Cynics hate touchy-feely.
On television, touchy-feely is "Oprah."
In the traditional financial community, touchy-feely is a new genre of books that try to help working folks get in touch with their feelings about money as they journey toward building wealth.
I call this new genre the psychology of personal finance. Suze Orman, author of "The Courage to Be Rich," is the grand master of this approach, and she irritates critics the most.
Orman, a frequent guest on Oprah Winfrey's show, says you have to create a new truth about money. Once you believe you're going to prosper, money will come. "Your emotional state ultimately determines your financial state," Orman says.
The latest example of this genre is "Wealth Happens One Day at a Time" by Brooke M. Stephens, a financial planner and former stockbroker.
"It can be quite a big psychological challenge to confront all the preconceptions, feelings, and passionate reactions that we have to money," writes Stephens. "But guess what? These emotional anxieties are all in your head. Above all else, you must remember one thing: Money is totally innocent. It's not out to get you."
Critics consider such musings just psychobabble or spiritual snake oil for the money-deprived masses.
But sometimes, I think, psychobabble works.
What we do and don't do with our money is directly related to our psyche. Some people hoard money. Others spend it the moment they get it. You can't tell me that your state of mind doesn't affect how you handle your finances.
When my grandfather was dying of lung cancer several years ago, I felt so depressed that I shopped all the time, spending money whether I had it or not. Come to think of it, I also shopped when I was happy. Shopping eased my soul.
But I found spending money that way is not the answer for a troubled soul.
In a lot of ways, we need financial shrinks right now. There's so much emphasis on becoming rich. People are made to feel that they are failures if they don't retire with a million or more in their stock portfolio. Newsweek's July 5 cover story was titled "Everyone's Getting Rich but Me."
"The economy's booming," Newsweek said under the headline "They're Rich and You're Not," continuing, "So why do so many of us feel we're missing out on the party? More than ever, achieving the American Dream is a game of chance--and picking the right stock."
ABC is hyping a new game show that debuts tomorrow called "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." The producers don't even bother with a question mark. Who wouldn't want to be a millionaire?
Make your millions by playing on a TV game show. Play the market. Play the lottery. Wait for a relative to die. It's all about money. It's as though striking it rich is the only thing people are thinking about.
I think all of us need help putting money and the pursuit of it in perspective. Try as we might, most of us are not going to be millionaires. If we become obsessed with wealth, we really will go crazy.
It's true that personal-finance self-help psychology books oversimplify money matters. But they also help us take stock of ourselves and face some hard realities. Some people are so deep in debt that they do need a little hand-holding and psychobabble to dig themselves out.
We just don't need to know how to invest for our retirement, we need spiritual guidance to help us figure out why we don't have the money to invest in the first place.
Stephens embraces this therapeutic approach to personal finance. She tries to get readers to explore the psychological roots of their poor money management and dishes out doses of financial wisdom.
Like daily meditation prayer books, Stephens gives readers a 365-day planner "to a brighter financial future." Each day has a little lecture about money followed by what she calls an "affirmation" and then a plan of action.
For example, the affirmation on Day 175 is "My joy in life comes from inside, not from what I have!" Then the action step we're suppose to take is "Reassess why you spend so much time shopping and what goal is worth sacrificing for."
This advice might seem trite. But some people need to hear this. As Stephens says, "building wealth begins in our head."
Michelle Singletary's column appears in this section every Sunday. While she welcomes comments and column ideas, she cannot offer specific personal financial advice or answer detailed questions about individual situations. She will be talking about this column on the "Insight" program with Herman Washington tomorrow at 6:40 p.m. on WHUR (96.3-FM). Her e-mail address is singletarym@ washpost.com. Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.
A Little Bookkeeping
Book Title: "Wealth Happens One Day at a Time"
Author: Brooke M. StephensList price: $19.95
Overall rating: B+. If you need a daily way to handle your finances, this journal-type approach is useful.
Readability: Very readable. For each day, of the year the author serves up money- management wisdom in nugget-size chapters. It takes less time to read any one of the sections than it does to watch a television commercial.
Worth highlighting: I liked the way Stephens concludes each segment with a daily "affirmation" followed by an "action step." It may sound hokey, but those of us looking for a little direction in managing our finances can use an inspirational word or two. For example, Day 29 ends with the affirmation "I will keep a balanced perspective on money and how to use it wisely in my life." The action step advises us to "make a list of the unrealistic fantasies that get in the way of facing your true financial situation."