A Money Skeptic Weighs In

Helaine Olen

Helaine Olen

In her new book, Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry, author Helaine Olen argues that the whole money industry promulgates a myth of empowerment—pushed by shaming, blaming money celebs—that ignores economic reality.

How did writing “Pound Foolish” change you?

Like many of us, I really thought part of the problem was that no one was exposed to personal finance information in any organized, disciplined way until it was too late.

But when I looked deeper, that wasn’t the issue.

Our national savings rate was 10% in the early 1980s—for most of 2012, it was about 4%. Most people didn’t suddenly go a on a financial bender. Instead, people were expected to do more and more with less and less.

Most people don’t have much saved for retirement. Almost half of us are living paycheck to paycheck. Yet most financial advice out there either subliminally or out-and-out blames people for their problems.

What made you most angry as you researched the book?

What fuels my outrage is the nastiness and blame out there. I mean, so much personal finance and investment advice—even as our economy deteriorated—began to sound harsh and blaming, a cross between an Ayn Rand self-determination screed and a Victorian morality tract.

Telling people in a society where salaries are plunging—while their expenses on things like healthcare, housing, and education are increasing—that their issues with money are a result of their first money memories, something the financial therapy movement does, is deluded at best and offensive at worst.

Any surprises?

I’ve heard from people who work in the financial services industry, who have reached out to tell me that we do indeed need to be careful of trusting—and that is to put it kindly—those who present themselves as our financial saviors, be that television gurus or the broker at your neighborhood bank.

Has writing the book changed how you handle your own finances?

I’m much more conscious of getting value for my money – and that includes not just wasting it, but getting what I enjoy out of it.

We have a culture of shame around money in our society, so we think we are alone in our problems. We’ve been going down together. We only think we are alone in our financial problems. Our personal finances are, in reality, our collective finances, and that’s what the conversation should be about.

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