The porn of personal finance

So I went looking, but could not find anything that proved titillating or voyeuristic on the shelves of the personal finance section.

Go Figure.

However, if in the past I might write off the entire topic as brain numbing in a non-pleasurable way, I did enjoy my rainy afternoon at the bookshop this week.

The waitress can confirm that I was properly captivated for almost four hours as I immersed myself in a tall stack of books. It helped that Waterstone’s Fifth Floor Cafe has put the goats cheese salad back on their menu.

Before I made my way to the cafe with my afternoon’s reading fodder, I had to find it first. I continue to be amazed that given the mess so many of us are in and the general state of so many national economies, there seem to be so few books to chose from within the personal finance section — at least at Waterstone’s on Piccadilly which is I believe the largest bookshop in London, some say Europe and when it first opened, the world.

Amazon claims they’ve over 32,000 books on the topic so I’ll have to assume that Waterstone’s buyers disapprove of the topic and reckon it’s not worthy of too much literature. A view with which I’ve always agreed.

And it’s not that I’ve changed my mind, it’s just that I wish there was more variety of approach to personal finance books. The standard “here’s how to fix your finances” which make up the bulk of this section are all EXACTLY THE SAME. They even lay out the chapters in the very same order — they start with budgetting and clearing debt and move on to saving and investing and pensions. All rather logical I know, but how is someone meant to learn anything if they’ve fallen asleep?!

I plucked 17 titles off the shelves to keep me company for the afternoon … some of them I even plan to go back and read in more depth … for a quick review of some of them, read on.

The Rules of Wealth – at least written in an engaging way, though upon reading a very negative review of the author’s related book about money, the reviewer does an excellent job of explaining what’s wrong with the vast majority of personal finance titles including this one.

How to Get Rich – personal advice from self-made millionaire Felix Dennis. Quite enjoyable and frank. He explains that if you really want to make a lot of money you have to sacrifice things that one should think hard about sacrificing. He doesn’t mean because you’ll have to work hard — since lots of us work hard without becoming rich, he means that on top of whatever work you have to do, you’ll have to be determined to spend the rest of your time doing nothing but managing your finance and investments (until I guess you get rich enough where you don’t need the day job and can just worry about your money). Sacrifices like any creative pursuits or following other passions that do not directly increase wealth, like spending time with friends and family etc.

I Will Teach You to Be Rich – despite the dubious title I’m already a fan of Sethi’s advice since his is one of the 3 personal finance blogs I decided to subscribe to back in January. What I like about what he has to say is that it’s different yet practical — e.g., don’t waste your life comparing financial products, just automate your savings. However he isn’t really teaching anyone how to be rich, he’s just giving advice on how to avoid being broke (which in fact is a more necessary and worthy cause.)

The Ascent of Money – as a history student, of course I’d be tempted to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, but to be honest I flicked through this one towards the end of my 4 hour reading binge so I’m going to have to assume it ended up in the “might one day purchase” pile because I was starting to get lazy.

The Search for Income – must-buy or at least revisit the cafe with this book in hand. The entire book is about investing (from property to the stock market) which is the personal finance topic that I least understand and most need to know. This book is the first easy-to-read approach to it I’ve come across. Within a few minutes I’d learnt about and actually understood the rule of 72 … very helpful.

Intelligent Investor – a much more serious and intense approach than The Search for Income, way too heavy duty on the small print.

Live More, Spend Less – a classic KILL-ME-NOW horrendous guide to frugality. Maybe the book’s not that awful if you want “live cheaply” tips including food recipes, but I do not. It makes me want to cry. All that needs to be said about this subject is that if you need to spend less (which I do and I don’t know a soul who doesn’t), then you must either cut out certain categories of spend altogether or buy cheaper versions of things. This is all we need to know. I don’t need to know how to accomplish either of these things (it’s really very obvious), I’m much more interested in why I refuse to and how I might talk that part of me into being more reasonable.

Sorting out Your Personal Finance for Dummies – nothing special, bog standard guide — everything here you can find online a lot faster, just type in”how do I sort out my finances” !!

Make the most of your money – Much better place to start if what you’re after is one of the classic general guides. This book has a terrible cover and looks set to be a monumental bore but in fact is a fine guide — clearly written with helpful tips. I liked the one about trying to stay within a certain budget: take the cash you’re allowed to spend and divvy it up into envelopes (one for groceries, one for transport, one for the pub etc.) and then if you overspend in one category you have to dip into a different envelope / cut back on spend within a different category. Though of course this is what leads alcoholics to use all their money on booze instead of the rent or the gas bill or their food — but still! I like the basic idea.

23 Things They Don’t Tell you about Capitalism — very interesting, but reading it amounts to total procrastination if my goal is to fix my own fuckwittery rather than the system’s — but still, illuminating and entertainingly myth-busting. For a different sort of rainy day …

Priceless – ditto, except not quite as interesting. Except for shop-a-holics and brand worshippers (of which I’m not), but if you’ve a spend disorder that includes Prada and other ridiculously priced items, this is a good book to read.

Money Magic by Alvin Hall — yawn, annoyance, put down book immediately and even a bit violently. It seems 5 months into Counting Zeros and I still do not enjoy advice from some of the best known “experts”. Totally boring and annoying.

Orchids on your Budget: Or live Smartly with what you have — sounded promising, liked the look the book but didn’t work for me. This is a slim little volume written in the 1930’s and I thought what the publishers obviously thought — that advice from that era would be no bad thing to follow in current times. But no … didn’t work for me.


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