because his light-hearted approach to thriftiness is such an irresistible breath of fresh air.
Although other personal finance/frugality gurus also rely heavily on their personalities to put forward their messages, Yeager will probably not like lumped in with other “gurus” because he’s obviously a very independent-minded person and he advocates that contrariness in others as well.
I guess he’s best described as a frugal anti-guru. Yeager’s unique perspective on personal finance is to try to teach us how to be happy making less money, which he thinks we can achieve by “making choices, not…sacrifices.” He states “I believe that thrift can be learned, but it involves a process, a philosophy, a way of life, not just a checklist of ways to save money.”
This book is full of useful strategies, suggestions and points to ponder about everything from price bargaining to prepaying mortgages, from car shopping to traveling, from investing to philanthropy. Yeager uses his many years of experience as nonprofit agency manager and his inborn miserliness to help us learn how to make more from less in every aspect of our lives, with the ultimate goal of a better life for everyone on the planet.
Yeager may have said his piece here, but I think he has many more books in him yet. I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next!
Other Stretcher readers’ reviews of this book are available in the Forums section of the DS community under “Site, Product and Book Reviews:” http://community.stretcher.com/forums/23.aspx .
Yeager has also written about some of his ideas in the Dollar Stretcher. If you missed them, you can find his articles in the author index:
Make sure and visit the author’s website for more Yeagerisms:
Review by Beatriz Fernandez
The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches:A Practical (and Fun) Guide to Enjoying Life More by Spending Less
By Jeff Yeager
No, dear DS readers, these are not the confessions of a frugal serial killer! Despite the catchy title, it is an accurate one—this is insider information straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak: tips for purchasing meat from a former career butcher. Better yet, advice from a tightwad butcher who is willing to impart his knowledge!
Even if you don’t know one side of the cow from another, in fact, especially if you don’t know, this useful guide will help you choose cheaper cuts of meat and still dine like a queen/king! If you always suspected that all those different labels for meat were meant to confuse the consumer, you were right, as it turns out. Using his 31 years of experience as a butcher, Smith blows away those misleading merchandising tricks and reveals the truth behind meat-marketing.
With food prices going up through the roof with no relief in sight, this book will prove especially valuable to the frugal consumer. The author divides the book into sections for beef, chicken, pork, lamb and veal, with saving alternatives suggested for each cut. Even savvy meat shoppers will find some new ideas here.
Smith also includes a much-needed glossary for us newbies, an index, and an appendix with recipes, turkey purchasing tips and advice for leftovers, a lesson on butcher etiquette (how to treat your butcher so he/she will treat you!) and “Tools of the Trade” a section on how to purchase and maintain knives and other equipment.
A good book always leaves you wanting more and in this case it proves true; for those of us starting from scratch, our meat education could use even more details. We await a possible second volume; perhaps the “Further Confessions of a Butcher?”
Make sure and visit the author’s website, www.all-about-meat.com, for even more tips or to ask a question.
Confessions of a Butcher:
Eat Steak on a Hamburger Budget and Save $$$
2006 (Revised ed.)
Ark Essentials Publishing
ISBN 13: 978-0-9669280-1-3
The editors of Woman’s Day (of which Mary Hunt is a contributing editor) have compiled an impressive list of tips in this easy to use, handy volume. Mary Hunt, known to all frugal readers as the author of Debt-Proof Living, Tiptionary, The Complete Cheapskate, and many others, contributes a foreword and material throughout; her likeable style is very much in evidence here.
The tips are organized in three comprehensive sections:
Assessing Your Financial Picture
This section helps you evaluate your current money profile, your money personality (by comparing your financial style with the Desperate Housewives’ characters) and examines excuses we all use to avoid dealing with our money issues. There’s a good chapter on “Money and Marriage” and all the issues thereof, and advice on transitioning into a saving mentality.
Save More, Spend Less
Once your mind is made up to change, this section contains the nuts and bolts on how to effect that change by getting out of debt and beginning to save; it contains a “Five-Step Plan to Take Charge of Your Money” and advice on how to avoid common money blunders, including the “Biggest Financial Mistakes Women Make.” The rest of this section is just jam-packed with tip after tip on saving money in every category you can imagine. Lots of useful and specific suggestions here!
After all the saving begins, this section advises you on how to increase your new-found wealth and how to bring in additional income. Investing tips, financial education for children, part-time jobs and yard sales are all covered here.
The book ends with a list of online resources and an extensive bibliography of print sources. Living Fiscally Fit is very obviously geared toward the female reader but any reader can benefit from most of its advice. The book’s simple, straightforward style is very appealing and makes it a valuable addition to your financial library, though the lack of an index does have some impact on its usefulness. Better break out the highlighter for this one, as Mary Hunt suggests in the foreword!
Living Fiscally Fit:
1000 Ways to Get Out of Debt & Build Financial Wealth
with a foreword by Mary Hunt
MSN Money’s “Money Talk” columnist Liz Weston delivers
comprehensible and coherent advice on managing every aspect of your financial
life. Because much of her advice
revolves around e-banking, e-billing, e-everything, this book will appeal most
to younger but sophisticated beginners in personal finance.
Weston starts out with an extensive section on “Setting up
Your Financial Life” which gives advice on how to attack your finances like you
would any other project. She devotes
chapters to spending plans, managing credit cards, retirement planning and
investing, saving for college, buying insurance, buying homes and cars, and
hiring financial advisers.
