Monday, 21 May 2007
This is another of York University Finance professor Moshe Milevsky's "Logic" books (previously reviewed Money Logic and soon to be reviewed Insurance Logic) about everyday financial, investing, purchasing and spending choices facing ordinary people. Unless you happen to be a finance prof, it's likely there is something of interest for you in this book. It comprises 40 chapters, of 2 to 7 pages each, on a wide, eclectic range of topics, all somehow connected with personal finances, such as insurance, taxes, mortgages, mutual funds, RRSPs, retirement, car loans vs leasing, investing, diversification, risk, pensions, annuities and more. Each chapter addresses a narrow issue or a choice and gives either a definitive answer when there is one, or guidance on how to make the correct choice, when personal circumstances can change the answer. Conveniently, each chapter gives a one or two sentence summary conclusion - e.g. chapter 10 on What is Financial Risk? concludes: "The lesson in all of this is that only a large and well diversified portfolio of stocks can truly grow in the long run. Otherwise, you are simply gambling." Most chapters have one or two simple tables or graphs that present the result of calculations to back up the conclusions. Milevsky presents the rationale, the "logic" and the conclusions, not any complicated math. He does provide some references and a two-page bibliography for further reading. There is no index, something I would normally consider to be a major deficiency but the nature of the book makes an index un-necessary.
The book is accessible to anyone who has basic knowledge of practical money affairs. Milevsky is good at defining terms for the uninitiated. For example, in "Mortgages: Fixed or Floating Rate?", there is an assumption that a reader generally knows that a mortgage is a loan to buy a house, but Milevsky takes the trouble to write, "With a fixed-rate mortgage, your monthly payments are pre-determined and known in advance ...". The test of accessibility for me is that those topics with which I was not familiar did not cause me to scratch my head wondering how his argument / discussion had got to where it led. Maybe it's his teaching background but it is a valuable writing quality for an author addressing a general audience. The writing style is casual and conversational but not cloying or condescending. It's a good book to read in short chunks of 10-20 minutes, on the bus commuting, waiting at the pool during kids' lessons, during commercial breaks while the Ottawa Senators are winning the Stanley Cup for the first time etc. The whole book is 237 pages.
A very small amount of the content suffers from being out of date, for instance, the rant against the foreign content cap in RRSPs that is no longer relevant since the federal government finally removed the restriction a few years ago. Another is the negotiating spreads on mortgages by Canadian banks - is it still one percent reduction one should demand/expect or have the years since 2001 widened or narrowed the spread?
There is some overlap between Money Logic and this book - topics like diversification, risk, borrowing to lend, dollar cost averaging appear in both. Money Logic treats fewer topics in much more length and depth, doing a better job demonstrating the fallacy of dollar-cost averaging, for instance, though of course the conclusion is the same. So, if you decide you can trust Milevsky and don't need all the proof and only want to buy one book, I'd suggest Wealth Logic. I don't regret buying both, since there is real non-repeated value in Money Logic too.
In short, buy this book ($15 to $20 at the on-line retailers) and keep it around till you need to have a quick look at what to do whenever a financial decision comes up. Milevsky may have your answer in his 40 topics and you can be sure it is well thought out and neutral. Five stars out of five is my rating.
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