Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

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Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby snyder66 » Mon Jan 14, 2013 5:51 pm

I have not read the book, but found her quite refreshing on a TV clip I just saw. She basically ripped into the Suze Orman's of the world.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby NYBoglehead » Mon Jan 14, 2013 6:10 pm

I get the concept, and agree a lot of the supposed financial gurus peddle products, she's doing the exact same thing.

In the summary of the book, it mentions that saving money by not spending on lattes, etc is a myth. I would suggest it most certainly is not, and while it doesn't make sense to forgo the latte but spend absurd amounts of money on investing books, she's the antithesis of her own argument.

I think someone already posted on this and another Boglehead made the brilliant observation that if she were to be as benevolent as she'd like us to believe she is, she could have written this is as a free downloadable PDF.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby damjam » Mon Jan 14, 2013 6:15 pm

Here's an Opinion piece that was in the NYT: Can't Save? Here's Why

I can't agree with the thrust of her argument.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby lmpmd » Mon Jan 14, 2013 6:23 pm

She pushes index funds here. That seems wise:
http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/daily-ti ... 54956.html
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby MN Finance » Mon Jan 14, 2013 6:32 pm

damjam wrote:Here's an Opinion piece that was in the NYT: Can't Save? Here's Why

I can't agree with the thrust of her argument.


Seems her argument is that it's all about things that are out of our control. Ok, I suppose. But I agree with her assessment that the talking heads, when talking to main street, totally overstate the *small* luxuries argument. Maybe there are people that go crazy with moderate luxuries and get in trouble, but unless someone is already in a world of hurt, the lattes aren't going to drown them. It's the big rocks that make or break finances. Buy a house that's too big, get divorced a few times, and stay underemployed. Those things do it.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby damjam » Mon Jan 14, 2013 6:56 pm

MN Finance wrote:
damjam wrote:Here's an Opinion piece that was in the NYT: Can't Save? Here's Why

I can't agree with the thrust of her argument.


Seems her argument is that it's all about things that are out of our control. Ok, I suppose. But I agree with her assessment that the talking heads, when talking to main street, totally overstate the *small* luxuries argument. Maybe there are people that go crazy with moderate luxuries and get in trouble, but unless someone is already in a world of hurt, the lattes aren't going to drown them. It's the big rocks that make or break finances. Buy a house that's too big, get divorced a few times, and stay underemployed. Those things do it.


I agree that most or even all of her minor points are correct: salaries are stagnating, eliminating small luxuries will not save huge amounts of money, the financial services industry is stacked against you, etc.
But her conclusion seems to be that there is no way you can save for retirement. I would say many members of this forum disprove that conclusion daily.
Of course the best laid plans ... Things can go wrong for an individual no matter how careful they have been. That is why safety net programs such as Social Security are so important, IMHO.

I just find her stance a little defeatist.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby NYBoglehead » Mon Jan 14, 2013 7:26 pm

I have to disagree about the small luxuries argument. Many small rocks put in a backpack will make it heavy. NOT spending $4 per latte twice weekly for a year will save someone $416. That's easily a new suit, a car payment, or a few months of electric bills (depending on location). To me that savings is significant.

And I think she is way too defeatist. She is basically saying that there is nothing any of us can do, we are all doomed to muddle along. And enough with the generalites already about Bernie Madoff. Yes, the man was an absolute crook. I'm sure some middle class people got hurt because their companies invested with him or something like that, but these authors need to stop acting as if every single one of us got burned by the guy. Don't invest a single penny into a hedge fund that can't afford to lose. I hope his prison sentence is miserable but I'm sick of these unoriginal authors recycling the idea that we are all victims of every wrong ever committed by those in the finance industry.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby Pennstateclj1 » Mon Jan 14, 2013 7:35 pm

lmpmd wrote:She pushes index funds here. That seems wise:
http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/daily-ti ... 54956.html


I was waiting for her to plug Bogleheads the whole time, sadly it never happened.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby damjam » Mon Jan 14, 2013 7:48 pm

NYBoglehead wrote:
damjam wrote:I agree that most or even all of her minor points are correct: salaries are stagnating, eliminating small luxuries will not save huge amounts of money, the financial services industry is stacked against you, etc.
But her conclusion seems to be that there is no way you can save for retirement. I would say many members of this forum disprove that conclusion daily.
Of course the best laid plans ... Things can go wrong for an individual no matter how careful they have been. That is why safety net programs such as Social Security are so important, IMHO.

I just find her stance a little defeatist.


I have to disagree about the small luxuries argument. Many small rocks put in a backpack will make it heavy. NOT spending $4 per latte twice weekly for a year will save someone $416. That's easily a new suit, a car payment, or a few months of electric bills (depending on location). To me that savings is significant.


I guess it comes down to whether "significant" = "huge." :D

I tend to be frugal myself, and I do think all the little things add up, but a latte every once in a while is not going to break me. I agree a weekly habit would be worth skipping and that a person should be mindful of their spending. But is an extra $416 a year going to make or break a retirement plan? Maybe for some at the margins, but it wouldn't for me. That's where I'm coming from when I say I agree with her point. But I think that is not where she is coming from. I get the sense that Ms. Olen thinks everything is stacked against the common man and he is just beating himself up for no good reason when he finds himself unable to save for retirement. I don't think that argument will hold much water here.

