Sometimes I borrow ideas from other disciplines that I feel compelled to use in my writing. I find myself, while writing about medicine, reading the advice of professors of literature, writers and poets. On other occasions, I had asked questions like: What can doctors learn from symphony orchestras or NASCAR driving teams? So recently, since I’ve written a lot about diet, I decided to explore the way personal finance experts think. After all, I thought, diet is about numbers, calories consumed and calories consumed, a balance between income and expenditure, a matter of simple arithmetic just like in personal finance. Or is it really?
I have directed my attention to the book “The Index Card: why personal finance doesn’t have to be complicated” written by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack and published in 2016. Helaine Olen is a columnist specializing in American politics, economics and life. She has written for the Washington Post and is the author or co-author of three books; The Index Card is one of them; another is “The Employee Handbook for Finding and Managing Romance at Work.” Harold Pollack is a University of Chicago professor whose research has focused on public health and health policy.
“The index card” is based on the idea that the best financial advice for most people would fit on an Index Card. “If you’re paying for someone [financial] Advice,” Pollack said, “… you are probably getting the wrong advice because the correct advice is so simple.”
Can medical advice, or more specifically dietary advice, fit into a tab? I quickly compiled an overly simplified, but probably useful, list of rules: no smoking; Avoid excess alcohol; Do not take drugs unless prescribed by a doctor; Eat healthy; Practice abundantly but safely; Do not engage in any activity that requires a helmet; and call your mom twice a week. I’ll give you some simple diet tips later.
The idea of simplifying financial advice, or any other advice, is very interesting. In a world of complexity, who would not accept blissful simplicity? On the other hand, I remembered, oversimplification could be dangerous. Ignore the complexities of life or don’t listen to the advice of professionals and you may find yourself in trouble.
Some of the tips in The Index Card are about saving and some are about investing the money you have saved and avoiding unnecessary investment expenses and taxes. Here are some examples: 1. Maximum 401k or equivalent employee contribution. 2. Buy affordable, well-diversified mutual funds like Vanguard Target 20XX funds. 3. Never buy or sell individual securities. 4. Save 20% of your money (this number, 20%, appeared on the original card, but was reduced to 10% in the book). And 5. Pay your credit card in full every month. The list includes four more items and fits on one card.
Sure, most of the items on the tab are familiar to anyone interested in personal finance and are available, free of charge, on most financial websites. So, is it worth reading the book, or hooking the card on the refrigerator door with a magnet? I wonder, if I were to write the equivalent set of rules, but on the subject of diet, wouldn’t my Diet Card also indicate the obvious? Wouldn’t that be completely redundant?
The answer in my mind is clear. For the privileged few, there is a world of expert advice: personal coaches, accountants, financial advisors and lawyers who promise a future of material well-being. Psychologists, doctors and personal trainers who create a future of harmony, good health and well-being. But for a large number of people, life is a series of challenges in a confusing world. For these people, questions like how to earn more, save enough, invest wisely are in dire need of simple, short, and good enough answers.
Yes, I’m talking about diet tips that can fit on a tab. But before I give you my diet, I need to talk to you a little about the chemistry and arithmetic of weight loss, or, in other words, when someone loses weight, where does the fat go? I’ll tell you more in my next column.
Dr. Shahar Madjar, MD, MBA, is a physician who specializes in urology.