Updated on 05.06.07

Deconstructing David Bach

Trent Hamm

This week, The Simple Dollar is deconstructing five top personal finance and investing pundits and asking the big questions about their track record and their message.

David BachDavid Bach was the first personal finance guru that I became familiar with due to media appearances, as I saw him pop up several times on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The View during a period of time when I found myself home a lot in the mornings during my final year in college. He struck me as being quite sensible, but I largely forgot about him until I started paying more attention to my finances, at which point I picked up a few of his books to read. Did my opinion stay the same?

Like many personal finance gurus, Bach started off at an investment firm – in his case, as a senior vice president at Morgan Stanley and later a partner in The Bach Group, where he managed funds for individual investors. Once The Bach Group began to see success, he began to take on media appearances and started writing books and columns, and he eventually left The Bach Group in 2001 to focus on his media career by founding FinishRich Media, which largely manages seminars, media appearances, and writing for Bach.

Of the individuals I looked at this week, only Jim Cramer and Suze Orman have anything close to David’s background in managing people’s money effectively; his background seems to clearly be the strongest among the gurus I’ve reviewed (though I’d imagine some fans of Cramer would be willing to argue the point).

Bach’s message has actually changed somewhat over the years, and that’s the biggest trouble I have with him. His earlier books (for example, Smart Couples Finish Rich) are quite strong, focusing on a lot of different aspects of personal finance. Much of it was typical – save money, pay off debts, etc. – but where Bach really hooked me was his focus on the importance of interpersonal relationships in personal finance management. Bach made a very clear multidimensional picture of the realities of personal finance, yet managed to also break things down into simpler pieces that people could digest.

Then he took that simplification to a whole new level. His more recent books (like The Automatic Millionaire) abandon the well rounded nature of his earlier works and instead focus on dumbing down personal finance to a comical level. In making a strong effort to make personal finance management as easy as possible, he takes it too far: personal finance problems aren’t solved by just automatically deducting money and living by “the latte factor.”

For me, I enjoyed his earlier books, but his later books suffer greatly because he’s trying way too hard to reach a broader audience that wants it all to be very easy to do. Successful personal finance isn’t easy; it’s something that requires reflection and internal commitment. A string of simple cost-cutting measures and an automatic deduction from your paycheck are not enough to get your finances in shape, though they certainly help.

My Take
I think Bach found some success with his earlier message, but went way too far in trying to reach a wider audience, destroying his message in the process. Early on, Bach was clear that you needed to work at it and that interpersonal relationships were an integral part of the equation. You could actually turn to his books for rational advice, not just “fix the problem quick” solutions that were Band-Aids.

At some point, though, I feel like David Bach lost respect for his audience. He started to focus more on Band-Aid solutions rather than actually addressing the deeper problems, and eventually reached the point where he preached a gospel of just cutting back on expenses and automatically deducting money from your paycheck. That perspective is almost painfully one-dimensional and, even more, that message lacks the power to really change people’s lives. It’s just a quick fix to a much deeper problem, and it’s incredibly disappointing compared to his original message.

The bottom line: David Bach used to provide good financial advice, but has dumbed down his message to the point where it no longer helps people solve their financial problems.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. efipo.com says:

    I like David Bach, but I understand your analysis. He was the first book that really got me motivated in personal finance. I like the fact that he explains how your early life had the biggest influence on your future.

    Let me ask you this. If you were to write a book, what is the one subject that would be different from all the big writers your writing about this week?

  2. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I really think that personal finance management is a whole life issue and the reason people get into debt trouble is because they haven’t really figured out what they truly want out of life yet or their goals are so big that they’re overwhelmed. The “simple” part of The Simple Dollar is so simple that most people just blow it off: finding what you really value in life and then realigning things so that you are working in step with those values.

  3. gmv says:

    I read “Smart Women Finish Rich” and it really resonated with me personally. It was the first of his books I’d read, so when I picked up a couple of others I felt that they were largely repetitive. I think the strength of his approach is in the personal anecdotes that tailor it to a unique situation (being single and a woman, the “Smart Women” book had the best “fit” for me).

    I don’t know how much further Bach can personalize his deal though. While I really liked “Smart Women” and appreciated the others, somehow his whole approach with his latest book geared towards homeowners seemed way overhyped and overmarketed for my taste. He crossed a line with me on that one.

  4. Daisy says:

    I got the audio version of “Start Late, Finish Rich,” and found it useful. One of the things I liked about it was that Bach said it is OK to start saving at the same time you are paying down debt.