Edit: NY Boglehead: I see you have added something I missed earlier. I think in the end we have very similar thinking about Ms. Olen's argument.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby FafnerMorell » Mon Jan 14, 2013 8:14 pm

It's a shame she didn't think to educate herself about the subject before she wrote the book (it's not like a bit of digging around in index funds won't turn up the Bogleheads approach), but I suppose she makes the money either way.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby sls239 » Mon Jan 14, 2013 8:45 pm

I think she has psychology on her side about the "little things." Generally, people get a lot more happiness bang for their buck when they get small luxuries. When the poor are excluded from enjoying small luxuries, their sense of social isolation increases and they are more likely to stay poor longer. And a middle class person who deprives themselves of their latte may end up over-indulging on vacations or cars because they feel they deserve it. That money they "save" by depriving themselves just isn't that likely to go in to savings. Saving money by not spending on lattes is largely a myth, statistically.

Just like the idea that you can lose weight by skipping breakfast is a myth; statistically that strategy leads to more calorie intake, not less.

Much more likely is for a bonus, or most likely, a raise to go towards savings. And that is precisely what many people have not gotten much of lately. Stating the facts is not victimizing. Distinguishing between strategies likely and those unlikely to be successful is not victimizing.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby Christine_NM » Mon Jan 14, 2013 9:09 pm

NYBoglehead wrote:And I think she is way too defeatist.


Agree. I am sick of well-fed talking heads bemoaning the fate of the middle class, how in debt and out of work they are, and the small-investor class, how they were all ruined by 2008 and low interest rates. It is all phony self-serving blather.

I'll skip this author. She seems to be throwing out a lot of issues and looking for one to stick to the wall that will make her name. Whatever resonates, she'll run with it, never mind whether it is really helpful.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby snyder66 » Mon Jan 14, 2013 9:46 pm

I have not read the book, probably will not. I was just taken when I heard someone praise the virtues of indexing. I really thought she was going to mention Mr. Bogle in the clip I saw. They were pushing her to mention someone positive in the investing world.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby cherijoh » Mon Jan 14, 2013 10:15 pm

She states:
In fact, it’s long been known that the majority of bankruptcies result from health issues, job losses and fractured families, something no amount of cutting back can protect against.

Yes, a lot of bankruptcies are triggered by these issues, but with the exception of a catastrophic illness, how many of these bankruptcies could have been avoided had they had an adequate emergency fund? Or not purchased the biggest house for which a bank would loan them sufficient money? I do agree that once you are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, cutting out small luxuries isn't going to help much, but living frugally all along will certainly reduce your chance of ending up bankrupt. It sounds like she is jumping on the "I'm just a victim" bandwagon.

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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby Novine » Mon Jan 14, 2013 11:42 pm

I wouldn't be so quick to discount her arguments. The median household income in the US is around $50,000. If you have kids and a mortgage and are working in a job where your income hasn't gone up in the past few years, how much are you really going to be able to put away for retirement? For your kids education? Are you unable to save because your wasting your money on lattes? Or is it because your job doesn't pay enough to allow you to support your family and save for the future?

For many Americans, they'll be lucky if they can set aside enough to max out a Roth IRA each year. Is that enough money a year to provide a secure retirement? Unlike past generations, they're unlikely to have the guarantee of a pension to fall back on when you reach retirement age. As Olen points out, for many Americans, wages and household income have been static for years.

None of that means that individuals can't break through such barriers by increasing their income, reducing their expenses, improving their education and skills to earn more money and so on. Cutting out the lattes and cable can be ways to increase savings that can be used to pay down debt, invest in education or save for retirement. But focusing on the steps that individuals can take while ignoring the macro trends in the national economies is wearing the same blinders that some accuse the author of having.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby z3r0c00l » Tue Jan 15, 2013 8:30 am

Turning off my cable this year will save me about $1000. That is significant... the single best savings I could achieve without seriously cutting back on the quality of the food I eat. The middle class, myself included, is more than capable of living a good life and saving money at the same time. It calls for delaying some pleasure in return for security in the future. Most people can't think that far ahead.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby david99 » Tue Jan 15, 2013 9:18 am

I think that focusing on the big picture is the most important ---- that is focusing on your education, how much you spend on education, whom you marry, how many kids you have, how big of a house you buy, your health-- such as eating well and getting exercise, the direction of your career and the company you work for, how much you save and where you save it. I think that these big picture items have the greatest impact on our finances but at the same time we can save money by being frugal.
Last edited by david99 on Tue Jan 15, 2013 2:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby Grt2bOutdoors » Tue Jan 15, 2013 9:47 am

Someone once told me "It's not how much you make, it's how much you save". Well, to that end, I'm going to save the $27.95 + tax required to buy the book, instead I'm going to buy myself 3/4's of VTSAX - 30 years from now, I'm going to look back and say "that was one of the smartest moves I've ever made".

I'm tired of hearing "woe is me" and the constant putdowns - if you're middle class (I am) you can't make it. Nonsense, if you get knocked down, pick yourself up and keep climbing, eventually you will make it over the wall. The real issue is we live in a "I must have it now society" "I can't wait 20 years", "I want it now!" - well for those folks who think that way, there is no hope. A goal is often reached by effort, if I make zero effort, why should I obtain something?
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby SPG8 » Tue Jan 15, 2013 10:07 am

sls239 wrote:Just like the idea that you can lose weight by skipping breakfast is a myth; statistically that strategy leads to more calorie intake, not less.


I lost 50 lbs by skipping breakfast (5'9", 155 lbs). Keep blood sugar low, so postponing eating extends fast and body relies on fat for fuel. No hunger after short period of adaptation. Actually dropped to 145 effortlessly, and did a 3.5 day fast on a lark after it was advocated for by an Italian researcher in a documentary on the BBC. Was easy, no hunger. No longer a prisoner of food; no processed food, only meat & tons of vegetables, no grain/seed oil. Crazy, huh.

Anybody can live below their means. They would be as free from money as I am from food.

