Book Review
Title: "No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Letters to My Grandchildren"
Author: John Spooner
Publisher: Business Plus, 2012; 288 pages; $12.99

Over Easter weekend, I visited my grandma, whose birthday was the same week. As always, I was struck by her effortless, ingrained systems and sense of order, even when it comes to the basic details of managing life and home.

I got there the Thursday before Easter and sat down to dinner with her and my dad, who promptly started grumbling about the lack of tomatoes on the table. (Note: Children can be spoiled well into their 60s.) My grandma said, "Well, I didn’t make it to the store. But it’s time to put my own in the ground. You know, my mama always had us plant the tomatoes on Good Friday." She has similar mental calendars for everything from having your drapes cleaned to getting the house painted, having the windows washed and planting the annuals.

My contemporaries and I are inclined to bristle at such a rigid set of rules about what things you should do and when you should do them. And, when it comes to finances, some tenets of earlier generations’ belief systems have been rendered obsolete (when someone mentioned pension plans that same weekend, I pointed out that other than government employees, I don’t even know anyone whose company offers a true, company-paid pension plan).

That said, a number of the financial and other standards of our grandparents’ time actually, well, work. For example, I’ll never forget how happy my grandma was when she paid off her house at a time when the zeitgeist tended to prioritize refinancing ad infinitum and to teach that it was OK — actually, desirable — to have mortgage debt until the day you die.

Apparently, there’s something to the saying that we live and we learn.

In an effort to impart and preserve his own life-earned wisdom on a variety of topics for his posterity and their peers, famous financial adviser John D. Spooner has just published a set of pithy, powerful missives in a collection titled, "No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Letters to my Grandchildren" (Business Plus, 2012).

Here are four of Spooner’s dozens of lessons, which are literally written into letters addressed to his two currently college-aged grandchildren, organized as two- to three-page chapters on a specific subject, each summed up with a powerful mantra and takeaway at the end.

1. Everything you can own will fluctuate in value. Spooner repeatedly references the challenges involved with making smart real estate decisions and the risks involved if you don’t. Not only does he encourage his grandkids (and readers) to take 30-year mortgages if and when they buy their own homes, he also relates his own experience with real estate investing (which, by the way, turned him into a die-hard stock investor).

He reminds readers several times, with several examples, that real estate — and any other asset you might ever hope increases in value — will fluctuate in value, cyclically.

Spooner uses this lesson to illustrate the cyclical nature of even nonfinancial areas of life. But ultimately, he does a very effective job of making the simple, yet fundamental, point that nothing only ever goes up.

2. Bite the bullet early. Spooner tells readers that when they have a problem or have made a mistake, they would do well to jump on these problems as quickly as possible. Rectifying mistakes and addressing even tough problems immediately will save undue stress and sleepless nights — a lesson Spooner says it took him untold insomniac years to figure out.

3. Don’t be a headline reader. While it’s important to be aware of issues affecting the global economy, Spooner encourages his grandchildren not to become fixated on media headlines. The anxiety they create can be paralyzing. He advises readers to instead spend their time actually being engaged in the world, in business and in life. That way, he says, they are much more likely to achieve their dreams, no matter what others, the markets or the newspapers say.

In a similar vein, Spooner elaborates elsewhere in the book on how to deal with market fads and trends.

4. You cannot go it alone. This is a theme Spooner returns to over and over again during the book. With his advice on how to select advisers like attorneys and brokers, how to pick whom to marry, how to meet and engage with your local business network and mentors, even how to cultivate friendships, Spooner spends much more time than you might expect in a money book exploring and encouraging interpersonal relationships.

The book’s theme might be largely financial, but its tone and range of subject matter is the whole-life advice that any deeply loving grandparent would give if they were a maven on financial markets, had achieved great success in business and were still happily in love with their wife after decades and decades.

Spooner has lots to say. And it’s really good: If you ask me, this book should be the graduation gift of the year. Some of his points are less revolutionary than others, but all are potentially life-changing and well-illustrated with Spooner’s own life experiences, mistakes and wins from which he garnered the lesson he provides in each letter.

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