Personal finance books are full of craziness

woman holding up her hand palm out in a stop motion

I was raised in a house that believed in the power of saving.

My parents were faithful subscribers to magazines like Money and Forbes — and I remember being given a kid version of a savings magazine at a fairly young age.

I was taught to believe that, with the right foundation, investing in my future wasn’t all that hard. The trick was getting that foundation.

I felt like my upbringing had given me the basics.

But a few years ago, I was facing a lot of unknowns that left me unsure about how to plan my financial future.

I was moving back to the U.S. from Germany, after being a dependent of the U.S. Army for a number of years. It was going to be a big change.

I was getting divorced, significantly reducing my household income. Another big change.

And I was looking to buy a house and put down some roots as someone without a typical day job. No matter how much you're earning as a freelancer, it never involves regularly scheduled paychecks.

But I hoped, with the right book in hand, I could mitigate some of that change when it came to my finances.

What I found on the finance shelves at the library was a whole lot of crazy.

There were books by personal finance "celebrities," mixing up stories of everyday Joes and sage financial advice (never mind that these real-life story/advice combinations often contradicted each other from chapter to chapter).

There were topical books that addressed divorce, freelancing and the stock market — but didn’t consider that there might be some overlap. There were financial memoirs that told the stories of how individuals found their own path to financial security (but in just enough detail so you’d sign up for their monthly financial newsletter at $9.99/year).

There were quite a few books that I couldn’t make heads or tails of — apparently you need a Ph.D. in economics to glean anything from the jargon. And then there were tomes that seemed to be the financial equivalent of The Secret, telling you that if you visualized the coin, it would find you.

Ed and Marie Peters

Success Story: How one couple saved nearly $100,000 before turning 30. Marie Peters credits vivid childhood memories of her parents’ arguments while balancing their checkbook as a motivator for stockpiling cash for retirement and rainy days. "I never wanted to fight with my spouse about money," she says. As a result, Marie and her husband, Ed, see saving as a lifetime endeavor, not a monthly afterthought.

As I paged through many of these books, I couldn’t help but be reminded of weight loss.

Those who are trying to shed a few extra pounds are often hit with the old cliché, "Eat less; exercise more." It’s the basic axiom of getting back to thin.

But, as simple as it may sound, doing so is hard work. We want our weight loss to come easier. We want gimmicks and plans that allow us to avoid the hard work. We want it to be effortless.

The same is true of planning our financial future.

We don’t want to hear, "Spend less; save more." We want something that will somehow transcend discipline and effort. We want it to come easy.

The majority of the books on the finance shelf are all too happy to plug into that desire.

There were a few interesting books in the mix — books that reminded me of the straightforward advice you might find in those old Money magazines in my parents’ bathroom.

But even they were lacking, because they made the assumption that everyone who might be reading them was working a 9-to-5 job with old-school benefits and a company-matched 401(k) retirement plan.

I don’t need to be reminded to sign up to save the maximum to my 401(k) plan. I need advice on how to create a sustainable retirement plan in the feast-or-famine seesaw of freelance life.

Let’s face it: Life is messy. And, by extension, so are our finances.

We might get divorced; we might lose our jobs; we might get stiffed by a freelance client; we might get sick; we might go upside down on our mortgage.

Even when we have the discipline and wherewithal to save a few bucks every month, changes to the economy may make our best efforts seem pretty meaningless.

Too many finance books are all too happy to ignore these facts — that even when we are doing our best, we may still come up short.

And that’s why I’m done with financial books.

Even though I wish there were an easier path to financial security, I’m sticking with “Spend less; save more.”

Because, even with the unknowns, that’s something I can count on.

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