Book Review
Title: "Smart is the New Rich: If You Can’t Afford It — Put It Down"
Author: Christine Romans
Publisher: Wiley, 2010; 299 pages; $24.95

I review a lot of finance books. A lot. And, so, for the past few years, I’ve traced the roughly parallel paths of the economy "IRL" (in real life) and the personal finance titles that are published in an effort to appeal to wherever consumers’ mindsets are at any given moment.

Pre-2007, pundits and gurus had no compunction about publishing books literally promising super-easy steps to getting rich. Post-recession, books like "Spend Shift: How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell, and Live"; "Living Well with Bad Credit" and "Getting Started in Rebuilding Your 401(k)" abound.

Just out from Christine Romans, the anchor of CNN’s "Your $$$$$," is "Smart is the New Rich: If You Can’t Afford It — Put It Down," a mashup of "old meets new" money-management tips and insights.

Romans reports that she was inspired to write "Smart is the New Rich" by all her smart viewers who wrote in bemoaning having lost years’ worth of college and retirement savings and home equity in the crash, despite having thought they were doing the "smart" thing by owning a home or socking cash away.

This book is Romans’ letter of both love and encouragement to these smart consumers — and letter of caution to the spendthrifts among us — assuring both groups that "retro" money rules are already back in vogue and will reap benefits in this new economy, over the long run.

From the first chapter, "Reset, Repair, Recover," Romans begins encouraging and educating readers on how they can heal the financial wounds they incurred from the recession, from resetting their retirement goals and financial behaviors, to repairing their broken balance sheets, with the result of steadily recovering from the recession.

Retro is a recurrent theme; in Chapter 2, "Spending your $$$$$," Romans encourages readers to go retro by taking some inspiration from the generation who experienced the Great Depression, and persisting in their frugal post-recession behaviors; she also cautions against the recession weariness that can cause impulsive spending and a relapse into overconsumption.

Romans moves on to careers and jobs in the third chapter, providing some inspiration for readers to bloom where they are planted if they still have a job, despite the fact that many feel stuck in their jobs due to the scarcity of available positions.

In this, a very useful chapter for those struggling to find jobs or even graduating from high school and into today’s challenging workforce, Romans goes on to provide career guidance about relocating or changing careers to secure work, college majors that do (and don’t) pay, and even career paths that pay well, despite requiring no degree.

The fourth chapter is Romans’ college try to reset readers’ "bubble perspective" on credit into a more respectful, much less frequent use of debt — and elimination of existing consumer debt.

But in Chapter 5, she dives in much deeper on the most insidious form of debt — credit cards — and offers consumers an extensive education on credit card "gotchas" and how to avoid them; "new rule, rights and traps" provided in the latest suite of federal credit card legislation; steps for resolving debt dilemmas with your lender while avoiding debt relief scams; and even a short questionnaire for determining whether your credit cards "are a convenience or a crutch."

Next, Romans turns to real estate, with a unique focus on providing recessionary real estate advice. Romans offers guidance for homeowners struggling with negative equity, owing more money on their homes’ mortgages than the homes themselves are worth; buyers considering taking advantage of recession-created housing affordability; those disgusted with ownership and choosing to rent; and even would-be sellers who are remodeling instead.

Chapter 7 starts out with the shocking "Romans’ Numeral" statistic that 75 million Americans "have not put even one penny toward retirement," and continues with Romans’ exhortations to save and invest for both retirement and a rainy day, and how to execute these commandments in a volatile market like today’s.

Chapter 8, "Family Money," briefs parents on how to educate their children about money, both expressly and by example, and espouses on how to handle their emotions, conversations and marital relationships with respect to money issues.

Here’s another amazing Romans’ Numeral for you from Chapter 8, on health care: retired seniors need $250,000 to cover their portion of health care costs over the last 20 years of their lives! Romans spends this chapter educating readers on the impacts to them of the recently passed federal health care reform bill and how she believes it will mitigate sky-high health care costs to seniors and many other Americans.

The last two chapters cover small businesses and how they can inspire and employ millions of Americans, and an analysis of the federal government and its role in the recession.

"Smart is the New Rich" is an extremely wide-ranging book; so wide, in fact, that many may find only bits and pieces to be applicable to them. However, Romans’ target reader — the people who are reeling from the recession, despite having thought they were doing the "smart" thing with their money — will find much of the book to be quite useful, especially the portions on rebuilding careers, balance sheets and retirement savings.

Romans speaks to and answers the questions of these people every day on her show, and clearly knows her audience. She knows, for example, that these same folks often crave to understand things like health care reform and the governmental bailouts of big business. As a result, if you fit this description, you are highly likely to have your economics information cravings fully fed by "Smart is the New Rich."

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