Are most personal finance books a waste of time?

Why most personal finance books are a waste of time

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If you are reading this article, chances are that you have read a personal finance book at some point in your life. At Inveduco, we have read dozens of financial books over the years, in addition to hundreds of articles. We have reached a point where we can tell whether a book will be worth our time simply by reading the first few pages of every chapter. Unfortunately, there is no correlation between the number of pages and the amount of information found in a book. This, of course, applies to more than just personal finance books, but they can be some of the worst offenders. If we had to come up with a list of the top 10 topics that most people are interested in, money would certainly be one of them. People are interested in making (more) money, investing it, stretching their dollars, increasing their net worth, and protecting their nest egg to make it last for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, most people barely understand the basics of money. As a result, an entire industry has developed around the area of personal finance and many so-called “financial experts” have been selling information, products, and services presumably designed to help people attain their financial goals.

However, too many personal finance books contain frustratingly little practical information and they often follow a similar pattern. The first few chapters are usually designed to wet the reader’s appetite by making promises of a financially secure future, free from all worries and stress. These chapters are often full of stories and examples of people who have “made it”. In most cases, the author either provides only a rough description of the steps taken by those individuals or gives examples of methods which no longer apply in today’s economy. It is important to understand that while some financial principles remain true regardless of market conditions, financial opportunities are not constant. For example, back in the early 80s you could earn a guaranteed 12% interest or more in a Money Market Account but many people today are struggling to earn 7 or 8% a year in the stock market. You will also notice that many of the methods provided in these books are hard to replicate. For example, we have read hundreds of stories of individuals who have invented or created new products or started companies and those stories are provided as “proof” that anyone can make it and become wealthy. However, for every Mark Zuckerberg there are many more people who have come up with creative ideas but have failed to make any money from them. It obviously takes more than having a great idea in order to become wealthy (and coming up with a great idea isn’t easy either!). The bottom line is that many of the examples provided in these books are of little benefit to the reader who is trying to find practical ways of increasing their net worth.

Another aggravating aspect of many personal finance books is that the first few chapters often make reference to future chapters with promises of practical information (they usually sound something like: “And in the following chapters, you will learn the simple secret to XYZ risk-free investment…”). However, as the reader progresses through the book, the promises rarely materialize. Page after page, the reader gets more and more “pumped up” with motivational information only to be eventually let down once they realize that the “secret methods” –if they are ever revealed at all- are not as easy or risk-free as the first few chapters implied. As the old adage goes, “if it sounds too good to be true it probably is”. These books will often repeat the same information ad nauseum, which wouldn’t be so bad if they actually contained useful and practical information. Instead, they keep on making reference to future chapters in the book. Worse yet, sometimes chapters later in the book will point the reader to earlier chapters to get a “refresher” on a previous topic!

We should give those authors some credit because writing a book with no useful information takes both talent and a lot of imagination! Sadly, while the author is probably laughing all the way to the bank, most readers are left with an empty feeling and a lighter wallet. Yet, amazingly enough, there are plenty of readers who not only enjoy reading these books but they often post positive reviews for them on sites like Amazon.com, even though their finances have not improved in any way as a result of reading the book. These positive reviews will, in turn, convince even more readers to buy the book.

There is also a category of personal finance books that constantly emphasize the “psychology” of wealth. Authors of such books will present the reader with useless platitudes and pop-psychology (e.g. “The first step to achieving financial independence is to believe in yourself”). They will usually throw in a few practical tips throughout the book, while simultaneously insisting that wealth is achieved primarily by changing one’s psychology, rather than through hard work and specific, practical steps. One has to wonder whether the reason these authors focus so much on psychology is because they themselves don’t know how to achieve wealth (other than through books sales!). The practical information in these books can usually be summarized in 5 to 20 pages at most. To be fair, psychology does play a role in the attainment of financial independence (for example, we all need to control our spending in order to have enough money available to invest) but most people are looking for specific, practical steps to achieve measurable results, not time-wasting platitudes.

It should be mentioned that there are certainly good personal finance books out there but unfortunately, they are far and few in between. Inveduco will be reviewing some of these books in future posts, in addition to providing readers with practical steps to improve their finances. Check out our book review section.

 

There is so much bad advice out there that people don’t know whom to trust when it comes to their money. Our mission is to help people navigate the complex world of money and investing, and it is our sincere wish to help our readers succeed in meeting their financial goals. All we ask is for you to help us grow and reach more people. If you feel like you are benefiting from this information, share these links with your family and friends. The more we grow, the more quality articles we’ll be able to write!

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