No reason to knock Suze. Lot of financial train wrecks out there, need to start somewhere.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby bradshaw1965 » Tue Jan 15, 2013 1:12 pm

The comments here sound a little Millionaire Next Door selection biased. The editorial might be a little hyperbolic, but Bogleheads have mostly won the game or are on their way to winning the game and maybe, just maybe have gotten a little lucky rather then completely won on intelligence and pluck.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby Khanmots » Tue Jan 15, 2013 1:45 pm

bradshaw1965 wrote:The comments here sound a little Millionaire Next Door selection biased. The editorial might be a little hyperbolic, but Bogleheads have mostly won the game or are on their way to winning the game and maybe, just maybe have gotten a little lucky rather then completely won on intelligence and pluck.


Yeah, but if you haven't gotten as lucky as many here, then perhaps taking your lunch to work *will* help and make a significant difference (she says it won't).

Personally I used to go out to eat daily for $10-15 lunches. Switching to bringing frozen dinners instead costs me $2-5 a meal. Based on my work schedule, etc, that's a yearly savings of nearly $2000. I could save another couple hundred a year if I were to start making sandwiches or bringing leftovers instead of the frozen dinners. Personally I'm well enough off that when I was eating out all the time I was simply classifying it as entertainment expenses, socializing with coworkers and breaking the day up. I could afford to do this while still meeting my financial and savings goals.

Now, if I hadn't had the opportunities that I have and I was making far less, say only $30k a year, then suddenly this $2000 *after-tax* income boost is *very* significant. It may well mean the difference between saving $2000/yr instead of saving $0/year. Having a nest egg that can provide $8k a year (at a 4% SWR assuming 4% real return on $2k invested each year for 40 years) on top of SS may mean the difference between eating dog food and maintaining close to the style of living I had when I was working.

The editorial I saw seems to ignore the reality that a few hundred here and there may not be "real money" to those of us that are better off, but it is very much so to those that aren't. In my example above, the $30k/yr wage earner will, if ceasing work at age 70 earn around $18k/yr from SS. An extra $8k/yr of income from investments would be a *huge* boon, it's nearly a 50% increase.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby bradshaw1965 » Tue Jan 15, 2013 1:55 pm

Khanmots wrote:
bradshaw1965 wrote:The comments here sound a little Millionaire Next Door selection biased. The editorial might be a little hyperbolic, but Bogleheads have mostly won the game or are on their way to winning the game and maybe, just maybe have gotten a little lucky rather then completely won on intelligence and pluck.


Yeah, but if you haven't gotten as lucky as many here, then perhaps taking your lunch to work *will* help and make a significant difference (she says it won't).

Personally I used to go out to eat daily for $10-15 lunches. Switching to bringing frozen dinners instead costs me $2-5 a meal. Based on my work schedule, etc, that's a yearly savings of nearly $2000. I could save another couple hundred a year if I were to start making sandwiches or bringing leftovers instead of the frozen dinners. Personally I'm well enough off that when I was eating out all the time I was simply classifying it as entertainment expenses, socializing with coworkers and breaking the day up. I could afford to do this while still meeting my financial and savings goals.

Now, if I hadn't had the opportunities that I have and I was making far less, say only $30k a year, then suddenly this $2000 *after-tax* income boost is *very* significant. It may well mean the difference between saving $2000/yr instead of saving $0/year. Having a nest egg that can provide $8k a year (at a 4% SWR assuming 4% real return on $2k invested each year for 40 years) on top of SS may mean the difference between eating dog food and maintaining close to the style of living I had when I was working.

The editorial I saw seems to ignore the reality that a few hundred here and there may not be "real money" to those of us that are better off, but it is very much so to those that aren't. In my example above, the $30k/yr wage earner will, if ceasing work at age 70 earn around $18k/yr from SS. An extra $8k/yr of income from investments would be a *huge* boon, it's nearly a 50% increase.


Those are all great tactics, but the kind of luck I'm talking about is being born with supportive parents, adaptable to work that pays well, blessed with discipline, having the ability to focus without attention disorders, lacking significant health problems, the ability to discern financial options that are built to deceive, etc.. I don't remember who he quoted, but William Bernstein has the quote where he says fractions are a stretch for 90% of would be investors.

FWIW, I agree the editorial was over the top and she should have stuck to her original thesis which is to have a retirement plan which is default opt-in and super simple comparable to a 3 fund portfolio recommended here. So, I think the default of having a default opt-in, bullet proof brain dead retirement option is pretty reasonable. I doubt it would survive finance industry vultures in the end, but I don't think the take away should be "I've done a great job at saving because I'm resourceful and others should be to".
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby Grt2bOutdoors » Tue Jan 15, 2013 2:49 pm

I'll go a bit further and offer this up - most investors do not know how to read. If they manage to read they fail to interpret and would much rather spend time in a bar or other social setting than learning how to prepare for their future.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby TSR » Tue Jan 15, 2013 3:05 pm

I read the NY Times editorial this weekend and thought it was garbage, despite the fact that I agree with her political point (I do NOT want to diverge into politics here). That said, I think we're running into the age-old problem of describing individual dynamics vs. group dynamics. Saving on the proverbial latte is NOT going to solve any problems for the entire middle class, but it can absolutely solve problems for an individual. In the same way, you really can't expect to solve energy consumption problems by begging people to wear sweaters around the house, and politicians are (perhaps rightly) criticized for thinking of that as a national solution, but you CAN recommend to an individual that he or she wear a sweater around the house to save on the heating bill because that is proven to work.