The chapter on credit cards was especially notable because
of the unorthodox tactics she presents (but doesn’t advocate) and also because
of her explanation about how the current statistics on debt are misleading.
(Hint: it’s both better and worse than you think.)
Another stand-out chapter, “Be a Savvy Shopper,” is unusual to find in a personal finance book! This chapter contains valuable concrete advice
on how to complain effectively when you feel you get bad service, and
strategies for dealing with automated customer service systems.
Weston concludes with two chapters devoted to the mental
aspects of money: how to change your
mind-set and how to set goals for yourself.
Especially effective is the final section on how to get what you want. Weston
includes questions to ask yourself such as:
“What’s standing between me and what I want?”
“What’s my plan for overcoming each of these obstacles?”
“How can I make these changes happen sooner?”
She sums it up very well:
“This is the one life you get.
Make sure you get what you really want.”
The book ends with a brief but well-selected “Resources and
Recommendations” section and a good index.
Note to DS readers: under
the Savings Tips section of the appendix, she gives kudos to the Dollar
Stretcher and its readers! “Publisher
Gary Foreman, a former Certified Financial Planner, was running a “Web 2.0”
community-fueled site many, many years before it became the latest Internet
trend. Much of the content here is
contributed by readers, and you can’t beat the extensive library of tips and
suggestions for stretching a buck.”
How to Simplify Your Finances and
Get What You Want Out of Life
By Liz Pulliam Weston
Setting Course to a Simpler Life
Sometimes you just want to read a simple, straightforward book that gets right to the point. Ironically enough, it’s difficult to find simple books about simplicity. Some authors seem to think they have to spice up the simple message by adding lots of supplemental content: anecdotes, graphs, worksheets, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with that and sometimes they fill the bill but sometimes it gets tiresome. It’s also common to find books about personal finance offering up continuing education in the form of workshops, websites, or cds.
Covell delivers his simple statement in 74 pages. He promises in the preface not to clutter up the book with extensive examples or anecdotes and he follows through on that promise. His personal story is summed up in an optional-read 13-page epilogue.
This book is worth reading because it records in a convincing way the value-shift of a thinking man from consumerism to what he terms rational simplicity. Covell starts out living life as many of us do, a youth with no thought of the future, some debt accumulation from going to school, a modest job, a desire to buy a house at some point. He tries thriftiness but makes little progress until he begins to change the way he thinks about money. As his thinking changes, his values change and he starts making progress with his debts and his net worth. Once he realizes his goals, he ceases to work for a salary and continues to live his life according to his new values, based on the lessons he has learned.
Covell does outline how he reached his goals but he stresses that each of us must find our own way. He doesn’t want to prescribe or direct, simply give us something to think about, offer suggestions and share the lessons he learned along the way on his own journey. “There is no single answer for what will bring happiness. Only you can define it” he states, “This book encourages you to spend less time pursuing material goods and more time pursuing your dreams.”
Work Less, Live More:
the Way to Semi-Retirement
2007 (2nd Edition)
ISBN 13: 978-1-4133-0705-4 (pbk.)
Dropping out of the rat race may seem
an unattainable dream to most people, especially in these stressful
economic times, but Clyatt manages to show us ways in which many people
of differing economic status have managed to do so successfully.
Rather than working ourselves into an early heart attack, Clyatt
proposes we develop an active plan to gradually reduce our working
hours and semi-retire years, even decades, before the traditional
Clyatt’s book will appeal to several groups: those in their 20s
and 30s who anticipate leaving their full-time work grind some day,
those in their 40s and 50s who already may have reached the burn-out
stage, and those who already are semi-retired or retired but who
suspect they aren’t taking full advantage of their situation.
This updated edition begins with a fairly long but meaty
introduction: why we go sour on work, how to escape boredom via
semi-retirement, how to make best use of the book and some portraits of
typical semi-retirees. He also provides a quick summary of all the
Chapter One explores the concept of work and leisure in our and
other times and cultures; This approach is effective because it forces
the reader to reexamine preexisting ideas and question them. “Live
Below Your Means,” (Chapter Two) goes on to attack the mathematics of
semi-retirement and how to prepare for it and manage it. Chapter Three
deals with investing options and portfolio building; the next chapter
discusses safe withdrawal rates (always a point of contention among
financial advisers.) Tax reduction and tax benefits for semi-retirees
are the focus of Chapter 5. “Do Anything You Want But Do Something,”
the sixth chapter, is filled with wonderful suggestions on making the
transition to semi-retirement, and options for part-time jobs amenable
to the semi-retired lifestyle.
In the final two chapters, Clyatt briefly addresses the common
challenges semi-retirees face and gives advice for leading a simple but
fulfilling life with the extra time we have carved out for ourselves as
Clyatt doesn’t paint semi-retirement as the be-all and end-all of
achieving happiness (which it isn’t) but approaches it very
realistically as a solution for some people some of the time. He
encourages you not to limit your thinking, and to question all his
suggestions. He also takes care to address all the diverse situations
people can be in, so whatever your particular problem is, you will find
some useful information here. Throughout the book he suggests additional
resources in the form of books, articles, scholarly studies, websites
and online forums and there is an Appendix at the end of the book with
For those of you who like workbooks, Clyatt has also written a companion workbook, The Work Less, Live More Workbook..