The Index Card: Book Review and Giveaway

Last year, author Carl Richards taught readers to simplify their finances with The One-Page Financial Plan. Now comes The Index Card by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack – a financial plan boiled down to nine simple rules that fits in your pocket and can help you navigate the all too often complex world of personal finance and investing.

To say that Olen views the financial industry with mistrust and suspicion would be an understatement. Her 2012 best-selling book, Pound Foolish, exposed the dark side of personal finance and (perhaps unfairly) labelled Olen as a ranting skeptic who chose to pin all of our financial woes squarely on the shoulders of slick talking snake-oil selling hucksters without offering any meaningful solutions.

The Index Card

Enter, The Index Card, a book in which Olen and Pollack arm their readers with nine surefire steps to get your finances on the right track and help avoid all the financial pitfalls that try and trip you up along the way.

The authors share these rules, not in a finger-wagging holier-than-thou manner, but with the humility and authenticity of real-life Americans who have struggled at times to master the art of personal finance. Too many personal finance authors leave us with a black-and-white set of money rules to follow and no margin for error, or, for lack of a better term, ‘shit that inevitably happens’.

In The Index Card, the co-authors weave in tales and anecdotes from their own lives that engage you as a reader and persuade you to re-think your views on personal finance and investing.

Even the cynical Olen opened up about her investing philosophy and buying inexpensive index funds:

“A lot of people read Pound Foolish and ask her where in her backyard she buries her savings. The answer: at a discount brokerage, invested in a fairly sensible way. Why? She has no faith in her ability to guess the future.”

Pollack, a University of Chicago professor, recounts his unexpected tale of financial strain when his wife Veronica’s mother passed away suddenly, leaving her intellectually disabled brother Vincent without a caregiver. The Pollack’s took Vincent into their home and Veronica had to leave her job to address his needs. Income fell, bills mounted, and Harold looked for answers to right their financial ship. What he discovered over the years amounted to what he calls “embarrassingly simple” advice, which led to the now famous Index Card financial plan.

The Index Card

So what makes The Index Card so special? For one, the rules are stunningly easy to follow. There’s even a perforated version at the back of the book with the title, “All the financial advice you’ll ever need on one card.”

  1. Strive to save 10 to 20 percent of your income
  2. Pay your credit card balance in full every month
  3. Max out your 401(k) and other tax advantaged savings accounts
  4. Never buy or sell individual stocks
  5. Buy inexpensive, well-diversified indexed mutual funds and exchange-traded funds
  6. Make your financial advisor commit to the fiduciary standard
  7. Buy a home when you are financially ready
  8. Insurance – Make sure you’re protected
  9. Do what you can to support the social safety net
  10. Remember the Index Card

The point of the book, according to the authors, is for readers to gain the confidence to make their own financial decisions, discover basic truths such as how low-fee index funds outperform just about any more complicated investment you can buy, be armed with a timeless set of guidelines that you can turn to no matter what financial issues you may face, and to not let your fears about the financial unknown prevent you from doing anything.

I should mention the book is written for an American audience and, although parallels can easily be drawn between some of the terminology (401k = RRSP, Roth IRA = TFSA, 529 = RESP), certain chapters do spend considerable time talking about strictly American issues, such as paid health care under the Affordable Care Act, and choosing 15-or-30-year fixed rate mortgages as opposed to getting an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM).

Canadian readers may gloss over these points, but it is also interesting to read just how different things are for our neighbours to the south.

Fiduciary standard

I thoroughly enjoyed the chapter about the fiduciary standard, which means a financial advisor who has a legal and regulatory duty to put your interests ahead of his or her own. He or she has a legal duty to act in your best interests and is not getting paid to steer you into buying overpriced investment products you don’t want or need.

This chapter was of particular interest to me because Canadian investor protection groups have been calling on regulators to move from the inferior suitability standard to the fiduciary standard. These groups recommend that investors insist that a copy of the fiduciary oath is signed by their advisors before entering into a relationship.

Final thoughts and a giveaway!

The Index Card is a great primer for those who want to take control of their finances and who are looking for a guide to get started. For more advanced personal finance readers, you’ll enjoy the authors’ personal stories and emphasis on investor protection.

I reached out to Helaine Olen to get a review copy of the book and she was kind enough to send an additional book for us to giveaway on the blog. If you’d like to enter for a chance to win a copy of The Index Card, please leave a comment below with one financial rule that you’d like to write on your own Index Card.

The contest will be open until January 14th at 5:00pm EST. Good luck!

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  1. Janice Owen on January 8, 2016 at 5:59 am

    Eliminate unnecessary expenses. Save/invest this money.

  2. Brian Camoagnola on January 8, 2016 at 6:20 am

    One rule for my Financial Card:

    Diversify by never allocating more than 10-15% in any one investment.

  3. Jim on January 8, 2016 at 6:31 am

    My rule when looking at my investment statements: Don’t panic, it’s not really a loss until you sell it.