I think the hyperbole of her arguments is the suggestion that because we need comprehensive change to our economic system to help the middle class, things are therefor "hopeless" for individuals. It may or may not be true that only real policy change will assist the middle class (again, I don't want to go into it here), but that says absolutely nothing about whether common-sense financial advice can help an individual out of debt.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby Grt2bOutdoors » Tue Jan 15, 2013 3:21 pm

What ever happened to just say "no"? For many, it's the choice that makes all the difference. Yes, there are factors such as family upbringing and not being generally disabled, let's leave that out since most of the population is not in those demographics. It seems to me many do not want to be held accountable for their actions or lack their of. IMO, the book is just another money grab - but I question who will be buying it, since $27.95 suggested price is pretty steep to begin with. It certainly will not be the "affected class".
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby Novine » Tue Jan 15, 2013 3:35 pm

I'm interested in seeing how the numbers work for the median American household. Can you save for retirement, save for kids college, pay for health care, put a roof over your head and have a healthy emergency fund on $50,000 a year? I'm sure it's doable. But you won't be maxing out your 401k at $17,500 a year. If you can only save $5,000 a year in a Roth, what kind of retirement does that provide you if your only other retirement income is SS? This isn't a question of willpower or bad choices. It's simply asking what's realistic for people of low and moderate income to be able to accomplish in a lifetime of employment. Will how things currently work provide them with a retirement relatively free of the concerns of money? Or will retirement just be another period of time living SS payment to SS payment?
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby ryuns » Tue Jan 15, 2013 4:06 pm

TSR wrote:I think the hyperbole of her arguments is the suggestion that because we need comprehensive change to our economic system to help the middle class, things are therefor "hopeless" for individuals. It may or may not be true that only real policy change will assist the middle class (again, I don't want to go into it here), but that says absolutely nothing about whether common-sense financial advice can help an individual out of debt.


I agree. I think that's a great distinction to make. (Though I will always stick up for Carter and his eco-cardigan.)
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby damjam » Tue Jan 15, 2013 4:24 pm

Novine wrote:I'm interested in seeing how the numbers work for the median American household. Can you save for retirement, save for kids college, pay for health care, put a roof over your head and have a healthy emergency fund on $50,000 a year? I'm sure it's doable. But you won't be maxing out your 401k at $17,500 a year. If you can only save $5,000 a year in a Roth, what kind of retirement does that provide you if your only other retirement income is SS? This isn't a question of willpower or bad choices. It's simply asking what's realistic for people of low and moderate income to be able to accomplish in a lifetime of employment. Will how things currently work provide them with a retirement relatively free of the concerns of money? Or will retirement just be another period of time living SS payment to SS payment?


Social Security plays a bigger role for those with average incomes verses those with higher incomes. Someone earning 50k a year will receive something around a 40% income replacement rate from Social Security. You can calculate the exact amount using SS PIA bend point formula:
For an individual who first becomes eligible for old-age insurance benefits or disability insurance benefits in 2013, or who dies in 2013 before becoming eligible for benefits, his/her PIA will be the sum of:
(a) 90 percent of the first $791 of his/her average indexed monthly earnings, plus
(b) 32 percent of his/her average indexed monthly earnings over $791 and through $4,768, plus
(c) 15 percent of his/her average indexed monthly earnings over $4,768.

So as you can see a person making 50k a year does not need to save as much as a percentage of income as someone making 100k a year to have the same income replacement rate at retirement.
I'm not as mathematically adept as others on this forum to be able to quickly calculate how much additional income would be generated by 5k a year contributed to a ROTH but I have a gut instinct it would be significant for the person earning 50k.
Would this hypothetical person be free of the concerns of money? I doubt I will be free of the concerns of money until the day I die. I don't think that is the correct measurement.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby Grt2bOutdoors » Tue Jan 15, 2013 5:14 pm

+1 damjam. The average person making $50K will primarily be concerned with making rent, paying the utilities, taking care of the kids clothing and food needs. If it a two income earner household, each bringing in less than $50K they will still be struggling to make it. Define healthcare - most people on here likely have some sort of coverage that pays for doctors, medicine, hospital, etc. You may have to settle for a bare-bones policy that covers hospitalization only, rely on doctors to obtain compassionate care from the drug companies and a little bit of luck - patchwork (yes) and many do that, if not rely on the hospitals er. It requires making tough choices. Secondarily, is trying to save what's left over and those savings will go into a savings account or cd. College? - it's 18 years down the line. Instead they will pressure their kids to study hard and do well in school, those kids will not go to Ivy U unless they get a full scholarship which is highly likely if they score in the top 10% of their class - that's right, a full ride since the parents are earning far less than most. Fortunately, it does not have to be Ivy U or nothing to graduate college and attempt to move up the totem pole. We already have learned, owning a home is not a must - however, keeping a roof over your head is important for a whole host of reasons including having good health. On top of it, they likely will receive some form of credits on their tax returns. Finally, those folks will likely make extreme trade-offs in order to overcome the "wall" - and I've known quite a few who have scaled it on much less than the average.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby HomerJ » Wed Jan 16, 2013 1:31 pm

Someone saving $1k a year from 25-35 at 7% would have $15k at 35
Same person saving $2k a year from 35-45 at 7% would have $59k at 45 (that includes the 10 more years of growth on the $15k)
Same person saving $3k a year from 45-55 at 7% would have $160k at 55 (that includes the 10 more years of growth on the $59k)
Same person saving $5k a year from 55-65 at 7% would have $388k at 65 (that includes the 10 more years of growth on the $160k)

$388k at 4% withdrawal would give you $15,500 a year

Someone making $50k at 65 and paying $3000 to payroll taxes and saving $5k a year would be living on $42k....

