Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry
by Helaine Olen
Americans have it ingrained in our cultural DNA that if one works hard enough and believes hard enough, success will inevitably occur. If the person fails to achieve their goal, then they weren’t truly giving it their all. Unfortunately, this belief has also influenced our attitude towards our personal financial lives and retirement savings efforts. This focus on individual effort separates the power of outside forces from our own personal results. If my 401k grew like Topsy, it meant I chose winners; if it did poorly, then I failed to select the “correct mix”. The impersonal market is excused from all responsibility and as a result, so is the personal finance industry that advises us poor souls.
In 1997, Helaine Olen was a general reporter when the Los Angeles Times hired her to write their new Money Makeover series. Her new boss felt it was easier to teach a reporter the subject of finance than to teach a financial person how to write. Over a decade later she tracked down some earlier interviewees to see how they fared. Did the advice they received make a difference?
In the book, Olen traces the rise of the self-help financial literacy movement from it’s founding mother, Sylvia Porter, to modern dream sellers such as Suze Orman and “Latte Factor” David Bach. She focuses on the history of the personal finance industry, not teaching financial theory, so the book is easily accessible to all. Her insights are fascinating and her writing style is engaging. I heartily recommend this book.