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Book review

Book Review: The 7Twelve Portfolio

The 7Twelve Portfolio is an excellent concept for financial planners and novice investors alike. The book is very well written and easy to comprehend as Dr. Israelsen keeps the concepts simple and analogies easy to follow. The crux of the book is regarding diversification and Dr. Israelsen uses the analogy for making salsa as a reference. For example, you don’t have salsa of you just have diced tomatoes and it really doesn’t improve if you simply add some onions and salt. It improves a little bit, but still isn’t salsa. The same is true for diversification. You’re not diversified if you own one stock or bond in your portfolio and have all of your holdings in that one asset. The benefits of diversification begin when you start adding additional ingredients to the mix. This starts to lower risk and help maximize return. This is a concept us nerdy planners call correlation. The […]

Book Review: A Random Walk Down Wall Street

Right from the start this book will be an excellent read for both financial advisors as well as their clients. Dr. Malkiel provides academic insight on the reasons why passive management works and some great commentary on the use of index funds as part of someone’s overall portfolio. This was the second time I read this book and certainly not the last. It’s great reinforcement on why we invest our clients’ money the way we do and provides solid academic evidence that doing anything to the contrary is counterproductive, more expensive and simply playing a loser’s game. Some of the bigger takeaways from the book are Dr. Malkiel’s thoughts and research on the different part of the Efficient Market Hypothesis or EMH. The EMH consists of three parts – the strong form, the semi-strong form and the weak form. The EMH essential admits that markets are efficient – meaning that current […]

Book Review: Control Your Retirement Destiny

This new book is the first book from my colleague Dana Anspach.  Dana has been writing and blogging for quite some time now, primarily as the voice behind Money Over 55 for (  Dana also is a practicing financial advisor and respected speaker. If you’re looking for a nuts-and-bolts, do-it-yourself primer on all things related to retirement, this is your book.  Ms. Anspach has put together a very complete overview of all of the areas that you need to consider in order to “Control Your Retirement Destiny”.  By following the advice in this book, you can figure out how much money you need to have to retire, where to put it (meaning, what types of accounts to use), how to invest it, and all of the other important topics that you need to know about. Along the way, you’ll learn what’s important to know about Social Security, taxes, investment […]

Book Review: How to Retire Happy

“The 12 most important decisions you must make before you retire” Author Stan Hinden, who is the former syndicated Washington Post “Retirement Journal” columnist, has just released his Fourth Edition of this book.  The book is Hinden’s commentary and advice, as well as a sort of journal, as he and his wife Sara entered into and have been living in retirement over the past 17 years.  Hinden retired in 1996 at the age of 69, at which time he began writing the “Retirement Journal” column.  He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Commentary in 1998 for his work. This book is an excellent read for folks who are planning toward retirement or have recently retired.  Hinden has organized the process into 12 decisions, some of which include: “Am I Ready to Retire?”, “What Should I Do with the Money in My Company Savings Plan?”, and “Where Do I Want […]

Book Review: Born to Blog

Taking a departure from my regular topics of taxes, retirement accounts, and Social Security, today I’m reviewing a book dedicated to the topic of blogging.  This is another of the books that McGraw-Hill has provided for me to review (see note below).  This book, by Mark W. Schaefer and Stanford A. Smith, provides a quick-read overview of the activity of writing a blog successfully.  As with any venture, it’s important at the start to have a goal for the activity, and for many folks it’s simply to get a message out there about a product or service.  For others, the goal is to be a source of information; others yet look to showcase collections of graphics, photos, audio and/or video.  And many hope to gain an audience that will somehow pay off for them – either from sales of products, services or subscriptions, or from ad revenue from third-parties who […]

Book Review: Think, Act, and Invest Like Warren Buffett

This book, by Larry Swedroe, is a must read for individual investors that are looking for the answer to the age-old question – How should I invest? Warren Buffett certainly makes any list of “best investment minds” of our era, no matter who you are.  Author Larry Swedroe would likely make any such list as well, given his many books that he has written on the subject, such as “The Only Guide to a Winning Investment Strategy You’ll Ever Need”, “Investment Mistakes Even Smart Investors Make”, and just as well, the subject of this review. Mr. Swedroe starts out with the basics of Mr. Buffett’s advice, with the sage’s commentary backed by the facts behind them.  For example, regarding market timing: “Our favorite holding period is forever.”  Swedroe follows this advice with evidence of why it pays off for the individual investor in the long run, due to the fact […]

Another “Swim with Jim” Interview on Social Security

I recently once again was honored to be interviewed on the radio by Mr. Jim Ludwick.  Jim is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professional, and his practice is based in Odenton, Maryland with additional offices in Washington, DC, Santa Barbara, California, San Mateo, California, and New York City.  Jim also is a fellow member of the Garrett Planning Network. We discussed the recent new edition of my book, A Social Security Owner’s Manual, 2013 Edition, and the new information that has been provided there.  We also reviewed some of the reasons that the Social Security benefits calculation process is so complex, as well as the concept that, in many cases, it can be more efficient to use IRA resources to help you get by until your Social Security benefits can be maximized. I reviewed a case like this recently in an article at, entitled My Smartest Money Move: Taking More […]

