Title: "The Smartest Money Book You’ll Ever Read: Everything You Need to Know About Growing, Spending and Enjoying Your Money"
Author: Daniel R. Solin
Publisher: Perigee, 2011; 304 pages; $25
Today’s post-recession, pro-consumer, anti-bank zeitgeist reflects a dramatic sea change in the world of personal finance advice. Gone are the days when the cable TV pundits whose eyes bulge as they holler hysterics about what, when and whether to buy, sell or hold are taken seriously as anything but entertainment.
All the rules of thumb (e.g., owning a home is good) have been revised and nuanced (e.g., owning a home is good if X, Y and Z, but renting makes more sense if A, B and C).
And there’s also been a sea change in how this advice is delivered. Instead of a once-weekly column in the local paper by a financial writer, these days there is a steady stream — flood, even — of advice-blog posts written by actual financial advisers and delivered in short, simple chunks right-sized for today’s shrunken attention spans.
Daniel R. Solin is one such expert/blogger, and uses the same pithy style, linking to complementary online resources as he does in his advice columns on HuffingtonPost.com and USNews.com in his new book, "The Smartest Money Book You’ll Ever Read: Everything You Need to Know About Growing, Spending and Enjoying Your Money."
Here are four of Solin’s smartest financial do’s and don’ts:
1. Don’t try to play the market. Solin practically pleads with readers not to base their housing or stock market investment decisions on their guesses as to whether the market will rise or fall, and when.
On real estate, Solin says to get aggressive about building equity by making conservative mortgage decisions and extra payments, when possible, rather than trying to sell at the top of the market and buy at the bottom.
And when it comes to the stock market, Solin exhorts readers: "Don’t just do something — stand there!" Solin repeatedly cites historical evidence that simply getting and staying in the market yields better results in the long term than what he calls "hyperactive" investing.
2. Do consider other options to a reverse mortgage to access fast cash in retirement. "Smartest" offers loads of Solin’s advice for retirees whose portfolios, plans and bottom lines have been adversely affected by the recession.
Rather than seeing a costly, legacy-draining reverse mortgage as their first resort for access to large amounts of cash, Solin first cautions retirees to get serious about whether anything but health, food and shelter are truly needs vs. wants (note: helping your children is not a need, in his book) and lists a number of more attractive, but less commonly considered options for accessing cash, including a "regular" home refinance or loan against a 401(k) or cash value life insurance policy.
3. Don’t confuse salespeople for financial advisers. Calling the investment industry "friend and foe," Solin points out the sobering truth that 95 percent of actively managed funds fail to equal or beat their market indexes, yet the fees for investing in actively managed funds tend to be several times more expensive than for index funds, eroding whatever returns investors in active funds do attain.
Solin urges readers to be aware of the difference between an investment broker, who he says is more accurately described as a salesperson; and a financial adviser, who can take a look at your life and your money and help you set goals, pick low-fee investments, rebalance your portfolio, manage your tax exposure and manage your emotions.
Solin recommends that readers put together a trusted team including an estate planning attorney, a certified public accountant (CPA), and fee-only (i.e., not commission-based) investment and insurance advisers.
4. Do shop around. Solin likens our monthly income and expenses to our body’s metabolism. In the same way we gain weight over the years by consuming calories on autopilot, we can lose cash by having our insurance, investment and other expenses auto-debited, making it highly unlikely that we’ll notice when fees and bills rise.
Solin advises checking in on these items at regular intervals, and shopping around to see whether we can find a better deal.
"Smartest" makes a great effort to be comprehensive in terms of covering every area of financial life, but it doesn’t actually go deep enough to be the only book you need. Rather, it is a great start at giving you the rationale for getting motivated to grow up and get serious about your finances, and provides you with a primer and a road map for the work ahead of you.
With 40-plus chapters averaging a couple of pages in length each, "Smartest" feels rather like a collection of Solin’s blog posts; this will leave some readers hungry for more depth and detail, but will certainly appeal to many others who cringe at the density of a more traditional personal finance title.
To its credit, "Smartest" also does a good job of pointing out where you can find tools to execute Solin’s recommendations or learn more about a given subject online, mostly on the wildly popular and free, do-it-yourself money management platform Mint.com.
Generally, "Smartest" is written in plain English — though its approach is a tad bit imbalanced, getting a little bit in the weeds and detailed in the sections of his particular expertise and borderline vague and oversimplified in others.
However, if you are looking to start your proactive financial planning up again, after the trauma of the recession, or if you are just taking control of your finances for the first time, "Smartest" is a smart choice for the starter book you need to put your own personal money train in motion.