SS would give about $20k... $388k savings would generate $15.5k... equals $35,500 a year coming in... or 84% of what they used to live on... Not too bad... If they were disciplined enough to pay off their mortgage over those 40 years, they're probably sitting pretty...

I know people on this board are pretty rich... But it doesn't really cost that much to pay for food and utilities and rent on a small place... My parents live in Southern Missouri in a very pretty (but rather small) 2-bedroom house sitting on 110 acres with a great view of Ozark hills and forests. It's paid for. (Cost them $80k for the land and the house about 20 years ago). They could easily live there for $24k a year if they had to.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby lawman3966 » Mon Jan 28, 2013 6:03 pm

I'm impressed that the above posters are this polite in connection with the article.

The author appears to make two basic points: (a) saving on consumption is pointless; and (b) the problem lies with the "system", not with individuals.

In other words, she's shifted the burden of ensuring financial security from individuals to society as a whole, and from an actionable issue for the reader to a grand social issue that individual readers have no real power over.

I assume the article would have no effect on Bogleheads and others with some financial acumen. But, less well informed people who read the article and conclude that savings is pointless could be harmed by it.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby Kulak » Mon Jan 28, 2013 7:52 pm

She's half-right. No, you can't get solvent via Your Latte Factor. For the David Bach plan to work, you have to make big cuts to the big, recurring bills. Which means that the proles of America need to quit borrowing to maintain the trappings of Middle Class(TM). You have to make "tough choices" -- like choosing to let go of your envy and its attendant rationalizations. Admit that you are not Middle Class(TM) and never were and never will be. No, that Executive MBA from Consolata University didn't change anything.

I know -- I'm one of 'em, that's what I did, and that's how I became a kulak.

But if her diatribe is right, and I suspect it is, soon the revolution will come and the kulaks will finally pay for their crimes, eh comrades?
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby JStephens » Mon Jan 28, 2013 10:14 pm

lawman3966 wrote:I'm impressed that the above posters are this polite in connection with the article.

The author appears to make two basic points: (a) saving on consumption is pointless; and (b) the problem lies with the "system", not with individuals.

In other words, she's shifted the burden of ensuring financial security from individuals to society as a whole, and from an actionable issue for the reader to a grand social issue that individual readers no power over.

I assume the article would have no effect on Bogleheads and others with some financial acumen. But, less well informed people who read the article and conclude that savings is pointless could be harmed by it. An article on removing coffee stains from the carpet would have been more entertaining, and a better use of the cyberspace the subject article occupies.

I didn't really get that from her talk (I haven't read her book btw). It just seemed like she was a little more defeatist than most of them, and didn't believe in the entire bootstraps technique that will lift everyone to millionaire status like others want to believe. I mean, we see that from Khanmots above who thinks its likely someone making $30,000 a year is spending $10-15 on lunch every weekday. I'm sure a small percentage of people might do that, but I doubt that's a normal worker.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby cherijoh » Tue Jan 29, 2013 12:09 am

There are people who genuinely do not have enough money to make ends meet due to chronic under-employment, lack of opportunity and education, etc. For those people, their likely fate will be will be to retire with only their SS benefits and live at or below the poverty line. To break out of this would require lots of hard work combined with some very good luck.

But I believe there are a significant contingent of formerly solid middle class, fairly educated individuals who were not prudent with their finances and used their home equity like an ATM machine prior to the real estate bubble bursting. I know a number of people who moved to a larger home in a more prestigious neighborhood because they thought they deserved it - whether or not they could actually afford it. They also leased 2 late model vechicles, had the latest and greatest technological gadgets, ate out frequently, and showered their kids (if they had them) with way too much stuff. Many have been totally derailed by the economic crisis, but I'm sure quite a few of them see no correlation between their current strained circumstances and their own fiscal behavior. Now that they are in their "peak earning years" they wonder from where the money for their retirement and kid's college is going to come. Had they started saving early and set their expectations a little lower with respect to their standard of living, they would have a lot less to worry about!

I totally agree with Lawman with respect to this segment of the population:

The author appears to make two basic points: (a) saving on consumption is pointless; and (b) the problem lies with the "system", not with individuals.

In other words, she's shifted the burden of ensuring financial security from individuals to society as a whole, and from an actionable issue for the reader to a grand social issue that individual readers no power over.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby deathb4disco » Tue Jan 29, 2013 10:52 am

I read the book this weekend. The author makes some good points, but she is an unabashed fan of both Teresa Ghilarducci and the Occupy Wall Street movement. I am a fan of neither. I don't want to get into politics, so I'll just leave it at that.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby Grt2bOutdoors » Tue Jan 29, 2013 12:00 pm

deathb4disco wrote:I read the book this weekend. The author makes some good points, but she is an unabashed fan of both Teresa Ghilarducci and the Occupy Wall Street movement. I am a fan of neither. I don't want to get into politics, so I'll just leave it at that.


Thanks for confirming I made the right decision not to purchase it.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby Taz » Wed Jan 30, 2013 3:49 pm

I used to counsel young sailors usually in debt or who complained that they could never save any money. It didn't take long to free up money by reducing discretionary consumption on a few things. Even before you began working on a budget there was often low hanging fruit you could bring up just to point out how much they are spending on a few things.

- Lattes. They do add up. Drinking one or two a day ($5 a day x 5 days a week x 52 weeks = $1,300) isn't uncommon, especially near Seattle where this was with all those drive thru places with really cute gals so this doesn't even include the tip to her because she smiled at you - but I digress.
- Smoking. $3 a pack on base in 2003, 5 packs a week -- $780.
- Music. This guy would go buy 5 CDs every payday. A small change such as buying 2 instead of 5 would save $720 ($10 x 3 x 24)

Don't even get me started on cell phones & data plans. Three things - $2,800 a year and that was in 2003. That isn't chicken feed.

