I first heard of the financial writer, Helaine Olen, while watching an old(ish) interview promoting her book, Pound of Foolish. In the interview, Helaine said her purpose for writing the book was to challenge the financial “experts.” Why? Helaine explained that she didn’t like how all of their messages have always been centered around it’s the individual’s fault that they’re in debt. When she said that, something in my mind clicked. She’s right…..
I grew up financially abused by my father (we’re on better terms, now) and had some mooching boyfriends. I never truly learned how to save money or the value of a dollar. It wasn’t until my husband came along and taught me that I truly learned. So, hearing Helaine show compassion to people who have had money issues was a breath of fresh air. I knew right then that I knew I not only had to read her book, but I also had to interview her.
I knew that Helaine started out as a freelance writer. What I didn’t know was that the Los Angeles Times had contacted her about writing an article about finance for them as a one-time thing. On a whim, she accepted the one-time offer, the only thing was, she didn’t know anything about personal finance! So, she went to the nearest bookstore and wrote her first column based on what she had read at that bookstore. To her surprise, the Los Angeles Times really liked her piece! This led to them hiring her to start writing their new column titled “Money MakeOver.” A new Helaine was born.
I asked Helaine if all of the personal financial “experts” are a bunch of phony’s. She first said, “Personal finance rules are personal finance rules.” Then, she went on to tell me that they all make some sense when they say to not spend more than you make, and put money into savings and save for retirement. All sound advice, right? Well, it’s not that simple. She went on to tell me that not one of these very famous financial experts take into account the fact that we have a “constantly shifting landscape.” From there, Helaine went on to say that while mortgages have always existed, when she first started writing, it was completely different than it is now. The “rules” have changed. You now have to show proof of your income, sign so many documents and the most problematic of them all, you are able to borrow the entire value of the property and sometimes more! The interest rates on the mortgages vary, but they are out of this world! But. no one could have predicted the housing crisis or the economic crisis, yet all of the blame got shifted onto the individuals who need help. Then, just like the first time I heard her speak, she said something that struck a chord with me. The personal financial advice that’s given is “at best, deluded; at worst, a scam.”
Helaine did say that some of Dave Ramsey’s advice isn’t wrong. When he says to spend cash, not your credit card, that’s the right way of thinking. She went on to say that she agreed with me that it’s good to have at least one credit card because it’s bad to have no credit. Helaine said that if someone needs to build credit but has a problem with spending too much on their card, then they need to leave it at home when they go out. I agree completely!
She did go on to say that despite some of Dave’s good advice, she doesn’t like how he always shifts blame onto the individual. We talked about how sometimes people lose their jobs, get sick, get into accidents, etc. So, it’s not always the individual’s fault, yet Dave and the other experts in his same field don’t seem to see it that way.
Take Suze Orman as another example. Helanie told me that Suze became “queen of the crisis” and would scream at people on TV. Suze couldn’t believe that people were spending and borrowing so much! Sure, people shouldn’t be taking out six credit cards, but some people are taking out six credit cards for a very specific reason. Helaine showed compassion and said things like the cost of healthcare, education and childcare have gone up, among other necessities. So, of course, people are spending more!
Helaine also talked about how much luxury is marketed to us all the time. Status is very important in this country, so we’re constantly having nights dining out and clothes shoved in our faces in order to fit in. We’re also told (especially millennials like me) to spend money on those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
I asked how we should deal with temptation, such as luxury being marketed to us. Helaine said that we need to pay ourselves first. Pay our bills and then put some into savings and/or retirement. She has all of her paychecks deposit directly into savings and every few weeks will move some of it into checking.
I told her that sometimes before making a big online purchase, I’ll sleep on it. Then some mornings, I’ll wake up changing my mind. She told me that when she’s on Amazon, she always saves the items she likes and never immediately hits buy. Most of the time, Helaine never returns to buy the items. That’s a good tip I learned!
I then asked her how she wrote her second book. She told me that it all started when she was doing an interview with Harold Pollack. He said that everything you need to know about personal finance you can put on an index card. Well, the interview went viral! Everyone wanted to know where to get these cards. So, Harold started writing down what people needed to know on these cards, which lead to Harold and Helanie writing Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated.
Helaine is now an Opinion Blog Columnist for the Washington Post, is married to a fellow writer; the two of them have two boys and a fur baby who is also their daughter! (My fur baby is my son! So, I know what it’s like having a fur baby!) She has been featured in many publications, was named Business Insider’s “50 Women Who Are Changing the World” and “The 30 Most Influential People in Personal Finance and Wealth.” Way to go, Helaine! You deserve it!
I wanted to let everyone know what a blessing it was talking to Helaine. I grew up barely knowing anything about money and her agreeing to talk to me is a dream come true-no exaggeration! I find her to be such a positive role model and so easy to talk to. I’ll never forget this interview and will always be grateful to both God and Helaine for this opportunity.
You can find her on Twitter here!