Reviews Column

Whether it’s latest book, high yield bank account, stock brokerage, or financial service or product, I try to review as many products as I can so that you don’t have to waste your money buying stuff that isn’t worth it. In general I’m a very forgiving reviewer, I’m just a laid back kinda guy, but I’m also a very frugal one, so I won’t recommend that you buy something unless it’s really worth the price.


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Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School

Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in SchoolWhen I first looked at the Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School by Andrew Hallam, I thought I was seeing yet another investment guru book that was going to collect dust on the shelf. When you throw around words like millionaire and wealth, it might catch the eye but I’ve seen enough of these to immediately think that the book was going to try to convince me to invest in something I didn’t fully understand. I was completely wrong.

Andrew Hallam isn’t an investment guru, he’s a teacher in Singapore who has amassed a net worth over a million dollars doing everything you’re supposed to. Spending less than you earn, investing in a smart way (keeping costs low), and all the various tenets we learn over our lifetimes that, honestly, should’ve been taught in high school. How your neighbor driving the Porsche is probably still paying off that car note and you shouldn’t be that envious of an asset that, in reality, is a liability that constantly loses value.

Best of all, the book is entertaining and easy to read. It’s not dry, it’s not boring, and it has plenty of anecdotes to keep you interested.

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Rigged Money by Lee Munson

Rigged Money by Lee MunsonIf you ever thought that the stock market was a rigged game, you’ll really enjoy this book. Lee Muson uses a mixture of anecdotes and data to illustrate why “Wall Street” is putting on a rigged game and that it needs “Main Street” to play along. The basic gist of the book is that your standard investment advice is wrong. Buy and hold is not a guaranteed strategy (it’s not even a strategy, because it only covers half the process – when are you supposed to sell?), diversification is often done wrong, and statistics lie. Your 401(k) might be nice, but you’re pretty much trapped. He devotes a very significant percentage of his book arguing the point that Wall Street has done all it can to make sure you play its game and that it beats you.

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Easy Economics: A Visual Guide to What You Need to Know

Easy Economics: A Visual Guide to What You Need to KnowAnyone with much experience with economics is not surprised it’s often derided as “the dismal science.” While the recent rise in popularity in behavioral economics, like Freakonomics and Predictably Irrational, has probably breathed a breath of fresh air into economics, much of it is still pretty dismal. Now mix in a little reality and it goes from being dismal to confusing. Fortunately, there’s a new book that seeks to explain a lot about economics and our economy in a way that is easy and, dare I say it, a little fun. It’s titled Easy Economics and it’s written by Leonard Wolfe, Lee Smith, and Stephen Buckles. It has fun illustrations (that’s the fun part) by Roy Doty.

Wolfe and Smith worked together at Fortune Magazine with Wolfe was an art director and Smith was a senior writer and editor. Buckles was the economics consultant and is currently teaches economics at Vanderbilt. Doty is an acclaimed cartoonist who has appeared in about a million different things.

The book is structured like a Q&A and separated into seven chapters:
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Review: Affluence Intelligence

Affluence IntelligenceIn the world of personal finance books, there are basically two types. The first type outlines exactly what you should do, explains why, and includes worksheets to help you get your financial life in order. The second type is a little “softer” and it discusses the mental and psychological aspects of you, your relationship with money, and helps to get your mind right when it comes to money. I think both are important. It’s not much different than the difference between going to a mechanic to get your engine tuned up and going to a defensive driving instructor so you are a safer driver.

Affluence Intelligence by Stephen Golbart, PHD, and Joan Indursky Difuria, MFT is that second type of book written with the approach of the first. It’s designed to help reshape your mind when it comes to money but it does it in a step by step manner that is easy to follow. The book may sound like it’s tackling a “soft” subject but it does it in a very structured and analytic way, which I find is rare in books in that second category.

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Review: Lighten Up by Peter Walsh

Lighten Up by Peter WalshIn recent years I’ve made a concerted effort to reduce the amount of financial clutter (and real clutter) in my life. I’ve discovered that as my life gets simpler, I’m able to enjoy the things that I bring into it. So when I received an email to take a looka t Peter Walsh’s new book Lighten Up, I was eager to see what it had to say.