    Also, I generally discounted the “latte factor.” But, when I stopped going for my morning bagel and my afternoon snack, my fun money for the week starting lasting a lot longer. I was able to reduce it from $20 to $10. Even with the lower amount, I don’t usually spend it all. That’s a savings of at least $40 a month, which pays my water bill.

  5. LAMoneyGuy says:

    I’m with you on Bach. I think most of his advice is sound. Except for anything related to real estate. This is when I was turned off to the guy. He struck a huge deal with Wells Fargo, and went on a crusade telling everyone to buy a house or be poor forever. In fact, he wrote a Yahoo! column titled, “Why Homeowners Get Rich and Renters Stay Poor” fortuitously written in February 2006, just months before the housing market began a dramatic slowdown.

    He uses scare tactics like, the average homeowner is 34 times richer than the average renter. Pretty astounding. Of course, my parents, who are homeowners, are probably 34 times wealthier than I. And, of course, they also have about 30 years of working, earning and saving on me.

  6. Jeremy says:

    I think you’re too hard on him.

    Books are products. I think he’s made some smart marketing decisions in how he has repackaged the same advice for different categories of people.

    I’ve read the Automatic Millionaire, and I actually found it valuable. I liked the (probably hypothetical) couple at the beginning, as a motivating factor (imagining me and my wife in their situation). I also thought he presented a great illustration of the power of compounding interest. This isn’t a book to tell you how to find the right mutual funds, etc, but it is just trying to illustrate the point that you can save money by cutting back on your small expenditures, a little bit of money saved regularly can turn into alot of money, paying yourself first (the message of the Richest Man in Babylon), and making it automatic you don’t have to maintain as much self-discipline about saving. I don’t see any kind of dangerous message in this.

  7. jake says:

    To give a short answer I like David Bach and his books.

    Regarding dumbing down his message, I would have to come to his defense in that when you talk to a wide audience you tend to have to bring it down a notch.

    He is a great read for those that are completely new to personal money management.

  8. David says:

    Ah, yes, “The Automatic [fill-in-the-blank]” series. Bach, is now a publisher and Finnish Rich is a publishing company. As did Harlequin Romances before, he has found a method to sell a product — books, not financial success. Each of the ones I have read (bought the first at a deep discount at the grocery store) and the follow-ups I borrowed, follow the same cookire cutter pattern. Beginning at a lecture, there is someone who meets him at the end of that event with a tale to tell. the rest of each book follows a pattern.

    I, too, have great difficulty with some of his choice of stats. Some seem like stating “over 95% of Swedes speak Swedish”, well, sure….

    While reading his advice once may have some value, the additional books add little. Kudos to Bach, though for taking the method, and making enough changes to cause people from different walks of life to pick up the book.


  9. karina says:

    Thank you very much for this review. After glancing over one of Bach’s books, I immediately went online to see who this Bach person is and finally found your critique among the dozens of pro-Bach, advertising sights etc.
    A relative, who happens to be in a mire of debt and interpersonal problems herself, thought “I” could benefit from Bach’s “Start Late, Finish Rich” book, since I’ve been seriously pursuing financial independence/early retirement for several years now. She just “happened” to think it might be interesting for her as well (just maybe:!), which just goes to show how confused and blind/in denial many people can be about their own problems in every area of their lives). She is ten years older than me which I find even more interesting and mind-boggling!
    From the first page of “Start Late…” I suspected this guy was a get-rich-quick-moron guru-type. I knew nothing about him, but I could see quickly that he lacked any kind of depth for realistic change; financial or otherwise.

    For those of you interested in an whole-life, integrated way of looking at money, and a book that covers in no-nonsense detail many of the “new” ideas included in this Bach joker’s book, see “Your Money or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez, first published back in 1992. Dominguez was nurturing, developing, and practicing his ideas back in the 70s and 80s, and his book addresses the issue of how to be a HUMAN being whose life is rich in joy and meaning, not just rich in dollars and cents (although he acknowledges how vital money is to the richness of life/meaning in life and treats it as a fundamental issue to be resolved). It is a GET REAL about EVERYTHING in your life kind of book. No gimmicks or millionaire fantasy schemes. It’s about how to become supremely conscious of what you are doing with your life (that includes money of course), and integrating your life values and the way you spend your “life energy”. Life energy=time and money. Life energy is finite. Dominguez’s book is the real deal, not padded with bullpucky or trite how-to rules and plans.

