In a sea of new books, Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry managed to catch my eye. What personal finance geek wouldn’t want to read a snarky book that promises to bash Suze Orman, Robert Kiyosaki, David Bach, Jim Cramer, and Dave Ramsey? Does that count as Schadenfreude?
The problem with personal finance magazine writers and newspaper columnists. To start, the author, Helaine Olen admits that most personal finance columnists (including herself) start out knowing nothing about personal finance and are usually just freelance writers looking for any job. New York Times columnist and financial planner Carl Richards bought a house with a negative-amortization loan (not just interest-only, the loan balance actually increases each month…) and recently did a “strategic default” (walked away from his mortgage) after the home value dropped. Another NYT columnist Joe Nocera recently admitted that at 60 years old, he’s nowhere near retirement… his most recent move was to take out money from his 401(k) to remodel his house. I think this is actually an important lesson – the vanilla advice in the media is often just rehashed from elsewhere.
The problem with our money gurus. Personal finance itself is very simple. Spend less, earn more, invest for the long-term. It’s also boring. Therefore, you need people with charisma, salesmanship, and usually a gimmick to draw people in. Suze Orman is new-agey “people first, then money”. Kiyosaki and his fictional Rich Dad is “buy assets, not liabilities”. Bach is “automatic savings + latte factor”. Ramsey is “pay cash, debt is evil”. The book investigates and unearths the skeletons and inconsistencies of each of these gurus. The most important point to remember is that these people got rich by selling you books on how to be rich, not by actually getting rich themselves first! Dave Ramsey declared bankruptcy before becoming a money guru, even though now he tells people to not be a deadbeat and pay their bills.