Here's a personal confession -- I hate thinking about how to  handle my money. Why? As a non-expert in the area, even a quick Google search to investigate how to invest and save turns up what, to me at least, is a bewildering quantity of highly contradictory advice. When there's a ton of tips, a million funds, and a gazillion experts out there, how's the average person to choose?

Maybe the best answer, according to a new book, is to throw the whole lot of this advice in the trash and start fresh with a simple truth -- all the personal finance advice you'll ever need could actually fit on an index card.

That's the refreshing takeaway of The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have to Be Complicated by Helaine Olen and University of Chicago professor Harold Pollack (which I am really, really hoping is true). New York magazine's Science of Us blog recently featured a long interview with Pollack about the basics of the book.

How to take something really simple and make it hugely complicated

Why, if sensible personal finance decisions are so straightforward, are people like me bombarded with so much complicated advice? Because the truth is boring and people like excitement (and make money off it, too), claims Pollack.

"We all hope that we will be the person who bought Apple stock 15 years ago," he tells Science of Us, but "the proper methodical approaches to saving and investing are really boring. It's much more fun and diverting to time the market or to stock-pick."

"Unfortunately, the evidence is overwhelming that ordinary investors are incredibly bad at picking individual stocks," he notes, citing reams of research. "The promise of complex investment products is almost always wildly overblown."

Plus, the whole personal finance industry would have nothing to talk about if the truth came out. "The best advice is simply too boring and repetitive to make good TV. Who would regularly tune in to some cable finance show that said, 'Buy index funds,' every week?" asks Pollack.

So what does this index card look like?

The interview goes on to talk about the biases and psychological quirks that drive people to screw up managing their money (spoiler: there are a lot of them), as well as sensible advice on how to start going about correcting for yours. All of that's worth a read, but the essential question probably is this -- what does that handy index card of advice look like?

Science of Us helpfully links to Pollack's personal card, while The New York Times goes one better, soliciting eight such index cards from various personal finance experts. I'm heading over there to read them now.

Are you buying the idea that all the personal finance advice you'll ever need fits on one index card?

Published on: Feb 10, 2016
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