By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, February 5, 2006
I've been told I'm too serious. Financially serious, that is.
For example, I'm serious about teaching my children the importance of saving. I rarely take them to the mall. I make sure that when they're buying something, they comparison-shop -- even my 5-year-old.
Once I was lecturing my 10-year-old daughter, Olivia, about how she should spend her allowance. She in turn expressed her frustration with my interference. To which I said: "It's my full-time job, Olivia, to make sure you become a good steward of your money."
Without missing a best, Olivia said: "Well, can you make it your part-time job? That way you can stop nagging me all the time about all this financial stuff."
I had to laugh.
She wasn't being disrespectful. The girl was trying to get her overly frugal mother to chill.
With that in mind, let's have some fun for February. This month, I'm recommending "Dave Barry's Money Secrets -- Like: Why Is There a Giant Eyeball on the Dollar?" (Crown, $24.95) for the Color of Money Book Club.
Barry is a humorist whose columns for the Miami Herald were syndicated worldwide. In other words, he's a funny man. So let me warn you that there is very little practical financial advice in this book. His shtick is to make fun of the proliferation of personal finance books and the people who write them or recommend them. (Hmm, that's me on both counts.)
Barry's one-, two- and three-liners start right from the introduction. In explaining why you need his book, he writes: "Because chances are that when it comes to your personal finances, you are, with all due respect, a complete moron. I do not mean that in a derogatory way. I mean it simply in the sense that, when it comes to handling money, you are a stupid idiot."
Now, don't get offended. This book, like the comments from my daughter, is intended to lighten you up a bit. Because truth is, personal finance has become so complicated that we all have to chill or we will go bonkers.
Barry particularly delights in making fun of financial guru and best-selling author Suze Orman. He writes: "Suze always has a smile on her face -- the radiant, confident smile of a person who will not hesitate to kill anybody who gets in her way. The reason Suze has sold so many books is that she offers a clear, simple common-sense message that resonates with everyday people: you pathetic loser."
In explaining cash flow, Barry writes: "Cash flow is a term that accountants use to describe the flowing of cash. To analyze your cash flow, first sit down at your kitchen table, put your head in your hands, and think really hard about the following question: Where the hell does all my money go?"
Actually, that does pretty much sum up how a lot of folks analyze their cash flow.
Not sure how much allowance to give your child? Barry's got the answer.
"What is a fair allowance? The answer depends on many factors by which I mean: three dollars a week. That's plenty."
Got grown children mooching off you? Typically, financial experts or writers list tips on how to motivate "boomerang" young adults to move out: charge them rent, get them to do a financial plan or set a timeline for when they can afford to get their own place.
However, I think I like Barry's method much better.
He says: "If you are a parent with a child in college, you need to take steps to prevent the child from moving back in with you. One excellent way is for you and your spouse to start walking around the house naked. It's also a good idea to convert the child's bedroom into a space that is less ideal for human habitation, such as a racquetball court, walk-in freezer, python cage, or plutonium-storage vault."
If those strategies don't work, "you must sell your house, move and assume a new identity. Currently 79 percent of the people in the federal Witness Protection Program are parents hiding from children attempting to boomerang on them."
What's the secret to getting rich in the stock market?
First, Barry advises that you gather all financial data on the top 1,000 stocks for the past 25 years. Then do a thorough analysis of each stock, making note of performance, price-earnings ratio, etc. Pick the 10 stocks that performed best in this time period.
Then, "using a time machine, go back 25 years and buy these stocks."
The path to prosperity will not be found in "Dave Barry's Money Secrets." But while on the way to finding sound financial strategies, read this book. It will make you laugh. And that's worth a lot.
To become a member of the Color of Money Book Club, all you have to do is read the recommended book. Then we chat online about the book. In addition, every month I randomly select readers to receive a copy of the book, donated by the publisher. For a chance to win a copy of "Dave Barry's Money Secrets," send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org . Please include your name and address so we can send you a book if you win.
· On the air: Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online athttp://www.npr.org. Also, join her at 7:10 p.m. Monday on "Insight" with Yakenda McGahee on WHUR, 96.3 FM.
· By mail: Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.
· By e-mail:email@example.com.
Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses are not always possible. Please note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.