Book Review: Strategic Capitalism – The New Economic Strategy for Winning the Capitalist Cold War

Author Richard A. D’Aveni has written a very compelling book with Strategic Capitalism, a book that provides some very important information for Americans to review and consider due to the coming economic cold war between the United States and China.  Mr. D’Aveni asserts that the United States’ traditional version of capitalism must be adapted in order to compete with China’s conglomeration of various types of capitalism. The beginning of the book details the many different pure types of capitalism – Laissez-Faire, social-market, managed, and philanthropic – and how these have been used over the years in many different economies.  Mr. D’Aveni points out that rarely is a single pure type of capitalism ever the only type of capitalism in use in an economic system, but rather that many different forms of capitalism are blended together to work in the economic and political interests of the country or union in question. […]

Book Review: Currencies After the Crash

This book is a series of nine essays about the state of currency in our global economy after the 2008-2009 economic crisis.  The contributor list is impressive: global currency luminaries such as Anoop Singh of the IMF, Robert Johnson of the Global Finance Project, Jörg Asmussen of the European Central Bank, and many others of similar pedigree.  The book is edited by Sara Eisen of Bloomberg. This book doesn’t lend itself well to description, other than that each of the contributors provides a snippet of insight into the global currency situation as it stands today, from his or her professional perspective. Most of the essays point out that the US dollar is not in the crisis situation that the popular press would have us believe.  Yes, the dominance of the dollar has diminished in recent years, but a replacement as dominant currency worldwide is not eminent from either the euro […]

Book Review: The Chinese Way to Wealth and Prosperity

You’d have to be living under a rock to have not noticed how the Chinese people have pretty much taken over all the top spots in most all pursuits – athletic, artistic, educational, financial, and most other areas of life. This book, by Michael Justin Lee, a Chartered Financial Analyst and formerly the nation’s first Financial Markets Expert-in-Residence in the US Department of Labor, seeks to explain the reasons behind the success of the Chinese in so many areas of life.  Mr. Lee delivers concrete examples of how this likely has come to be. Admittedly, the success that the Chinese people are experiencing is not limited solely to the Chinese, and the author points this out – it appears that much of the basis behind this success comes from Confucian teaching, which influences many other Asian countries.  It’s not surprising that Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other Eastern countries are […]

How to Keep Your Sanity When the World Around You Isn’t

In my current re-read of Benjamin Graham’s timeless book “The Intelligent Investor”, I ran across the following paragraph and was immediately struck by the simple, deep truth in the lines: But note this important fact: The true investor scarcely ever is forced to sell his shares, and at all other times he is free to disregard the current price quotation.  He need pay attention to it and act upon it only to the extent that it suits his book, and not more.  Thus the investor who permits himself to be stampeded or unduly worried by unjustified market declines in his holdings is perversely transforming his basic advantage into a basic disadvantage.  That man would be better off if his stocks had no market quotation at all, for he would then be spared the mental anguish caused him by other persons’ mistakes of judgment. Jason Zweig, in his notes for the […]

Book Review: The Malign Hand of the Markets

Subtitle: The Insidious Forces on Wall Street that are Destroying Financial Markets – and What We Can Do About It This book, written by Duke Professor of Psychology, Biology and Neurobiology John Staddon, provides a quite interesting view of the way our markets are impacted by the “malign hand” – a play on the “invisible hand” described by Adam Smith in his book “Wealth of Nations”. Briefly, the Invisible Hand Theory describes how an unknown force allows the market to self-balance – the self-interest of the individuals making up the marketplace has a beneficial impact on the overall marketplace, even though the individuals in the marketplace are only interested in their own benefit. But we’re not here to talk about Invisible Hand, but rather the Malign Hand.  Staddon explains that individual self-interest may have a negative impact to the overall marketplace.  One example of this is in the tragedy of […]

Book Review: Low Fee Socially Responsible Investing – Investing in your worldview on your terms

Today I’m reviewing a book written by a friend and colleague, Tom Nowak, CFP®.  Tom is passionate about Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) and he has written a great overview of the concept.  He introduces some very good tools that the average investor can use, either on your own or to help guide conversations with your advisor. But SRI concepts are available in many forms from many sources – what makes Tom’s book unique is that he develops a framework that allows the individual investor to implement SRI strategies (or for that matter, any investment strategy reflecting a particular worldview) in a very cost-effective manner. Mr. Nowak starts out with a discussion of fees and how they can have a major impact on your overall investment returns.  As you may already know, any reduction that you can achieve on the fees that your investment activities cost you will be returned directly […]

