Financial writer Helaine Olen has spent many years preaching one thing: Managing your finances isn’t as complicated as financial experts would have you believe.
Her 2012 book, Pound Foolish, set out to expose the big-business of self-help money gurus. And Olen’s tome wasn’t released without some derision. In an otherwise positive book review, Bloomberg writer Roger Lowenstein says:
Similarly, [Olen’s] prose shows signs of laziness. Large amounts of dollars are “megabucks” and Americans’ salaries “relentlessly did not keep up.” The more substantive criticism is that she conflates two valid observations—one regarding middle-class troubles, the other on financial hucksterism—to derive an invalid critique. Financial professionals are not responsible for knitting the safety net, though Olen makes it sound as though they are. She argues that personal finance goes off course when “severed from its political roots,” but we do not expect our broker to be versed in John Stuart Mill, nor should we. She criticizes virtually every aspect of finance, but—like the Occupy Wall Street movement she praises—has no suggestion for what finance should be.
Perhaps Olen read Lowenstein’s critique about offering solutions. This year, she released The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated. For the book, she teamed up with Harold Pollack, PhD., a University of Chicago professor in the School of Social Service Administration. The project grew out of a 2013 interview the two did for PBS Frontline’s the retirement gamble. During their conversation, Pollack, who has a self-professed “obsession” with personal finance, suggested that the only financial advice you ever need can fit on an index card. Then to prove it, he grabbed a 4”x6” index card and wrote down a list of rules that includes rules like “max your 401(k) or equivalent employee contribution” and “pay your credit card balance in full every month,” among other tips.
The image of Pollack’s note card went viral, and now the tips have been transmitted from 4”x6” index card to a 240-page book, some of the advice has changed a bit. For example, the index-card rule about savings said “Save 20% of your money,” but in the book Pollack and Olen recommend to save between 10% and 20%.
If you’re interested in learning more about The Index Card, check out the Goodreads reviews here.