It may well be the id of our economic decision-making. We spend with impunity, use our charge cards with abandon, and deliver unto ourselves the material goods our parents could not afford. We know better, of course. But on a powerful instinctual level, we don't care. Like Freudian characters on a whirlwind shopping spree, we are driven to dismantle our financial futures as we erode the spiritual side of our financial lives. Of course, it doesn't have to be this way, as these authors will attest.
The authors of two new books would have us conquer ruinous spending tendencies and set forth on a path of psychic fulfillment in our economic lives. As we embark on this path, authors of three other books would guide us in making the right choices in investing in the stock market, in mutual funds, and, ultimately, in ourselves. Let's begin with a key question: since we are capable of achieving wealth, why aren't we rich? Do we feel guilt for wanting more than we have? Insecurity about what we already possess? These emotions are potent psychological barriers to wealth. The Courage to Be Rich: Creating a Life of Material and Spiritual Abundance, shows how to overcome those hurdles. Abundance is available, promises Suze Orman, the book's widely known author and financial planner. Riches are attainable. But emotional obstacles can keep us from having what we want and fully enjoying what is ours.
Orman should know. The PBS luminary and author of the best-selling book The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom lost her courage after discovering that a burglar had plundered the files of her young business. While recovering from that devastating setback, she began to look at her personal life in a new way, following a course that eventually restored her pocketbook and replenished her personal well-being. In this, Orman's third book, the author tells how we can change our lives, too, leaving behind our mistakes as we seek to achieve personal and monetary wealth.
The author provides plenty of financial guidance, from home-buying to opening an Individual Retirement Account and charitable giving. She tackles common-sense questions typically not addressed in other money-management books: am I liable for the debts my spouse incurred before our marriage? (No.) Do I have a legal duty to support my spouse during marriage? (Yes.) One chapter focuses on what is yours, mine and ours in a relationship addressing many of the questions people face in second marriages or life partnerships.
Money, explains Orman, has its own life force that affects all aspects of our lives. If we neglect our checking accounts and accumulate belongings for which we have no immediate need, we strip ourselves of more than money. When we face financial bankruptcy, is it any wonder we face spiritual bankruptcy, too? The opposite condition the one to which we all aspire is Orman's vision of a rich and radiantly abundant life, where there is spiritual fullness and clarity of purpose, where we value people, money, and material things in that order.
While Orman delves into the courageous side of wealth, author Maria Nemeth's forte is the psychological power money holds over each of our lives. Nemeth's book, The Energy of Money: A Spiritual Guide to Financial and Personal Fulfillment, asks us to view our relationship with money as a metaphor for the other connections in our lives.
In short, basic assumptions we make about ourselves and our personal associations also govern our decisions about money. To understand this is to grasp motivations in nearly all our activities: Why we spend. Why we save. Why we go through life without properly defining what we want to achieve. Why we neglect or insidiously misdirect our personal lives. What's more, once we are swept in a misguided direction, how do we recognize where we went wrong and embark, instead, on the road to abundance in our lives and in our bank accounts? We are so immersed in the culture of currency, explains Nemeth, a clinical psychologist, that asking us to look at our relationship with money is like asking a fish to look at the water it's swimming in. Maybe so. But Nemeth does a commendable job of getting us to examine the lives we create for ourselves so that we may better recognize our motivations and fulfill our standards of integrity relating to our handling of money. Once we have identified our inner blocks to progress, writes Nemeth, we can abandon old beliefs, conquer obstacles, and willingly accept support from others. This, she promises, will set us on the path to mastering the energy of money.
Of course, as we begin to master money, we must learn how to properly invest it. The Book of Investing Wisdom: Classic Writings by Great Stock-Pickers and Legends of Wall Street serves as a foundation. Edited by Peter Krass, this anthology is a classic in a sea of modernistic investment theory, with contributions by stock-pickers and legends such as Warren E. Buffett and Abby Joseph Cohen.
The introduction traces Wall Street from its historical beginnings. Wall Street in Manhattan, for example, started as a 12-foot-high wooden stockade the Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam built to protect themselves from repeated attacks from the British. After the Dutch surrender, the British in 1685 built a road alongside the former stockade site and named it Wall Street. American securities trading and modern analysis, naturally, came later. But the connection to history seems evident still in Warren E. Buffett's contribution to the analysis section. Buffett studied under the late Benjamin Graham, who in 1934 co-wrote a seminal book on securities analysis and whose writings are included in the anthology.
Contributors also include gurus Peter Lynch, made famous for transforming Fidelity's Magellan Fund into a $13 billion powerhouse, and Abby Joseph Cohen, the woman who's assessments of impending market cycles are among the most closely watched on Wall Street. Martin E. Zweig of the top-ranked newsletter, Zweig Forecast, tells why it's sometimes better to sell short (bet that a stock will go down). And real estate magnate Donald Trump tells us why, on occasion, he fights back and wins. His telling observation: Money always talks in the end.
Making sound investment choices is central to the next book, The Winning Portfolio: Choosing Your 10 Best Mutual Funds by author Paul B. Farrell. There's no mystery to becoming wealthy. It takes discipline, writes Farrell, director of CBS MarketWatch's Mutual Fund Center. But it need not take all your spare time.
Indeed, Farrell's strategies for investing are refreshing and ingenious in their simplicity. Among them: do your own investing and focus on mutual funds. Start saving early in life (or right away if it's late) and do so with practiced regularity. Take full advantage of your employer-sponsored 401(k) plan. Select a portfolio strategy that meets your needs (such as income preservation v. aggressive growth), and hold onto your funds once you buy them.
Most appealing is that Farrell does much of the work for the investor by researching and compiling America's top 100 superstar funds. The top 100 is a welcome relief to anyone starting out in the 10,000-plus mutual fund world. The book conveniently breaks worthwhile funds into useful categories (index funds, aggressive growth, global and international, bond funds, and so on). Best of all, Farrell provides text on each selection, giving insight into fund managers, fund performance, and the investment strategies.
There's another facet of mutual funds that many investors will want to consider. In recent years, value or socially responsible funds increasingly have allowed investors to choose portfolios that mirror their own values. Investing with Your Values: Making Money and Making a Difference, by authors Hal Brill, Jack A. Brill, and Cliff Feigenbaum, is well-timed to meet this burgeoning market now a $1.3 trillion industry.
If you want to avoid companies that invest in tobacco or alcohol products, these funds can help you achieve your goals. Hope to avoid companies that engage in animal testing or make military weapons? The authors guide you through the process. The Brills are financial consultants specializing in social investing. Feigenbaum is publisher of the social industry newsletter, GreenMoney Journal. They identify funds that emphasize protecting wildlife or sustaining the environment. Other funds allow you to invest in your own community through affordable housing, small business, or community development lending. The book also tells how you can work to increase corporate responsibility on issues you care about through shareholder activism.
The writers have dubbed social investing natural investing. They define it as an act in which personal values and personal finance dwell together in mutually supportive symbiosis. Their concept is inviting: when we integrate our values with our money, we can achieve financial goals while making the world a better place to live.
Loretta Kalb is a writer in California.