Book Review: Abnormal Returns – Winning Strategies From the Frontlines of the Investment Blogosphere

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened this book.  After all, the subtitle could lead one to expect some sort of sensationalistic attention-grabbing sort of “get rich quick” scheme.  I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least. I had not read any of author Tadas Viskanta’s writings prior to this book (I’ve since resolved that shortcoming – see Abnormal Returns, you won’t be disappointed!), so I didn’t realize how insightful and reasoned Mr. Viskanta’s commentary could be.  What he has produced in this book is an excellent overview of the components of the investment environment these days.  This book should be required reading for anyone who is investing these days – especially for the non-professional investor who is going it alone, without a professional advisor. The author starts off with a thorough explanation of the concepts of Risk and Return, and then explains the basics of Stock (Equity) […]

Book Review – Backstage Wall Street

This was a good book, I truly enjoyed reading it.  The primary reason that I enjoyed it so much is because it’s the book I have been hoping to find from someone like author Joshua Brown: a book that tells the truth about what’s really going on on the seamy side of Wall Street (which is the only side, to be truthful). Joshua Brown ( provides a unique perspective – that of someone who has been involved in the “inside” of wirehouse broker-dealers, but who has since seen the light and moved on to a career in independent investment advice.  As such, Mr. Brown has seen the worst of the worst, in terms of how these institutions treat the investing public.  Once he became aware of how it all worked, through a great degree of soul-searching (and a whole lot of gumption), stepped away from it all and has never […]

Book Review: The Wall Street MBA

This book, by Mr. Reuben Advani, sets out to cover much of the pertinent information required in an MBA program within its pages, and I think it does a good job of meeting this goal.  Mind you, I don’t have an MBA degree so I can’t say with certainty that the goal is accomplished, but I’d have to say that the book does an excellent job of hitting all of the important points of required knowledge, specifically as it relates to investing and individual company valuation.  I liked this book, but then again I’m kind of an out-of-the-ordinary accounting/investing geek. Where I have some confusion with this book is in understanding who is the target audience.  The problem is that the subject matter gets pretty involved in accounting principles that can be overwhelming to the average individual – potentially so much that the average individual may lose interest.  On the […]

Book Review: Investment Mistakes Even Smart Investors Make

This book is a must read for all investors. Author Larry Swedroe has demonstrated once again how he has a full understanding of the average investor’s situation, by listing 77 real-life mistakes that all of us have encountered at one time or another. What’s more, Mr. Swedroe also takes the time to provide examples of where the mistakes listed have damaged investors’ situations, as well as to show how the investors could have avoided the mistakes. Larry Swedroe, for the uninitiated, is a best-selling author of many books which explain his concepts of investing – including The Only Guide series, The Quest for Alpha, and others.  These books cover primarily passive investing, or investing without active management, and as such he is a sort of guru in the self-managed investment world. The listed mistakes in this book include everything from hindsight bias (believing after the fact that a particular occurrence […]

Book Review: Financial Fitness Forever

I have to tell you something about how I treat books: I have a great deal of respect for books.  I have so much respect for books that you will rarely find a book in my possession that has writing in it (other than an author’s signature) or page corners turned down.  I like my books to be pristine, so it’s against my own personal rules of conduct to do things like that to a book. Occasionally though, I run across a book so important and useful that I am compelled to break these rules, in spite of myself.  This particular book is just such a book.  What I found so useful about this book is not the subject matter or the topic, as there are many, many books on the topic of how to be financially secure throughout your life, with most being far less impactful than this book. […]

Book Review – Freedom From Wealth

This book is an excellent resource for folks who have been accumulating wealth over their lifetimes – wealth that is more than they need to live off of.  Granted this isn’t everyone, but it’s probably a lot more of you than you think.  You don’t need to be a Bill Gates to have these sorts of issues in your path. When you’ve worked your entire life to build up your wealth, you likely want to leave some of it to your children and grandchildren, but is it best to just hand it all over to them at your passing?  What if you also hoped to make a difference in the world with your money – perhaps with charitable activities, or to help your offspring to establish their own place in the world, or to leave a legacy, a way that your name can live on? The first part of this […]

The Mystery of Social Security

Social Security has become a significant part of many retirees’ sustenance, ever since it was first introduced back in the 1930’s. As the traditional pension plan goes the way of the buggy-whip and common investor behavior leads to poor results in savings plans (if there are any savings at all!), the Social Security benefit becomes more and more important. Unfortunately, the way Social Security works is a mystery for most folks. There’s really not much in the way of guidance for using the system, and relying solely on the phone representatives from the Social Security Administration is bound to lead you to a less-than-optimal result. As with most financial activities, it pays to learn as much as you can about your options, possible strategies, and the pluses and minuses of various choices that you make. A Social Security Owner’s Manual is an attempt at providing you with the groundwork to […]