Ms. Olen ends with, "Pick a cause, and resolve to fight for change. " How about becoming intentional in one's spending and take responsibility for yourself.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby damjam » Wed Jan 30, 2013 4:21 pm

.....
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby DaleMaley » Sat Feb 09, 2013 10:01 am

I just finished reading Olen's book. From my book review on Amazon......

http://www.amazon.com/review/R2V2ING0AL ... tf_fhv_prd

Good expose but no personal accountability, February 8, 2013
By Dale C. Maley "Index Fund Investor"

This review is from: Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry (Hardcover)

A little background on myself before I start the book review. I have an Engineering degree and an MBA. I have read over 200 books on investing and have been investing for 35 years. I am a Registered Investment Advisor in the State of Illinois. Most of my financial planning customers are family members with a few non-family members. I was a contributing author to the Bogleheads 2nd book, The Bogleheads Guide to Retirement Planning. I am also the author of over 50 e-books on financial planning topics.

When I write stories, I computer check my writing and try to keep it as simple as possible for the reader. Olen apparently does not believe it writing a story as simple as possible. I found four words or phrases that I had difficulty with. She uses the expression "caught out". I think she means she was afraid of being discovered as a fake financial planning expert when she had no training in investing or financial planning. I had never heard of the word oeuvre with respect to Suzy Orman's ever growing oeuvre. The word oeuvre relates to an artist's complete set of works. Olen used the phrase take-up with respect to 401Ks. I think she means the participation rate of employees signing up for their 401K plan. The last word was avaricious relatives. She could have simply said greedy relatives.

Olen frames all people involved with giving financial advice as "self-helpers". She says Americans have always believed that you control your own destiny. This started with Ben Franklin's 1732 financial advice that a penny saved is a penny earned in Poor Richard's Almanac. This theory is also commonly called rugged individualism or pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.

Olen spends the first part of her book doing exposes of people historically involved with personal finance. She starts with Sylvia Porter. Olen's complaint is that Sylvia Porter became so successful (and rich) that she could no longer relate to the issues of ordinary people.

Next she moves on to Jane Bryant Quinn, who chronologically replaces Sylvia Porter. Olen does not really skewer Quinn.

Olen left out Venita VanCaspel. Venita wrote one of the first books on financial planning back in 1978. Unfortunately, VanCaspel got caught up in the limited partnership craze of the 1980s. The people selling limited partnerships got huge commissions and the investors were wiped out when the tax laws favoring limited partnerships were abolished.

Olen spends quite a bit of time skewering Suze Orman. I find Orman offensive and too simplistic, but some women seem to love her. Orman dropped out of the U of Illinois (my alma mater) while pursuing a degree in sociology. She became a waitress at the Buttercup Bakery. I am a firm believer that a financial planner should "eat their own cooking". This means only recommending investments to clients that the planner uses in his personal portfolio. Suze recommends investing in stocks, yet she owns no stocks and only holds tax-free municipal bonds. I did like Olen's summary of Orman. "The Buttercup Bakery was, in other words, the perfect professional incubus for Suze Orman, who would first find the love she craved by serving up rather routine food to a roomful of regulars, before going on to sell rather routine and conflicted financial advice to millions, all the while convincing her fans in both places they were receiving gourmet tidbits."

Olen then skewers David Bach. His claim to fame is the advice to skip the daily latté and grow the money into millions by investing it. There is only one problem with is claim, the math does not add up. If you figure $4 per day over 250 working days in the year, you are investing $1,000 per year. If you achieve the long-term average return of the stock market of 10% over 30 years, you end up with $164,494. If you factor in a 3% inflation rate, the ending value drops to $94,461. This is a lot less than Bach promises.

Bach has also made millions by advocating automatic savings. When you were a child, your parents probably told you that if you can't touch the money, then you can't spend it. Using automatic savings plans (like a payroll deduction for a 401K) is common sense and simple advice. Bach has been able to promote this simple idea into millions of dollars of income to himself.

Olen also spends a lot of the book on skewering Dave Ramsey. His mantra is to pay off all debt. Olen criticizes Ramsey because he declared bankruptcy when he over-borrowed for his real estate investments.........but now tells his clients they should never declare bankruptcy. Olen finds some bankruptcy experts that say most people are better off declaring bankruptcy sooner versus later. She also criticizes Ramsey because he does not recommend paying of the debt in the order of highest to lowest interest rate.

Olen also skewers Jim Cramer, the CNBC shouting salesman. Cramer is an entertainer. All the studies I have seen show that one should never follow his investing advice.

Olen missed skewering Phil Town. He has gone on national TV shows and made preposterous claims. He says ordinary people can achieve 15% annual returns and they only have to spend 15 minutes a week to do it. Almost nobody has equaled the 10% historic return of the S&P 500 over long periods of time like 30 years.

Olen also picks on The Millionaire Next Door book. Olen ignores the major message of this book which is to live below your means....which gives you money to invest. A secondary message is that many people have become millionaires by starting their own businesses. Stanley, the author, points out in the book this is a very risky proposition. Most small businesses fail within the first 5 years of existence. Olen complains that it is too risky to start your own business, yet the book clearly points out this risk.

The whole premise of Olen's book is laid out early on page 12.

