It’s not often that I get to review books these days – most of the time when publicists find out I’m in Japan it’s no longer worth it for them to send me a book to review, but today I received an advance copy of Jane Bryant Quinn’s book Smart and Simple Financial Strategies for Busy People (January 9, 2006 release, $26). I’ve always enjoyed reader her writing – it’s usually good, solid financial advice with none of the bells and whistles that some of the other “financial expert authors” tend to accentuate.
As expected, the book delivers the same sound advice as her writing in Newsweek and other books. While not written for someone that has done quite a bit of personal finance reading, it’s an excellent foundation for those who are just learning to get their finances in order and need help getting all the basics taken care of.
The book has a “keep it simple” theme which is exactly what the vast majority of people need that are beginning to address personal finance issues. She sums them up succinctly in her first rules:
1. Only a few things work, and they work really well.
2. If you set up a system that runs automatically, you can’t fail
3. Success comes from starting right, then keeping your itchy fingers off.
While she doesn’t come out and say that saving money is the best investment, many of the “keep it simple” principles compliment this thought. From her “Better Investing” chapter:
…You don’t need 99 percent of what Wall Street is selling. It’s expensive, unsuitable, or stupid. Most investments are designed to profit the brokers, banks, insurance companies, not you. They should carry a warning label — “Beware! This financial product may be injurious to your wealth!”
Happily, a few sensible options have emerged from this vast financial wasteland. They’re simple investments that everyone can use, with dependable long-term results. “Simple” doesn’t mean “simpleminded.” Under the surface, these products are super-sophisticated and complex. They copy the strategies used by big-time professional investors who manage billion of dollars for pension funds and college endowments. Yet they’re easy to handle yourself.
Don’t let the word “easy” put you off, either. These aren’t mere stopgap investments, usable only until you have the time to find something better. They are better — offering lower risk and superior long-term returns. Plus, they fit perfectly into the lives of busy people who don’t want to worry about their money every minute.
I think this is sound advice for the vast majority of people. Keep it simple and concentrate on how to reduce expenses so that you can funnel more money into the investment and you’ll come out much farther ahead in the game than spending all your time researching different stock investing options.
The one area where she strays off course is when taking a veiled jab at good old David Bach:
…Plenty has been written about the “latte factor.” If you’re paying $3 every day for expensive coffee to drink at work, and cut it out, you’ll save $780 a year toward your retirement plan. But c’mon, cheap coffee costs $1.50, so you’ve really only saved $390 while hating it every minute.
The latte factor isn’t your problem…what’s squeezing you is the big stuff that you ladle onto your credit card…
While the comments made me chuckle and I totally agree that you need to go after the big stuff first while making the savings as painless as possible, disregarding the small stuff can mean years longer in debt for those carrying credit card balances. Instead of buying cheap coffee for $1.50, why not make your own quality coffee for $0.50 at home and put nearly $600 toward debt reduction while still having a daily coffee fix your enjoy? She would have done better going after some of David’s other ideas that make less financial sense.
Overall it’s a quality book that is well worth the read with solid basics that would put the vast majority in a better financial position by following the points than by trying to create a financial plan on their own. Even if you’re in complete control of your finances, it’s still a nice refresher course and may remind you of an issue or two you may have overlooked and that need to be addressed.
Bryant Quinn ends the book with her last rules:
1. You can’t see the future
2. If you’re saving money steadily, that doesn’t matter
3. All that really matters is getting more out of life