The Number: Finding It

This week, The Simple Dollar takes a look at Lee Eisenberg’s The Number, a frank, well-written, and entertaining book that addresses the one number that so many of us obsess over: the amount of money we each need to live the rest of our lives the way we want to.

The final portion of The Number focuses on finding the number. Most of this section boils down to individual journeys to discovering the number and then winds up for a big finish: ten “bottom line” statements that summarize the journey for finding the number. Here are the ten “bottom lines” and my thoughts on them:

1: Obsess all you want, but don’t be a sicko
The moral of the story is that the Number is just a means to an end. If the Number itself is your end, you have a problem.

2: Those who say that this is either (a) the Apocalypse or (b) the Golden Age are both wrong.
I vacillate back and forth between these two perspectives, which must mean that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

3: Living in a college town is no panacea.
I lived in a college town for almost a decade. It can be a very interesting place and a lot of fun, but it doesn’t make me younger. I’ve reached the point now where I’m looking forward to my son going to college and then having him point out interesting places that he discovers – and also taking him to my old alma mater and eating at The Flying Burrito with him if it’s still around.

4: Good financial advice rings true.
That’s why books like The Richest Man in Babylon have been able to stay in print for such a long time: the advice that really works always works.

5: Those who know better don’t always do better.
On the other hand, simply knowing that essential advice doesn’t mean that you’ll be a success. It takes a lot of work, not just a lot of knowledge.

6: Younger people always undercall the Number.
I think this is due to inflation, mostly. Right now, I think my number is in the area of $2 million, but I know very well that $2 million in 2040 is going to be a lot less than $2 million is today.

7: The innocent get eaten.
If you think financial advice stinks, don’t take it. That includes anything you read on The Simple Dollar. In fact, if you read something that’s wrong here, please point it out in the comments or on your own blog. This is a discussion above all.

8: It pays to play tricks on yourself.
I agree; tricks like automatic withdrawals at the start of a month or a loose change/cash jar are great ways to get yourself on the right track without too much active thought.

9: Tricks or no tricks, almost everybody suffers from reference anxiety.
Basically, everyone feels somewhat inadequate compared to the finances of others. Unless you’re Bill Gates, someone in the world has more than you do and for most of us, that’s enough to make us anxious or jealous – or both.

10: Practicing “financial correctness” is a huge waste of time.
Yelling about the “unfairness” of some people having more than others is great for academic purposes, but if you spend your life railing on this topic, everyone will look at you, nod, and continue on with our lives. It is fundamental human nature to be competitive, and no matter what’s “right” or “wrong,” no amount of persuasion is going to change that.

Tomorrow, I’ll give my final thoughts and a “buy or don’t buy” recommendation.

You can jump to the other parts of this review of The Number by using the following links:
Chasing It
Figuring It
Finding It
Buy or Don’t Buy?

The Number is the tenth of fifty-two books in The Simple Dollar’s series 52 Personal Finance Books in 52 Weeks.

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