    Trying to give Bach’s book at least a ghost of a fair shake, I skipped to the last page of each chapter and felt like I’d gotten the basic substance of the book from those little gray boxes; all within a matter of about 5 minutes. I thought it was that dumb. If I seem peeved, it’s only because I’m sick of superficial gurus making lots of money selling books that stir people up and get them all excited and who manage to keep a straight face as they endorse each other’s books. Noticing the gushing “reviews” by fellow hyperactive gurus at the beginning of “Start Late, Finish Rich” almost made me slamdunk it into the trashbin right then and there).
    I agree that people need to be brought up to a realistic and intellectually challenging level and not continue to be spoon-fed simplistic garbage and whatever feels and sounds good because it sells lots of books! the writers are exploiting people’s willingness to be sheep and believe in self-proclaimed “experts”.

    Another problem is the shere information overload. Why do we need more people saying generally the same thing and clogging bookstore shelves with clones? The move should be toward synthesizing RELIABLE information and condensing it into the most effective practical forms, communicating it, rather than reinventing the wheel over and over and over and over………! GEEZ. Of course where would the financial lives of rich gurus be if that happened? Hmmmmm.
    Lastly, where the heck is Bach’s bibliography? Are we just supposed to believe whatever he says because he feels like it’s a good idea? Where is the research, the proper references, the serious scientific reasoning and thought that goes into any reliable work? Please!


  10. Ashley says:

    I have read David Bach Books. All in all, i would say that you do learn one small thing from his books that makes a hugh difference.

    One small change makes a lot of difference like investing in stocks, just a small bit of your income. I see my money growing and it makes me really happy.

    For all you prople, I would suggest read “Secrets of Millionair Mind” by T. K. Harv.

    For all of you, all books, by any author have something to say. SO read them all, and try using their knowledge to your benefit

  11. Miriam says:

    While searching the web for more information about David Bach’s professional background, I found your article. I have seen David Bach on PBS and thought he was sincere about helping people change their attitudes and behaviors about money so they would save more and spend less. But, I was wrong.

    Last spring, I purchased a pair of tickets to see him and other “Get Rich Gurus” at a weekend seminar given by the Learning Annex. Although I did not attend, I guess his people got the mailing list because a few weeks ago I got an e-mail asking if I want information about David Bach’s programs. I thought “sure” and responded by giving them my address, phone numbers, etc. Well, last Friday I got a call from a gal (called a consultant) telling me I have been selected for a consultation to see if I was a good candidate to get an “invitation” to participate in David Bach’s new and improved coaching and mentoring program. At the end of the consultation I was accepted and told I would get a call from a coach on Saturday morning to further interview me and give me the details about the cost of the program. After an hour of listening to scripted dialogue telling me that procrastination is what stops me from making those decisions that would result in my succeeding financially (which I really can’t argue with), they gave me the happy news that I was invited to pay them between $7,200. and $12,000. for 8 coaching sessions for the low figure and 18 sessions for the higher figure. They would not let me off the phone without committing to the program and this high powered sales approach made me very uneasy. There was no mention of getting your money back in the first 30 days or so if this program was not what you needed or expected. There was no mention of letting me speak to previous participants. There was no getting off the phone to think this over or consult with others before making a commitment. I have never felt so trapped by a sales schpeil as I did on Saturday. I say beware of mild mannered, seemingly earnest and sincere get rich quick gurus because they are getting rich by taking advantage of your own lack of experience and confidence.

  12. Rob says:

    Correcting the information on the 10/26 post by Ashley, I agree that Secrets of the Millionaire Mind is a great book. The correct name of the author is T Harv Eker. I’ve done several of Harv’s courses and I’ve learned alot from them. I’d recommend his beginning course “Millionaire Mind Intensive” to anyone who wants to know more about what the root cause of your financial issues is. I’m not sure what to think of Mr Bach as it’s **SO** easy to get other so called “financial/self help gurus” to endorse/recommend your products now a days.

  13. O C says:

    I checked out the Bach site and hit for a reply
    to be picked for his personel coaching and the first thing the caller checked on was my credit limits on my charges and how much i owed on them
    after hearing that he told i would be a good candidate but my tuition would be 2500 to 7500 for the year. My wife and i cant see paying to get out of debt. The sales rep then trys to humiliate you to the close. This is just like the timeshare people in Fla. A MONEY GAME FOR DAVID

  14. Robert says:

    Bach is like the rest of the ‘get rich’ guru folks. He’s in it for Bach. I’m sure his heart was in the right place, but you can learn the same off handed financial advice by subscribing to a newsletter.