"Pound Foolish will tell the story of how we were sold on a dream--a dream that personal finance had almost magical abilities, that it could compensate for stagnant salaries, income inequality, and a society that offered a shorter and thinner safety net with each passing year. The book will tell the tale of how that fantasy was sold to us by people, organizations, and businesses that had a vested monetary interest in selling it to us. Finally, it will tell the story of how we allowed ourselves to be convinced that the personal finance and investment industrial complex would save our collective financial souls--and what comes next, now that it is clear it never could."

Olen believes people have zero control over their own destiny. She argues that people can not become financially successful until government solves income and social inequalities.

This philosophy leads to no recommendations for people, except to lobby for more government involvement.

Although Olen writes colorfully about the issues of 20th century people, maybe she should go back in time a couple hundred years. An Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, made an interesting discovery around the year 1900. He found that only a small proportion of people own the majority of the wealth and income of a country. He found this to not only be true in Italy, but England as well. The rough ratio he found was 80:20. Only 20% of the people have 80% of the wealth and income. If you fast forward 113 years, you will find the same ratios in the United States.

In other words, income or wealth inequality has been around for at least 113 years. The only systems with less inequality eventually collapsed (e.g. Soviet Union).

So the real question is, if you desire to be in the top 20% that has 80% of the wealth or income.......how do you become a member of the top 20%?

The only way to increase wealth is to first live below your means.......so you have money to save and invest. I think Charles Dickens said it best back in 1849 when Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield. Mr. Macawber says, with respect to money:

"Income 6 pence a week, expenditure 5 pence a week, result happiness: Income 6 pence a week, expenditure 7 pence a week, result misery."

I don't really care for Dave Ramsey, but if his methods help some people get their spending and debt under control, then great. There are other non-profit organizations that can help people with their spending issues also.

On a sliding scale, Olen believes people have zero control over their financial health and need government intervention. I lean towards the other end of the scale. I believe many people can change their behavior and they can join the 20% that has 80% of the wealth. We should keep the current safety nets we have for people that encounter the unexpected tough times of life.

Olen focused on the people that offer very little real advice and who profit on giving this advice. On the positive side, she missed the work of Jack Bogle. Jack started the Vanguard group and led the way on offering low-cost index funds. Vanguard is one of the few institutions that is owned by their customers, and not by shareholders. Bogle could have gotten a lot richer by not offering index funds and becoming a publicly traded firm. Millions of people have benefited by investing in Vanguard's low cost index funds. Vanguard also offers decent financial plans to people at minimal or no cost.

The believers in Bogle's low cost index funds have their own online forum. Just Google the term Bogleheads to find them. They are a non-profit group that discusses investing. They will review your portfolio at no charge and give you recommendations. Political discussions are also banned.

There are also many honest fee-only financial advisors that can help you with financial planning.

All-in-all, maybe this is a good book to educate people about the conflicts of interest involved with investing and financial planning. You will not find any recommendations on how to improve your own financial health, except to lobby for more government involvement. This is because the author believes that we have no control over our own destiny.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby Kulak » Sat Feb 09, 2013 10:48 am

DaleMaley wrote:I am a firm believer that a financial planner should "eat their own cooking". This means only recommending investments to clients that the planner uses in his personal portfolio. Suze recommends investing in stocks, yet she owns no stocks and only holds tax-free municipal bonds.

Bad argument. Suze has said that she's in a very different position financially from the vast majority of her clients; she doesn't need to take equity risk and so she doesn't. (Notice how she's channeling Larry here.) Presumably, if she were 25 and had just saved her first 10 grand, she'd take her own advice and buy stocks. At least once in every Bogleheads thread someone quotes Buffett or Swensen or whoever exhorting the hoi polloi to hold index funds, and this isn't considered hypocritical. Larry has mentioned his own AA and hastened to add that it's inappropriate for most investors.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby DaleMaley » Sat Feb 09, 2013 11:29 am

Kulak wrote:Bad argument. Suze has said that she's in a very different position financially from the vast majority of her clients; she doesn't need to take equity risk and so she doesn't. (Notice how she's channeling Larry here.) Presumably, if she were 25 and had just saved her first 10 grand, she'd take her own advice and buy stocks. At least once in every Bogleheads thread someone quotes Buffett or Swensen or whoever exhorting the hoi polloi to hold index funds, and this isn't considered hypocritical. Larry has mentioned his own AA and hastened to add that it's inappropriate for most investors.


Good point. I guess the real question is as her net worth increased from zero to mega-millions, did she ever own stocks along the way? I don't know. Since she turned over the $50K her restaurant customers loaned her to start her own restaurant to a Merrill Lynch broker, and he lost it all...I'm guessing she never invested in stocks again.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby htdrag11 » Sat Feb 09, 2013 4:38 pm

I don't buy books these days if I could borrow from our library. If they do not have it, I could request.

Based on some of the reviews here, there is no need to waste my money or time. I see little reason to knock others to make yourself look good (no one is perfect here).

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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby midareff » Sat Feb 09, 2013 5:17 pm

[quote="NYBoglehead"]I get the concept, and agree a lot of the supposed financial gurus peddle products, she's doing the exact same thing.

In the summary of the book, it mentions that saving money by not spending on lattes, etc is a myth.

LOL...... Publix, the local grocery chain here sells Starbucks coffee for $10.99 a bag normally. This week on sale for $7.49 a bag so I stocked up, charging it to my 6% cash back AMEX Blue Preferred. get to rading the bag and it says I ca present the empty bag for a 12 oz. coffee at a partiipating Starbucks. I meet my tax preparer at Starbucks this AM and sure enough they hand over a tall one free. OK, it'snot a latte but having my favorite House Blend and Breakfast blend grinds at under $5 a bag is pretty Bogleish to me and far better than swill at $6.99 a bag.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby stemikger » Sat Feb 09, 2013 5:28 pm

midareff wrote:In the summary of the book, it mentions that saving money by not spending on lattes, etc is a myth.


