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Start Here: “The Ultimate Guide to Personal Finance”

Can anyone spot what’s wrong with this Wall St Journal article?

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I love the Wall Street Journal, but as I was browsing it yesterday, I found this page. Who can identify what’s wrong with it?

Why might this be a sub-optimal way to talk about personal finance? What does the typical reader think when he sees this page?

Hint: It took me about 4 years to figure this out.

[Edit]: The comments on this post are fascinating. I’ve posted my response here.

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  1. Hi Ramit,

    To me a few things stick out:
    – it seems overly complex and could cause analysis paralysis. Reader thinks ‘it’s all too much effort’
    – it’s written by columnists. What makes them any superior to me?
    – if it is a how to guide wouldn’t it include more than just tips?
    – it’s upside down. Investing should come after they sort out savings, planning, etc.
    – more often than not, people need a why to do something. The how-to doesn’t solve their personal circumstances, offering a one size fits all type solution to personal finance.


  2. I agree with Josh’s thoughts. I think many more people will be motivated if they see why knowing about mutual funds and 529 plans could make them more wealthy.

    I think it should be organized by how pressing certain matters are for most people in their range. Banking should be ahead of investing. Your checking and savings accounts handle day to day finances.

  3. It suggests that, within the realm of “personal finance,” investing is the highest priority while managing your money is a mere afterthought.

    • Perhaps rather than suggest that money management is an afterthought, it assumes that it’s already been done. They’ve pushed the obvious down the page to the detriment of the clueless.

  4. The reporters and columnists are telling me ‘how-to’ do all this stuff, when I don’t know ‘why-to’ do it. Also, there is no actionable plan, or even rough estimate of a path that one is supposed to take through all of it.

    • I’ve always thought that the “Why do X?” group were the ones who didn’t know apples from oranges, but the “Howto do X?” group had already sought out a specific task.

      I agree that there is/are no apparent actionable item(s) brought to the reader’s attention.

  5. There’s nothing here on budgeting or how to use your money day to day. All of the topics they mention are useless until you understand that piece.

  6. It’s all about what to do with the money you have, not how to get more in the first place.

  7. It portrays investing as the most important aspect of building wealth, when making more money matters more than most of the stuff on the list combined.

  8. I agree with Benjamin Manns, there isn’t enough why’s in that list. It also seems to have a one size fits all feel to it.

  9. It also suggests that everything on this list is something you need to do, which isn’t necessarily true. You don’t /need/ to finance an car purchase (save up & pay cash), buy a house (rent) or use a financial planner (do it yourself). I also agree with the previous commentators.

  10. It’s all How. There is no When or more importantly Why.