Book Review
Title: "Does This Make My Assets Look Fat? A Woman’s Guide to Finding Financial Empowerment and Success"
Author: Susan L. Hirshman
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, 2010; 320 pages; $17.99 at ($11.99 for e-book).

As you may know, the smart/savvy woman consumer demographic holds a special place in my heart. It’s how I self-identify, and this was the group I primarily served in my real estate business. I even wrote a couple of real estate guides for this group, on grounds that the informational cravings and lifestyle needs that women seek to feed in the course of buying a home are quite different than those of men.

As a result, I’m always interested in personal finance materials that are obviously targeted to women, and have found them to vary very widely when it comes to the gimmick-to-substance quotient.

As I’ve said here before, nowhere else in the bookstore will you find as many pink covers and titles containing the words "bitch" and "naked" as you will in the overflowing shelves dedicated to women’s personal finance titles.

As is obvious from the title, "Does This Make My Assets Look Fat?" is not without its gimmicks. In this way, it’s quite similar to its bookshelf sistren. From the cover image of a curvy gal clad in a dress of $100 bills, to the fact that the title of chapter two includes the word "naked" (what’s up with that?!), to the fact that the entire book follows a reverse weight-loss plan theme (goal: to make your assets look fat, get it?) consistent with the book’s title. Gimmicks galore. Some readers will find this irritating, to say the least.

Other women will be offended at the book’s contention that dieting is so familiar an experience to women that styling money matters in the same vein should make financial management a female-friendly exercise.

To Hirschman’s credit, though, there are many women whose eyes glaze over when reading a straight finance book; many of them need to work on this area of their lives, in fact. So if this weight-loss program styling works for them then who’s to criticize?

Those who aren’t put off by this format will certainly find some very basic but very sound financial and success teachings in "Does This Make My Assets Look Fat?"

The book is organized like, well, a diet. At the outset, wealth strategist Hirschman guides readers through the process of setting up short-, mid- and long-term financial goals.

Chapter Two, Naked in Front of the Mirror, is all about assessing the gap between your current financial state and the goals you set in chapter one, by coming to terms with the naked truth of your personal finances via net worth and cash flow analyses. These chapters — as do all of the chapters — conclude with a handy summary in the form of a numbered list of the key takeaways.

The third chapter provides a primer on asset classes, likening cash, stocks, bonds and alternatives to the Four Basic Food Groups — I personally know a huge number of folks, men and women alike, who could benefit from the back-to-basics definitions, pros and cons Hirschman sketches of the various asset classes. But the food group analogy is a big stretch (e.g., "bonds" equal "dairy group"), and actually a bit distracting from Hirschman’s otherwise deft, elementary-level instruction.

Actually, the same could be said for the entire book — the diet theme is distracting from the meat (pun intended) of the book, which is actually quite good.

Chapter Four, Portion Control, focuses on creating a diversified financial plan appropriately allocated to the "financial food groups." In Chapter Five, Going Shopping, Hirschman walks readers through the choice of various types of investment products.

In Banquet or Simple Snack? It’s Your Choice, readers take a series of quizzes to determine where they fall in terms of Hirschman’s "complexity quotient," as a precursor to deciding how do-it-yourself they should be in the management of their own investment portfolio, and how much they should outsource to a professional adviser. Hirschman then walks readers through the basic steps of the portfolio review process.

Chapter Seven, Keeping Up, is about maintaining investments over the long-term, while Chapter Eight, Protecting Yourself from Sabotage, addresses how readers can and should protect themselves from the potential financial disaster that can be wreaked by life events ranging from disability to divorce.

Chapter Eight, The Buddy System, educates readers about selecting and working effectively with financial advisers. The final chapter, Passing It On, covers how women should plan and execute the transfer of wealth to their children or other beneficiaries — including some very useful bullet points of special considerations for a number of increasingly common estate planning circumstances, such as pets, second marriages and special-needs children.

I don’t know that there is much novel advice in this book. But what’s there is sound. Also, this book is much more a wealth strategy/investment manual than the "guide to finding financial empowerment and success" that its subtitle promised.

Exceedingly common women’s money issues, like debt elimination and basic healing of a problematic relationship with money, as well as career issues around demanding and receiving your full worth in the workplace, are simply nowhere to be found in this book.

However, if you are looking for a very basic, very unintimidating Investment 101-type book written entirely in laywoman’s terms, "Does This Make My Assets Look Fat?" might just be the book for you.

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