I didn't read the book, but I too read the summary on Amazon and this is where I got turned off. David Bach is the author of the Automatic Millionaire and the inventor of the latte factor. He basically has you get on a plan and make it automatic and by doing so it takes the budget off the table and you can lead a worry free financial life.

Now to be fair, after this book David seemed to write a book a week and many of the books were just to make a buck because he kept repeating the same stuff he put in the Automatic Millionaire. However, that does not take away from that book and was one of my first and the one that really set me on this course and it works.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby Toons » Sat Feb 09, 2013 6:09 pm

If you are interested Helaine Olean talks about her book ,Video- C-Span about 55 minutes :happy



http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/310084-1
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby KyleAAA » Sat Feb 09, 2013 8:37 pm

I've read the book. It's actually pretty darn good. She isn't defeatist at all, she's just realistic in that the best-laid plans are useless in the face of a major disaster that many people will go through at least once in their lives. Sometimes the odds are just stacked against you. That doesn't apply to most Bogleheads, but it certainly DOES apply to a large percentage of the population. Class mobility has deteriorated significantly over the last few decades. She never argues people have zero control over their own destiny, though. Far from it. She simply states facts: that the odds are against you if you aren't born into a privileged class and that EVEN IF you do everything right, that still might not be enough. I've seen nothing to make me doubt her conclusions. I don't think the vast majority of comments on this thread are fair evaluations of her book.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby Austintatious » Sat Feb 09, 2013 8:49 pm

Toons wrote:If you are interested Helaine Olean talks about her book ,Video- C-Span about 55 minutes :happy



http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/310084-1


Toons, thanks for the link. I've not read Ms. Olean's book, but I have just watched this C-Span interview you were good enough to provide and, contrary to much of the commentary in this thread, my initial assessment is that this woman's perspective is right on the money. But here's the real shocker, as frivolous as it may seem to some. Not only am I going to invest the whole $16 it will take to buy this book, instead of borrowing it from our local library, but if it's as relevant and insightful to the subject of personal finance as I now suspect it will be, then I'm going to purchase several more and distribute them to some of the younger folks I care about. Of course, if after I've read Ms. Olean's latest work, I conclude that my 16 bucks was poorly invested, I'll just have to put off retirement for another year.
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby VictoriaF » Sat Feb 09, 2013 8:53 pm

Austintatious wrote:Of course, if after I've read Ms. Olean's latest work, I conclude that my 16 bucks was poorly invested, I'll just have to put off retirement for another year.

If the $16 is poorly invested then you will disagree with Ms. Olean's premise that saving on lattes does not matter, and therefore you will immediately start saving on lattes. By saving on five lattes you would recoup the cost of the book and put off your retirement by mere eleven months.

Victoria
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby Austintatious » Sat Feb 09, 2013 9:58 pm

VictoriaF wrote:
Austintatious wrote:Of course, if after I've read Ms. Olean's latest work, I conclude that my 16 bucks was poorly invested, I'll just have to put off retirement for another year.

If the $16 is poorly invested then you will disagree with Ms. Olean's premise that saving on lattes does not matter, and therefore you will immediately start saving on lattes. By saving on five lattes you would recoup the cost of the book and put off your retirement by mere eleven months.

Victoria


As I mentioned, I've not read her book. I think I can say, correctly, that the word "latte" was never mentioned in the 55 minute C-Span interview I watched earlier this evening, though I cannot swear to it. If Ms. Olean actually suggests that saving money by cutting back on one's lattes, and going out for lunch five days a week, instead of brown-bagging-it, or splurging on a Beamer instead of settling for a Corolla doesn't make a difference, then she would be wrong. But I haven't read her book, yet. Have you? And how about all the others posting here who have rejected her work so readily? Have they all read her book?

There is this thing called "context", and it just mioght apply to this woman and her work. Why don't you "invest" in the 55 minutes it takes to view the C-Span interview and see what you think? And if you already have viewed that interview, what do you think, Victoria?
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Re: Helaine Olen: Pound Foolish

Postby VictoriaF » Sat Feb 09, 2013 10:14 pm

Austintatious wrote:
VictoriaF wrote:
Austintatious wrote:Of course, if after I've read Ms. Olean's latest work, I conclude that my 16 bucks was poorly invested, I'll just have to put off retirement for another year.

If the $16 is poorly invested then you will disagree with Ms. Olean's premise that saving on lattes does not matter, and therefore you will immediately start saving on lattes. By saving on five lattes you would recoup the cost of the book and put off your retirement by mere eleven months.

Victoria


As I mentioned, I've not read her book. I think I can say, correctly, that the word "latte" was never mentioned in the 55 minute C-Span interview I watched earlier this evening, though I cannot swear to it. If Ms. Olean actually suggests that saving money by cutting back on one's lattes, and going out for lunch five days a week, instead of brown-bagging-it, or splurging on a Beamer instead of settling for a Corolla doesn't make a difference, then she would be wrong. But I haven't read her book, yet. Have you? And how about all the others posting here who have rejected her work so readily? Have they all read her book?

There is this thing called "context", and it just mioght apply to this woman and her work. Why don't you "invest" in the 55 minutes it takes to view the C-Span interview and see what you think? And if you already have viewed that interview, what do you think, Victoria?


I have not read the book and I might watch the C-Span interview tomorrow. This thread is the only information I have about Ms. Olean's ideas, and it is not sufficient to accept or reject them. As for the lattes, the validity of her argument depends on how she presents it. From my personal observations, people frequently justify large expenditures by deciding to cut many small ones. This seldom works.

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