Weekend Reading: All the Personal-Finance Books are Wrong

This article appears as part of Casey Weade's Weekend Reading for Retirees series. Every Friday, Casey highlights four hand-picked articles on trending retirement topics and delivers them straight to your email inbox. Get on the list here.
Weekend reading personal finance books vs academic research Weekend reading personal finance books vs academic research
Weekend Reading

Financial self-help advice is everywhere, but when it comes to sorting fact from fiction, how do you truly know what is sound guidance?


The research: A Yale University professor named James Choi recently conducted a study on 50 financial best-sellers. He analyzed the advice in comparison to counsel provided by academics, and discovered that popular finance books often misalign with economic research on key concepts.

The findings: On the topic of debt, popular authors including Dave Ramsey recommend beginning with small debt then gaining momentum to pay off bigger debt. However, according to most economists, approaching debt minimization by paying off highest-interest debt first can save money. In the realm of saving, financial best sellers also advise saving ten percent of your income, but this may be impossible for younger individuals. However, as time goes on and life circumstances change, saving more can become easier.

The takeaway: Choi found that, “Economists tend to offer more rational advice, because they are dealing with numbers.” While, “Best sellers tend to offer more practical advice, because they are grappling with human behavior…” Above all, blending what both authors and academics advise might be the best course of action for your financial wellbeing.

Fill the financial gaps: You are often fed financial advice from a non-academic. Given they are rarely delivering guidance based on academic research, it pays to actively seek education in both mediums or find someone that does.