    You want financial success? It’s not easy, not at all, and it sure as crud ain’t quick.
    Anyone who tells you otherwise, is a liar.

    Change your behaviors. Stop buying crap you can’t afford. (And I don’t mean can’t afford the payments… stop asking HOW MUCH A MONTH…and start just asking HOW MUCH)

    1. Get some money in the bank, it’s called a savings account.. it’s something americans have seemed to have forgoten how to do (as we currently have a negative savings rate as a country) 1000.00 in an emergency fund will keep you from falling back on those stupid cards durring an emergency.

    2. GET SERIOUS about paying off your debts. stop financing a burger at mcdonalds for 30 years. organize your debts from smallest to largest and pay them off systematically. Yes.. you can argue about higher interest first, but lets face it.. if you had been thinking about interest you’d have never gotten into debt in the first place! Interest is great if it’s in your investments.. HORRIBLE if it’s on a loan. Paying the small debts off first builds a psycological momentum that keeps you going. It’s like weightloss, if you start losing weight right away you’re more likely to stick to it.

    3. AFTER you debts are paid off, finish building that emergency fund.. 3-6 months of your expenses in a money market account… yeah I know.. you have a bigger better deal… can it. That money is not an investment in anything but your wife’s security if you screw up and lose your job, or if you’re hurt. It’s amazing how much downsizing doesnt matter if your debt free and have 6 months of expenses.

    4. STOP wasting money on stupid get rich quick schemes. You need more money.. get a better job. Can’t get a better job, get two jobs until you’re better off. A boat isnt going to make you happy as long as you’re calculating your monthly payment as you cruize along. BUT I HAVE TO HAVE A BOAT.. all my Friends have a boat.. i’ll be laughed at….
    get over yourself. This selfish, stuff oriented culture we’ve gotten ourselves into is whats wrong with this economy… we’re putting mony in the bank in a fund at 8%, while paying 25% on a credit card.. how in the crap is that a good idea?!


    concept isnt hard… doing it is.

    Of course, that’s just my thinking….
    and who am I?

  15. millie says:

    I feel so mislead, my husband and I fell into the mentoring program scam… They prey on the desparate and ignorant. I wish I would of seen this blog before getting myself into another debt of $5,000. I saw this guy on the Oprah show and thought he really cared about people getting out of debt. The first person that called us was very charming and as soon as he saw that I would qualify for a loan he said we were canditates for the program. Only to find out that we would probably have to face bankrupcy, but they got their money. At this point I don’t know what to do. stupid me…

  16. Jack says:


    I work at his coaching office. He does care. Your coach MUST help you out far in excess of your tuition. You have a warrentee to that effect. If you’re ever unhappy, talk to a suppervisor, then his suppervisor, etc. you won’t have to go far up the line to get COMPLTETE SATISFACTION. I’ve seen them completely refund the entire tuition, even AFTER a full year of coaching. Go look at their BBB.org report. 100% resolved on all complaints. Does that tell you something? They won’t allow a complaint on their bbb reort to go unresolved. So, if you would rather not take the supervisor route, submit something to bbb. (but the supervisor route is easier)

    Just as Trent says, that personal finance isn’t easy, Coaching isn’t either. It, too, takes “reflection and internal commitment”. Some are wanting a quick fix with little effort on their part. Such programs never work. Our coaching programs are centered around expert knowledge a proven plan,and accountability on behalf of the coach and commitments, innner motivation,(encouraged by the coach), and working the plan on behalf of the student. It works, and works very well.
    There will be the occational student that does not follow the plan. Our first effort will always be to recommit them, get them back on the path they started on, but those can’t or won’t, we’ve gone out of our way to find a mutually agreeable solutions.

