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Personal Finance Books are Keeping You Poor

Written by Neal Frankle - 5 Comments

Personal Finance Books are Keeping You Poor

The next time you go to a book store, take a stroll through the “Personal Finance” section. You’ll literally see hundreds of books all saying just about the same thing. Oh sure, some say it better than others, but… At the end of the day, it’s all about spending less and earning more. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to get out of debt or retire now.

The reason the stores are full of these books is because people like you and I buy them. I’m not a huge fan of people buying new books in the first place, but that isn’t why personal finance books make people worse off.

The reason that most of these books are dangerous is because people often act as if the purchase itself is the answer. I’m not saying you shouldn’t educate yourself. Reading to learn about finance is great. It’s important. But whether you want to get out of debt quickly or invest your money properly, you don’t need lots of different ideas at the same time. You need to take action.

We don’t like to admit it, but most of us are procrastinators. We don’t like to finish what we start, mostly because we don’t like the work involved. That’s why we buy books. They make us feel good about ourselves for awhile… And then (often) we don’t do anything.

I once read that most people who buy books only get to the first chapter and then lay them aside forever. Don’t believe me? Look at your nightstand. How long have those books been laying there? If you’re like me, way too long.

Do you know why bookstores have a return policy? Because it helps you make a buying decision with (perceived) low risk and then do your thing… Which is to procrastinate. Even if you want to return the book, you probably won’t get around to it. Again, the problem isn’t the waste of money on personal finance books. The problem is a lack of focus.

The act of buying a personal finance book or (worse) some expensive CD program helps us stay stuck. The cycle looks like this:

  1. You realize that you are having trouble with debt, investing or some other aspect of your financial life.
  2. The trouble becomes a problem to the point that you commit to doing something about it.
  3. You buy a book (or another book) that looks like the “silver bullet,” and you start going through the exercises.
  4. You don’t get out of debt instantly, improve your credit score overnight, or whatever, and you quickly lose interest.
  5. You set the book aside for awhile since you aren’t getting that instant payoff. And before you know it, six weeks have passed and you haven’t done any of the prescribed work.
  6. Your financial situation gets even worse and the pain starts building. At this point, you re-start the cycle back at step 1. You convince yourself that the problem isn’t your lack of action or patience, it’s that you simply have the wrong “silver bullet.”

I’ve done this, and I bet you have, too. We do it with money, we do it with productivity, and we do it with health and fitness. These are often the hardest things in our lives to change, so we seek refuge in books.

Do you know why there are so many books on these subjects? Because people buy them. The book itself becomes the relief mechanism, and it blocks you and I from finding real solutions and taking action.

So what’s the answer?

One teacher at a time

You probably have several good personal finance books. I’m not worried about that. Focus on the problem you want to solve, and then find the best teacher possible to address the issue. Remember… You only get to choose one.

Clear the decks

Get every other book off your nightstand. Take everything else off your desk. If the problem you are addressing is serious, it requires all of your attention and focus. You can’t afford any distractions.

Commit to attacking the problem

You may already know that I am a huge fan of having an accountability partner. You can’t commit to results, but you can commit to doing the work and following through. Create an accountability document where you record what the problem is, the steps you are going to take, and when you will take them. Then, update that document every day or week and make it available to your accountability partner.

Acknowledge your weakness

You will want to quit. When things get tough or you’re not quite sure what to do next, you’ll look for comfort by doing something else to distract you from those feelings of inadequacy. Who knows, maybe you’ll respond by running out and buying a different book on the subject.

Resist the urge to quit (or take a break) at all costs, but be aware that you will likely feel this way. I know this is difficult. In just the time spent writing this post, I’ve wanted to stop several times and check my e-mail 3 times.

Get back on the horse

If you do fall off the horse, don’t beat yourself up. Just get back up there and get going again. If you get distracted and start looking for a different “silver bullet,” recognize what you are doing, chuckle at yourself, and get back to work.

Nobody is perfect. We’re just human. Genius isn’t perfection. Genius is fortitude and action in the face of imperfection.

Published on January 20th, 2011
Modified on October 4th, 2011 - 5 Comments
Filed under: Debt Reduction, Productivity, Saving & Investing

About the author: is a Certified Financial Planner in Los Angeles whose goal is to help people improve their finances and find balance in life. He covers these topics at his personal blog Wealth Pilgrim.

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5 Responses to “Personal Finance Books are Keeping You Poor”

  1. 1
    Paul Says:

    One word…library.

    Oh, and after a while, you realize they’re all saying the same thing or variations on a theme. I’ve found that a few minutes at Barnes and Noble confirms this for most of the books I think might be interesting. For the rest of them, I wait to find them at the library or on a website like PaperBackSwap.com (it’s a great site, by the way).

  2. 2
    Chris Says:

    Great article–I have to periodically pick up a book or two that falls off one of the stacks that I have on my nightstand (the piles are quite high). While I’ve spent a bit on finance books, I’ve spent more on books related to parenting than I have on finance–regretably most of them are unread. I WAS just considering YNAB (You Need A Budget) as a possible “Silver Bullet”. Do you think this might be the one? :)

  3. 3
    Steve Says:

    People buy these books hoping to find a magic solution to their financial woes. The books often promise so much, but are then filled with the same advice dressed up in different language. Much of the advice is so elementary, I wonder–”how could anyone not know this?” People just do not want to exert the discipline to follow the simple steps of spending less than you make, avoid debt, be less consumption oriented, and invest regularly. This is much less fun than buying the latest gadget.

  4. 4
    Jonathan Says:

    I think the title of this post is really misleading. Sure it has the shock value which got myself and I’m sure several others to read it, but it’s not your real point. Your thesis seems to be not that books keep people poor, but that our own laziness and lack of concentration, perseverence and commitment keeps people poor.

    I’d really appreciate more accurately titled posts. This just comes off as gimicky and misleading.

  5. 5
    finance4youth Says:

    I think Neal got it right, that is why I tell people not to get to sucked in by anybody. At the end of he day, it is the nuanced difference that speaks to the individual. Ramsey may speak to many, but others might like Orman better, or even (humbly) some might read Stanton and like my stuff. It is all in the eye of the beholder.

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