Some folks objected to my negative assessment of our ability to make meaningful change in our own financial lives. To be clear, I said repeatedly that people with the means to do so should review their financial habits to insure that their money is being used to do what they value. This is the premise of my favorite financial book, Your Money or Your Life, which is one of only two personal finance books I think are worthwhile. The other is Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack’s The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to be Complicated. The first is book that is helpful in developing a philosophy of money; the second is a nuts-and-bolts guide that is realistic about the challenges that ordinary people face with money. Both books are great for people who find the typical shaming of self-help books to be major turnoffs.
I’ve read a lot of money self-help books as part of my research on Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and the other products he hawks to evangelical Christians. (You can read about my findings in a chapter in The Great Recession in Fiction, Film, and Television: Twenty-First Century Bust Culture, edited by Kirk Boyle and Daniel Mrozowski.) As with other kinds of self-help books, most of them deny the structural barriers that people face and instead lay all responsibility on the individual. For more on that phenomenon, check out Olen’s fantastic Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry or her appearance on The Daily Show.