Pound Foolish by Helaine Olen
Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry


6 Critic Reviews

IT’S rare to come across a realistic and readable book about personal finance.
-NY Times


If you’ve ever bought a personal finance book, watched a TV show about stock picking, listened to a radio show about getting out of debt, or attended a seminar to help you plan for your retirement, you’ve probably heard some version of these quotes:

“What’s keeping you from being rich? In most cases, it is simply a lack of belief.” —SUZE ORMAN, The Courage to Be Rich

“Are you latte-ing away your financial future?” —DAVID BACH, Smart Women Finish Rich

“I know you’re capable of picking winning stocks and holding on to them.” —JIM CRAMER, Mad Money

They’re common refrains among personal finance gurus. There’s just one problem: those and many simi­lar statements are false.

For the past few decades, Americans have spent billions of dollars on personal finance products. As salaries have stagnated and companies have cut back on benefits, we’ve taken matters into our own hands, embracing the can-do attitude that if we’re smart enough, we can overcome even daunting financial obstacles. But that’s not true.

In this meticulously reported and shocking book, journalist and former financial columnist Helaine Olen goes behind the curtain of the personal finance industry to expose the myths, contradictions, and outright lies it has perpetuated. She shows how an industry that started as a response to the Great Depression morphed into a behemoth that thrives by selling us products and services that offer little if any help.

Olen calls out some of the biggest names in the business, revealing how even the most respected gurus have engaged in dubious, even deceitful, prac­tices—from accepting payments from banks and corporations in exchange for promoting certain prod­ucts to blaming the victims of economic catastrophe for their own financial misfortune. Pound Foolish also disproves many myths about spending and saving, including:

Small pleasures can bankrupt you: Gurus popular­ized the idea that cutting out lattes and other small expenditures could make us millionaires. But reduc­ing our caffeine consumption will not offset our biggest expenses: housing, education, health care, and retirement. Disciplined investing will make you rich: Gurus also love to show how steady investing can turn modest savings into a huge nest egg at retirement. But these calculations assume a healthy market and a lifetime without any setbacks—two conditions that have no connection to the real world. Women need extra help managing money: Product pushers often target women, whose alleged financial ignorance supposedly leaves them especially at risk. In reality, women and men are both terrible at han­dling finances. Financial literacy classes will prevent future eco­nomic crises: Experts like to claim mandatory sessions on personal finance in school will cure many of our money ills. Not only is there little evidence this is true, the entire movement is largely funded and promoted by the financial services sector.

Weaving together original reporting, interviews with experts, and studies from disciplines ranging from behavioral economics to retirement planning, Pound Foolish is a compassionate and compelling book that will change the way we think and talk about our money.


About Helaine Olen

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HELAINE OLEN writes the the “Money, Motherhood, and Other Minutia” blog at her Forbes.com. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Salon, Slate, and Portfolio. Previously, she wrote and edited for the Los Angeles Times.
Published December 27, 2012 by Portfolio. 304 pages
Genres: Business & Economics. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Pound Foolish
All: 6 | Positive: 5 | Negative: 1


on Nov 04 2012

A nice takedown, particularly in its acknowledgement that the deck is always stacked against “participants in a vast experiment” of the deregulated marketplace—namely, the little guys.

Read Full Review of Pound Foolish: Exposing the D... | See more reviews from Kirkus

NY Times

on Dec 29 2012

IT’S rare to come across a realistic and readable book about personal finance.

Read Full Review of Pound Foolish: Exposing the D... | See more reviews from NY Times

Publishers Weekly

Above average
on Oct 15 2012

One can enjoy her glimpses of the world of financial celebrity while remaining skeptical about the scope of her proposed remedy.

Read Full Review of Pound Foolish: Exposing the D... | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

Washington Independent Review of Books


Helaine Olen’s Pound Foolish is just as wonderfully skeptical and snarky, while providing a modern-day look at how and why today’s personal finance charlatans … er, “experts” … are still much more likely to get rich than their followers.

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Tulsa World

on Dec 30 2012

Olen exposes the fallacies spun by some of America's current personal-finance celebrities.

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Business Week

Below average
on Jan 11 2013

Olen’s writing contains some vivid reportage, but much of her material feels lifted too quickly from secondary (online) sources.

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