  4. MaxWorth on January 8, 2016 at 6:42 am

    #1 index card rule : Save now, Buy Later (instead of Buy Now, Pay Later)

  5. Meredith on January 8, 2016 at 7:41 am

    A sale is of no value if you do not truly need what is on sale…..Rather, save or invest & get true value. Change your thinking on what a great deal is.

  6. Sandy on January 8, 2016 at 7:56 am

    Never invest in anything you don’t fully understand!

  7. Jill Gray on January 8, 2016 at 8:24 am

    Don’t wait for the ‘right time’ to invest. Sitting on the sidelines can be more detrimental than making an informed decision early.

  8. Gary on January 8, 2016 at 8:32 am

    Prepare and track a financial plan with clear goals. Prepare and track a budget plan for day-to-day expenses

  9. Kitstownie on January 8, 2016 at 8:52 am

    Start early: it’s time in the market not timing the market.

  10. agrog2000 on January 8, 2016 at 9:15 am

    Take the Credit card away from the wife. It’s like 1 step forward and 2 steps back!

  11. MoneyGrasshopper on January 8, 2016 at 9:30 am

    Have a plan: where we are now, where we want to be in x amount of time, and how to get there. Then, stick to it.

  12. HP on January 8, 2016 at 9:40 am

    Keeping up with the Jones’s (or any other common surname 🙂 is not going to bring you any long-term happiness … what it will bring you is long-term debt

  13. rbacke on January 8, 2016 at 9:41 am

    Never buy what you would “like” (as opposed to what you need) if you can’t afford it.

  14. Marvin on January 8, 2016 at 10:24 am

    Seems simple but we’re all in debt more than we should be.

  15. Chris Dowling on January 8, 2016 at 10:32 am

    You don’t need “stuff” to be happy. Live within your means – Mr. Micawber had it right.

  16. Dot on January 8, 2016 at 11:18 am

    Engage children in the household financial process/plan from a young age.

  17. dng on January 8, 2016 at 11:29 am

    Track your expenses.

  18. Deborah Soloway on January 8, 2016 at 11:49 am

    Do it now! Start NOW! Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

  19. KarenJH on January 8, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    My financial rule: Be realistic and not greedy. “Slow and steady wins the race.”

  20. Phyllis on January 8, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    Live within your means, whatever they are.

  21. Jason on January 8, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    My index card would have: “Enjoy your money while continuing live within your means”

  22. Debby on January 8, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    Ask yourself “Do I really need to buy this? ” before you buy it.

  23. Joe on January 8, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    Diversify your investments.

  24. John on January 8, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    Budget… and stick with it!

  25. Angela on January 8, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    Your kid probably doesn’t need that.

  26. Kim Harvey on January 8, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    Always Diversify!

  27. Julie Lavertu on January 8, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    My financial card rule – always review your credit card and bill statements carefully and compare against your bills and projected spending!

  28. ErinD on January 9, 2016 at 3:07 am

    Travel only when the trip and spending money can be prepaid/paid for in cash.

  29. Mag on January 9, 2016 at 7:51 am

    When making your monthly budget, make sure it is REALISTIC.

  30. Jane on January 9, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    Live within your means – always!

  31. Nicole a on January 9, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    Don’t chase a good deal just for the sake of getting a deal. Make sure it is something I need/want.

  32. Jesse a on January 9, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    Plan ahead with an emergency fund!

  33. Allison on January 9, 2016 at 8:57 pm

    Be okay that your finances don’t look like someone else. You aren’t missing out on anything without a new car or nights out every weekend or a huge out.

  34. Tammy on January 9, 2016 at 11:11 pm

    Save as much as you can, when you can.

  35. Jenna Oh on January 10, 2016 at 3:58 am

    Save today- invest tomorrow!

  36. Martin on January 10, 2016 at 7:55 am

    Need to have a monthly budget. Automate your savings, investments and emergency fund accounts.

  37. Steve on January 10, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    I would add to #5: “Keep it simple”.
    And change #9 to: “Learn how to help the poor without enabling their poverty.”

  38. CanTex on January 10, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    Track expenses by category, including cash purchases. Report by category in Quicken for analysis and action.

  39. Marilyn on January 10, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    The best time to invest is when you’re very young. The second best time is now.

  40. Kim @ Needing The Dough on January 12, 2016 at 5:49 am

    My rule? Make a balanced budget to reflect your goals and values.

  41. petra on January 12, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    Pay yourself first.

  42. Rob on January 13, 2016 at 12:51 am

    About materialism: For some reason kids seem to be happier with the used furniture box, than the fancy toy. The finer things in life don’t have to be expensive just entertaining of the imagination. So, keep it simple, and let the mind do the rest. Also, get a spouse or partner of similar values….

  43. Debbie Werezak on November 27, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    Automate your savings to pay yourself first.

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