  17. millie says:

    I’ve gone back and forth with this company. At first very commited read the books, did the homework and saw a webinar. I thought maybe my husband and I just had the wrong coach because from his mouth came the words “the David Bach program does not work for everyone.” As you can imagine I panicked, after all I had over $5,000 riding on this. I requested a different coach and was granted my request. Only to find out It was almost a script they follow. Five sessions later we still don’t have a plan, an accountability relationship with our coach and everytime my husband (because I refuse to participate anymore) gets off the phone he has no tools to work with, no plan of action and is clueless on what to do next. My theory is, as I told one of your representatives (Jessica) that after our six sessions are over, you are going to finally come up with a great plan that if we only buy another six sessions you would have time to give to us. It’s a scam Jack

    I think I will take you up on the bbb…

  18. Tanh says:

    I understand that this page is meant as a review and deconstructing of a figure. But it’s also an opinion. There are many who have opinions so I often find them cheap because they criticize. David is great at what he does and can you claim the same success he has? If so then your arguments may have some merit. Otherwise it’s just ramblings of an ignoramous, much as I am right now. It’s attitude that will bring about success in any venture. Talk to any successful leader and they will tell you the same thing. That is the conclusion I have come up with from my conversations with them.

    So then take the attitude of acceptance. His book has a purpose that you may not be able to understand. Of couse you will know of it, you can intellectialize it but to understand it is another matter. How many times will it take a subject to be repeated before you hear for the first time. Keep reading and nodding.. but one day you will understand, when your attitude finally accepts it. Then you’ll be as successful as he is.

  19. britt says:

    Wow Robert, seems like you read the Total Money Makeover. (by Dave Ramsey) Maybe you could direct others toward it instead of paraphasing it.

  20. steve says:


    As with all these things it seems the only ones making the money are the guru’s selling the books/ebooks. oh and the affiliates that sell them as well.

  21. K Harper says:

    I recently contacted the Today show regarding David Bach. When I see him on there am am totally disgusted. After a great sales pitch my husband and I decided this coaching program could be worth trying. Almost 10 months later we are just plain upset. Our ecommerce coach thought a website would be the best for us.The actual website was ready in December and we were emailed that someone would contact us to help with getting everthing ready for traffic. I never heard from anyone. By the way the website was $2000 extra. Total we have spent $16,000 and all I have gotten are 2 coaches, a website from Magellan through Prosper thatis a farce. I for one am not going to let them get by with this.

    This has been the SCAM from hell, we are not stupid people just misled big time. I have worked so hard trying to do it alone, spent hours a day weeks at a time but I’m not a webmaster that’s why we spent the money AND I WANT IT BACK.

  22. Wow says:

    Wow. Funny, I ordered his book on a website. I am a professional investor and thought it was interesting. The book is right that the simple strategy will help you out…but makes it sound way too simple.

    What upset me was that they had some telemarketing guys contact me nonstop for about a month pitching me on this conference to go to and getting coached. Very very aggressive.

    Just shows you that he has lost his way. Putting greed before what he probably originally intended to do – to help people.

  23. Ann says:

    I know it’s been a while since anyone has posted on this topic, but want to chime in with my experience with David Bach and his coaching program through Prosper with the intention of warning anyone who might be considering getting involved with his program.What a nightmare!

    I take responsibility for the mistake I made in signing up for the coaching program, after expressing interest in Bach’s programs on his website. I was vulnerable after the death of my mother and wanted some guidance in dealing with a small inheritance.

    The more I engaged with the various people at Prosper, the more I felt I’d been completely scammed. Overpriced, simplistic e-courses, coaching that is nothing but more sales pitches, shady business practices…you name it.

    In the end, at least it woke me up and I took back some power by insisting that they give me my money back. I did eventually get most of it back, though still feel ripped off. These guys employ the worst business practices I’ve ever seen in my life. Refusing to respond to phone calls. No refunds after 3 days after enrolling, when how could you possibly know the program would be like at that point? Any reputable business is happy to keep their customers happy. Talking to these guys was surreal.

    Through this experience, I lost every ounce of respect I had for David Bach. It truly was simply a scam. Personal finance isn’t only about lattes.

    Like I said, I know it was my responsibility that I made the mistake of getting into the stupid program. It’s just horrible to see how these people prey on vulnerable types. They literally refused to provide me with a breakdown of the costs for the program components. What they were pro-rating me broke down to something truly outrageous like several hundred dollars an hour for coaching. A total scam.

    For anyone who fell for the sales pitch, go after your money! I stood up to them and it did work. It also helped that I disputed the charges to them on my credit card, based on the fact that I didn’t receive the product I was sold. This did work.

  24. Dee Anderson says:

    The new kid in town that everybody is talking about is the NY Times bestselling author of “Killing Sacred Cows” Garrett B. Gunderson. He is so popular so quickly that Kiyasaki’s camp just released a book entitled “Shooting sacred Cows”- Dee J. Anderson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *