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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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 clichĂ©s, 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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Review: Smart is the New Rich by Christine Romans

Smart is the New Rich by Christine RomansI’ve been a little behind on reviewing books and so this next review is on a book published last year. It’s Smart is the New Rich by Christine Romans and it’s a 299 page book published by Wiley. The book is a general personal finance book, as opposed to one focused on a specific subject like debt or investing, and written by someone who has covered the range extensive.

Christine Romans is the host of Your Bottom Line, CNN’s Saturday personal finance show, and regular contributor to CNN’s AMerican Morning and other CNN programs. She’s had a career in personal finance journalism and received an Emmy Award in 2004 for “Exporting America,” a Lou Dobbs Tonight investigation on the impact of globalization on the U.S. worker.

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TurboTax 2011 Review

TurboTaxI had the opportunity get a demonstration of the new TurboTax 2011 online tax preparation package and I came away very impressed with the level of automation they included. Last year, the most impressive new additions was the ability to flag certain parts (which would’ve prevented me from having to file an amended return after I put in a placeholder value) and their audit scanning feature (looks for red flag mistakes like mismatching numbers).

This review of TurboTax applies to the software used to handle Tax Year 2010 returns.

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Review: Make It Fast, Cook It Slow by Stephanie O’Dea

Make It Fast, Cook It Slow by Stephanie O'DeaWe’ve had a slow cooker in our kitchen repertoire for several years now and in that time we’ve made fewer than a dozen dishes in it. For those keeping score at home, that’s about one every three or four months. The reason we don’t use it as much as we probably could has to do with our lack of creativity in the slow cooking department. Our cooking is very much dominated by our ideas. We think of things we enjoy and we try to make them, or dishes similar to them, which leads us to a lot of stews, which take just as long to cook, but never to stews in a slow cooker. I chalk it up to having not grown up with a slow cooker (it’s not prominent in Chinese cuisine) but the reality is I’ve had no inspiration, since I love plenty of things I didn’t grow up eating.

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Review: The 10 Commandments of Money by Liz Weston

The 10 Commandments of Money by Liz WestonThe 10 Commandments of Money by Liz Weston is a personal finance book that looks at ten money principles and how they’ve changed in our post-bubble economy. At the start of each chapter, Weston shares the “old-school” mantra, follow by the “bubble economy” mantra, and shares with us the new rules. The chapter then launches into a personal finance principle, she calls them commandments, that I consider essential in a good personal finance system. The key insight is that for each commandment, the new rules represent a more efficient and effective way to implement the old rules. I think this will be clearer when we look at an example later on.

Quick disclaimer: I’m friends with Liz Weston so please keep that in mind when you read my review. Heck, if you look on page 13, she mentions Bargaineering as one of her favorite sites… so just know I’m biased because she’s awesome. 🙂


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Be a Dividend Millionaire by Paul Rubillo

Be a Dividend Millionaire by Paul RubilloBe a Dividend Millionaire by Paul Rubillo is not just a book about dividend investing – there are a million of those. Be a Dividend Millionaire is a personal finance book that shows you how to integrate dividend investing as a way of building wealth on top of a solid foundation that everyone needs to have.

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