Peter Walsh is a designer who is the expert organization on TLC’s Clean Sweep, among other things. He’s an organizational guru who is a regular guest on the The Oprah Winfrey and has his own show, Enough Already! with Peter Walsh, on The Oprah Winfrey Network. While these are all organizational tips for your space, does he have the chops to organize your financial life? I argue that he does and in part because his approach is similar to my own (towards financial clutter).

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Street Freak by Jared Dillian

Street Freak by Jared DillianStreet Freak by Jared Dillian is a memoir about Dillian’s life as a trader at Lehman Brothers, the famed financial services firm that went belly up in 2008. At the time, Lehman was the 4th largest investment bank in the US and its collapse was one of the most memorable moments of the financial crisis.

As regular readers will know, I really enjoy books that give us an “inside look” at an interesting industry (I’m afraid a book about librarians, as much as I love libraries, just wouldn’t cut it). It’s why I enjoyed On The Brink by Hank Paulson and The Weekend That Changed Wall-Street by Maria Bartiromo. In those cases, the books were behind the scenes look at the crisis itself. Dillian’s memoir takes place during the crisis (it starts with the start of his career, which goes all the way back to right before 9/11), and it includes the crisis itself and Lehman’s final years.

I’m still making my way through the book, which comes out this week, but it’s been a fun read. I’m surprised at how the clichés, which you always assume can’t possibly be true, are actually true, at least in Dillian’s experience. The single minded nature of the financial services industry – “make money and survive, lose money and die” – seems so callous that it can’t be real. But it seems to be.

I’m also surprised at how pedigree makes all the difference in that world and that Dillian, who wasn’t from a top notch school and didn’t play lacrosse at a prep school on Long Island, made it in on hard work and smarts.

It’s first and foremost a memoir and a bit of a guilty pleasure look at the financial industry from the inside.

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Wealth: Is It Worth It? by S. Truett Cathy

Wealth: Is It Worth It? by S. Truett CathyWhen it comes to books about money, I really enjoy books that are more about philosophy and approach, than ones that prescribe a particular way of doing something using charts and forms. Financially, we’re on solid ground and so the instruction manual type of book isn’t something that will give us the most value for our time spent reading. That said, Truett Cathy’s new book on wealth (Wealth: Is It Worth It?) is exactly in that first camp – it’s a philosophical book that happens to be a little bit about money and a lot more about an approach to life.

For those who don’t know, S. Truett Cathy is the founder of Chick-fil-A. If you don’t know what Chick-fil-A is, I’m very sorry for you because it’s probably one of my favorite fast food places. The food is great, the service has always been phenomenal, and I appreciate that they treat their employees very well. Cathy is also a very religious person and the fact that Chick-fil-A’s are closed on Sundays (yes, a food service business that does $4 billion in sales is closed 1/7th of the time) is irrefutable proof that the man lives what he says.

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Math for Grownups by Laura Laing

Math for Grownups by Laura LaingMath for Grownups by Laura Laing, a personal finance writer with a background in Mathematics and who once taught high school math for four years, is a book that seeks to reteach you all the arithmetic you forgot from school. And this book delivers on that simple promise.

One of the common complaints about our educational system is that high school is mostly preparation for college. If you don’t go to college, very few of the classes translate to real life (how many high schools offer any sort of personal finance education?). Even if you go to college, your high school classes are simply preparation for the college classroom, not college life. Nowhere is this more evident than in mathematics. You start with algebra, explaining in terms of X, Y, Z (and A, B, C when you need more variables), rather than more relatable terms (we do throw a bone in terms of “word problems,” but that’s generally not how it’s taught). Algebra is preparation for trigonometry, which is preparation for calculus. There are few daily life uses for calculus. :)

This book just repackages all that early arithmetic and puts it in terms that we deal with every day, from calculating a 15% tip to figuring out how much mulch you need for your 10′ x 5′ garden plot. It teaches you some shortcuts, like the Rule of 72, but mostly tackles daily math problems in a way that shows you why it was important to learn that stuff as a kid.

As you can problem tell from my review, this isn’t a life changing book on the level of The Richest Man in Babylon but it’s far more practical. If you’re the type of person who isn’t particularly good at math and often find yourself in tricky situations, this book is worth checking out. If you have a strong math background, you probably won’t get much out of this book outside of a few shortcuts and more clever ways to solve a problem.

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