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The Index Card
Cover of The Index Card
The Index Card
Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have to Be Complicated
Borrow Borrow

“The newbie investor will not find a better guide to personal finance.” 
—Burton Malkiel, author of A RANDOM WALK DOWN WALL STREET   

TV analysts and money managers would have you believe your finances are enormously complicated, and if you don’t follow their guidance, you’ll end up in the poorhouse.
 
They’re wrong.
 
When University of Chicago professor Harold Pollack interviewed Helaine Olen, an award-winning financial journalist and the author of the bestselling Pound Foolish, he made an off­hand suggestion: everything you need to know about managing your money could fit on an index card. To prove his point, he grabbed a 4" x 6" card, scribbled down a list of rules, and posted a picture of the card online. The post went viral.
 
Now, Pollack teams up with Olen to explain why the ten simple rules of the index card outperform more complicated financial strategies. Inside is an easy-to-follow action plan that works in good times and bad, giving you the tools, knowledge, and confidence to seize control of your financial life.

“The newbie investor will not find a better guide to personal finance.” 
—Burton Malkiel, author of A RANDOM WALK DOWN WALL STREET   

TV analysts and money managers would have you believe your finances are enormously complicated, and if you don’t follow their guidance, you’ll end up in the poorhouse.
 
They’re wrong.
 
When University of Chicago professor Harold Pollack interviewed Helaine Olen, an award-winning financial journalist and the author of the bestselling Pound Foolish, he made an off­hand suggestion: everything you need to know about managing your money could fit on an index card. To prove his point, he grabbed a 4" x 6" card, scribbled down a list of rules, and posted a picture of the card online. The post went viral.
 
Now, Pollack teams up with Olen to explain why the ten simple rules of the index card outperform more complicated financial strategies. Inside is an easy-to-follow action plan that works in good times and bad, giving you the tools, knowledge, and confidence to seize control of your financial life.

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    INTRODUCTION

    SAM’S STORY

    A few years ago, Sam received an inheritance after his dad died. Grief stricken and overwhelmed by the demands of work, marriage, and raising children, he placed the money in a local bank’s savings account. Every so often, Sam would make an effort to think about the money. He knew he should invest it in . . . well, something. A few times a year a very official-sounding officer from the bank, someone called a wealth officer, would contact him about it, suggesting a complimentary meeting.

    So Sam would sit down at the bank, and an advisor would offer him coffee and muffins and talk to him about his children, his job, and where he next planned to go on vacation. Then he would offer a solution, the next-best thing to a guarantee, he said, as he started talking really fast about expected rates of return, risk, and the importance of the stock market.

    The wealth officer, or wealth specialist, or whatever the heck he was called, wanted Sam to sign papers right there and then so the money could get to work, as he put it. But Sam held off. He knew there were unscrupulous money people out there, and he wanted to do his due diligence.

    So Sam would call friends, and friends of those friends. Sometimes those friends were in finance or married to people in finance, and they would make suggestions based on what they had picked up from their jobs or their husbands or wives over the years. One offered to manage the money for him altogether but didn’t say how he would be compensated for his time and effort. Another said he should call Vanguard and put the money in something called index funds. Bonds, advised another. Others talked about allocating different percentages to different investments. Still another pal suggested a financial advisor named Kelly who had done amazing things for him.

    Other people told Sam horror stories. There was the friend who had been persuaded to invest in tech stocks in 1999 and lost “a bundle,” as he put it. A coworker told him about the friend of the family who seemed so kind but put her mom in some sort of investment that didn’t do what it was supposed to and left her in a worse position than when she started out. Several people mentioned Bernie Madoff.

    It was overwhelming. It seemed as if everyone contradicted one another. And they were all so sure . . . sure that they had the secret to how to make money grow or that it was all a rip-off. And Sam was scared. He needed that money. He wanted to send his children to college. He couldn’t bring himself to risk losing it.

    So Sam ended up doing . . . nothing.

    Not only did Sam’s nest egg end up losing a chunk of its value to inflation, but the stock market also did well during this period. Sam didn’t benefit from that run-up. He wasn’t running anywhere. He was stuck doing nothing because the combination of the myriad options and uncertainties of money, the economy, and the financial services industry had all but paralyzed him.

    THE POUND FOOLISH STORY

    Sam is hardly alone. Statistics and studies show that many of us choose not to deal or take a hands-on approach when it comes to our finances.


       • Almost three out of four of us say our finances cause us stress on at least a monthly basis.
       • One-third of those in relationships say money is a major source of conflict with their significant other.
       • Fifty-five percent of people with investable assets worth between $50,000 and $250,000 say they fear...
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    November 23, 2015
    Olen and Pollack feel that many people are too fearful of money to manage it well, and they attempt to overcome that fear with this lackluster self-help book. After Pollack interviewed Olen about her previous book, Pound Foolish, an exposé of the financial services industry, he decided to jot down nine rules for better financial living on a single index card. He posted a picture of the card online, and it went viral. Those nine rules are replicated in this book, with the intention of helping readers build confidence, understand basic financial truths, and avoid catastrophic mistakes. It’s an admirable mission, but the rules themselves—save 10–20% of your income, avoid debt, max out your tax-advantaged accounts, buy index funds rather than dabbling in day trading, and so on—are too old and readily available in any listicle to be worth building a book around. There’s a fine line between attractively simple and just simplistic; this was a clever, sharable meme when it was nine lines on the Internet, but as a full book, it’s unsatisfying to all but the most unaware consumers.

  • Library Journal

    January 1, 2016

    This slim volume emerged from a conversation between author and financial columnist Olen (Pound Foolish) and college professor Pollack (Helen Ross Professor, Sch. of Social Service Administration, Univ. of Chicago). Pollack sought to develop "a new financial regimen" after finding himself stuck, as Olen describes early in the book, because of the "combination of the myriad options and uncertainties of money, the economy, and the financial services industry." His advice list of nine basic steps on savings, retirement, investing, and credit cards, among others--contained on one side of a three-by-five index card--quickly went viral, appealing to many similarly "in search of simplicity." While the book provides only slight modifications to the original list (including the addition of "Remember the Index Card" as a tenth step), it cuts successfully through much of the complex material in the marketplace by expanding upon and explaining each step in concise chapters. VERDICT Young people looking for a place to plant their financial feet and readers of books such as Beth Kobliner's Get a Financial Life will find this a fine starting point.--Doug Diesenhaus, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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The Index Card
The Index Card
Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have to Be Complicated
Helaine Olen
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