There’s an old expression you probably know well, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. It’s usually meant to be applied to humans, not books, and argues that just because someone looks a certain way, doesn’t mean they necessarily have particular traits. While good advice for people, when it comes to actual books, there’s a lot you can learn from the cover, and even from just the title. For example, even without reading it (or knowing for certain that it exists), I can tell you that ‘365 Even Dirtier Jokes’ isn’t a good book to give to an elementary school kid.
Thus, when I picked up Getting Loaded, I thought I had a pretty good idea about what would be covered. After all, with a subtitle like ‘Make a Million…While You’re Still Young Enough to Enjoy It’, how could it be anything but a get-rich-quick style book? Imagine my surprise when it turned out that ‘young enough to enjoy it’ meant in your sixties. So, the book threw me for a bit of a loop, but was it actually any good? Let’s read on and find out!
Getting Loaded starts with a preface, where the author Peter Bielagus shares his inspiration that, by taking advantage of his youth, he could become rich by the time he was ready to retire with minimal effort. There’s then a short introduction, covering some of the icons used throughout the book, as well as sharing the power of compound interest in boosting your wealth over time.
The rest of the book consists of fifty ‘secrets’, short pieces of advice on what you should be doing with your money, each with a guide on how to put the secret to work. These secrets are grouped into six sections, each covering a different aspect of personal finance, and starting with a section on getting your personal finance situation under control. There are secrets covering how to set goals for yourself, figure out your net worth, and how to organize your portfolio. There’s also a few secrets on getting help, from a mentor and potentially a financial adviser.
The second section of the book looks at how to manage your spending and credit. It starts by asking you to track your spending, and find areas where you don’t care about your spending to try to cut down. It then gets into credit cards, providing some advice on how to find a better deal (and handle the debt you already have). The section finishes with advice on being a more savvy shopper, including the idea of forming a consumer buying pool (grouping together with friends or neighbors to have more leverage on major purchases, such as cars) and the power of negotiating.
Next, the book starts to cover more particular areas where you can look for savings. Starting with ways to save when it becomes tax time, the next several secrets cover all the places you can save. From buying insurance to protect your assets, to cutting down on the costs of cars and college, to going green as a way of saving energy and money (which is a bit ahead of its time, considering that the book was published in 2003), there’s plenty of areas to find savings. The section ends by providing some places to go with all your new found savings, recommending a money market account over a typical savings account (and telling you to avoid CDs as savings tools).
Section four is fairly short, basically providing a guide to places to stash away your money where it will be safe and has the opportunity to grow. There’s a secret stressing the importance of saving for your own retirement, as well as the importance of paying yourself first. There is also a discussion of employer sponsored retirement plans (your 401(k)s and 403(b)s) and individual retirement accounts.
Once you know how to invest, section five is all about what to invest in. It starts with a few secrets on how to evaluate investments and match them with your goals, as well as how to avoid paying too much attention to all the talk about the broader economy that you will hear in your investment career. There’s some discussion about how the stock market really works, along with suggestions that mutual funds, and index funds in particular, are probably your best bet for the bulk of your investments. There are some discussions of bonds, and recommendations to stick with Treasuries for your (limited) bond investments. Just in case you were still planning on individual stock investments, there are a few section covering the ways to evaluate those investments. There’s also a secret stressing of the advantages of dollar cost averaging.
The remaining few sections of part five cover some of the more esoteric investments you might encounter and tells how to wrap everything together. Bielagus recommends avoiding options, commodities, and short selling as investments, given the difficulty in doing well with them. He also suggests forgetting everything else, be it gold, artwork, annuities or lottery tickets. There is a section on when you should sell your investments, and then a section that wraps up everything covered on how to invest into a few neat packages.
The sixth part of the book covers some of the other financial issues in life, aimed mainly at the somewhat older readers. There is a secret covering how to start your own business, one recommending getting your own house (followed by one covering the ins and outs of mortgages), and one covering the finer details of life insurance. The final secret in the book talks about drafting a will and setting up a revocable trust to protect your loved ones and avoid probate. The book ends with a final reminder to only worry about what you can control, and not to be overly concerned about what you can’t.
In contrast to my admittedly highly mistaken first impression, Getting Loaded is a surprisingly well-thought out and rational book. The advice is pretty sound for the average twenty-something, and will get you to one million if followed, just as the subtitle promises. It’s also a pretty humorous and well-written book, one of the (very) few personal finance guides I’ve read that made me chuckle as I was going through it.
As with just about any personal finance book, some of the advice might raise a few eyebrows (I’m particularly leery of the suggestions to avoid all bonds other than Treasuries), although the bulk of the advice is rock solid. Also, much of the humor comes from pop culture references from the late nineties (as mentioned, it was published in 2003), so if you give this to a current college-age person, expect much of the humor to miss its mark. Similarly, all the references to current IRA contribution limits and other issues are no longer valid, giving the book a somewhat dated feel at times.
Getting Loaded is a genuine surprise. It’s quite thorough and very helpful personal finance guide that also manages to be really funny and entertaining. If you’re in your mid to late twenties and want an all in one guide to getting your finances in order, this makes a pretty solid book to do the job. If there were a more up to date version available, I’d probably suggest this book to all young people, as it does make a pretty solid introduction to just about all things personal finance related.