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HOW TO READ PERSONAL FINANCE COLUMNS

Hansi Mehrotra
January 21, 2017

The Guardian has one. The New York Times has one. Sydney Morning Herald has one too. Most newspapers have a personal finance column. Obviously money is a popular topic. I must have read thousands of personal finance columns. I started writing one here about a year and half ago…this piece is one (though I am not sure it quite qualifies as it’s not ‘regular’, nor in a newspaper as columns are supposed to be). So, as a personal finance columnist, I would like to share my two cents about how to read one.

Firstly, you need to figure whether it’s even worth reading the column. The columnist’s credibility matters. Just like you wouldn’t take medical advice from a column written by a non-medically-qualified writer, you shouldn’t rely on the financial advice written by anyone who isn’t appropriately qualified or at least has a couple of decades worth of battle scars of being in the financial industry. What makes the columnist more knowledgeable than you? Has she implemented her advice for herself and succeeded? Is there a conflict of interest or is she trying to sell you something?

My advice – Read the columnist’s LinkedIn profile.

Then, you have to check if the column is like Seinfeld or Game of Thrones. Can you make sense of individual columns on a stand-alone basis or must you read them sequentially? Obviously the topics will not match your needs at any given point of time but can you search for past columns easily? Is the writing dry and boring? Do you learn something from each column or do you have to endure a whole lot of irrelevant ones just to find one gem?

Speaking of irrelevance, I have often wondered about why a business newspaper has a personal finance column with basic topics. Or a business channel on television has a personal finance show with similar basic topics. Aren’t the readers and viewers of business newspapers and channels supposed to be financially savvy? (The exception is Jason Zweig’s column in The Wall Street Journal – even the professionals read it).

My advice – Find a columnist with good writing skills, or at least a sense of humour.

Lastly, and most importantly, does the columnist have an underlying philosophy or framework that guides the columns? A financial planning philosophy or framework is similar to having values to guide life or an investment philosophy to guide an investment portfolio. It’s a set of principles and beliefs, based on research, that state how to behave in certain life or market situations. This helps with quicker decision-making when the need arises.

My advice – Find the columnist’s personal website to see if she has a method to the madness of random topics.

I invite you to rate me on these criteria. Please feel free to check my LinkedIn profile, or even google me to check my background. Please also check out my personal site TheMoneyHans.com. My philosophy is summarised in ‘Building wealth is like building a house’. Indeed, I’ve designed the topic selection menu as a house – you can click on the building blocks to find posts and videos on that topic.

As for a sense of humour, I am still working on it. I made a web-series – Money Talks With Hansi – in which I co-host a talk show with Mr Sikka who spouts the jargon of a finance-industry-man but shares the concerns of a layman.

Here are the links to the individual episodes, organised by topic, as per my philosophy on building wealth –

Blueprint

 – understand yourself and some basic concepts about economics/finance

Do women behave differently to men when it comes to money?

Do I need a financial adviser?

The Essentials Foundation

 – things you can’t live without so don’t take risks here

What you need to know about credit cards?

Cars – to buy or not to buy?

When life doesn’t go according to plan…

Is your home an investment?

The Growth Pillars

 – things you need to grow your wealth

Is a college degree worth taking a loan?

How to negotiate salary?

Basics of investing 1 – debt/equity

Basics of investing 2 – sharemarket, mutual funds

The Freedom Slab

 – financial freedom at any age

Where can I hide my retirement money from myself?

The Fun Roof

 – your aspirations

How to really get rich?

If you haven’t seen the series, please do and share your feedback with me here. If you want me to make more of such videos, please share these with your network so I can convince the sponsors that humour works.

Happy watching : )

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