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286 of 294 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Still seems like Kansas to me, November 23, 2004
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This review is from: We're Not In Kansas Anymore: Strategies for Retiring Rich in a Totally Changed World (Hardcover)
Book Review: "We're Not in Kansas Anymore," by Walter Updegrave. (Crown Business. 2004)

By George Fulmore

The subtitle of this book reads, "strategies for retiring rich in a totally changed world." Maybe I've been at this personal finance stuff for too long, but for me that subtitle means that I'm about to learn something new. In reading "We're Not in Kansas Anymore" I did not find that to be true.

To me, what this book is saying is that the old world of retirement pensions is gone and cannot be depended upon. Many of us have known that for decades. In my case, the defined benefit program where I worked was converted to a defined contribution (401K) program by the mid-80's. This is not big news. And this would seem to be one of the many books now coming out that warn Baby Boomers that they need to take this savings stuff serious or else. Again, I'm not sure that this is new stuff. (And I'm not sure that all those state, federal and county government workers need to be sweating out any of this. Their pensions will hopefully be there for them.)

The bulk of the book talks about standard personal financial stuff that has been printed for decades elsewhere and that you can find in endless current books: start early, think long-term, max out deferred options, don't think it's too late, don't be too conservative or too risky, live within your means, review your overall plan at least once a year, yada yada yada. This takes us to page 244 of this 277-page book.

Sure, if one follows all this, he or she or they build up a nest egg that will prove its worth in retirement. And that will be wonderful. But if we don't do all this, then we will be in the soup, unless we somehow catch up in time. What the author does not spend much time with are the real world reasons why these things do not work out. That's not his concern. And, of course, he never really defines how much is enough. Nobody knows all the variables of the future, so nobody really knows the answer to that one.

The final 33 pages are why I bought the book, but they do not contain enough insight or information for me to urge others to do so. He talks of a "longevity risk," which is all that stuff about running out of money because one lives too long, but he also says, "there's no way to know in advance exactly what mix of stocks and bonds will make your portfolio last the longest or how you can set a withdrawal rate just high enough to give you the most income without your nest egg expiring before you do." Thanks a lot, buddy. That's a big help!

There are about 14 pages on annuity strategies, which I was hoping would be the bulk of the book, as I think converting illiquid assets into income over time is the name of the game in retirement. And he is generally talking about that in this brief section. (No mention of charitable trusts annuities, which I generally prefer.) The final pages urge the retiree reader to make periodic reality checks on how things are going, mixed with advice about how not to get too caught up in all this finances stuff in the first place: "don't let the planning get in the way of living a happy and fulfilled life." You get only one retirement. Enjoy it while you can."

I you are looking for a good book on personal finances leading to a sufficient retirement nest egg, I guess this is as good as any; although, I'd think you could save yourself some money by going to a used bookstore to pick up one of the many books on this subject that have been around for years. If you are looking for a book that deals primarily in retirement financial strategies in today's world, I'd keep looking. This book is not it, in my opinion, and my guess is that there will many, many more to follow in the next
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 1, 2008 1:59:34 PM PDT
Perkka Saami says:
You've put your finger on precisely why, in my experience, more people don't save. They know they don't know what's coming in the future. They know what their money will buy now. Thus they conclude they'd rather go with a sure thing, and let the future take care of itself.

I happen to the very model of the modern major...savings nut. But I cannot honestly say to anyone that giving up so many opportunities to consume things, places, and experiences now, when I'm young and strong, is worth it so that I can hopefully pay for mere subsistence later as an old person outliving any reasonable term of life, and then undergoing a cashectomy in my 90s by various corporations. I completely understand why people spend it all now, and go into debt for more. I don't do that, but I understand it.

In our society, the future is for corporations; we all die in one generation, they go on, the Undead. We are their serfs. And even if I have the money in the future for all the things I'm depriving myself of now to save, I will be older, more fragile, more brittle in my personhood as older people tend to be. Not to mention that "retirement" no longer means stopping working early enough to have a life; now it means working till you still drop, then having enough money to pay for expensive life-extension technology.

Finally, you put your finger on another reason many people abhor financial planning: there is no certainty of outcomes whatever. Just like a casino. Plus who isn't cynical these days, having watched CxOs raid pensions left and right and get away with it? These financial planning books are always ridiculously--sometimes insultingly--simplistic. I found this one that way. Often financial planning books are tract about how to play a game, the game of planning, the game of investing. If one enjoys doing that for its own sake, then great. But let's not mistake it for anything certain, beneficial, or reliable. And that's the sad part, that people can work hard all their lives, live the best they can, do their jobs and their duty...and still get royally shafted!


Posted on Jan 4, 2009 3:52:11 PM PST
Amen. Walter Updegrave writes for Fortunes and is a complete jerk. He is clueless. But he gets paid to write something -- so he ladles out bromides.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 16, 2009 8:09:26 PM PST
I just read your post to my review of a financial planning book. I like what you have to say. I'm not quite as cynical, but close. Man, this current crisis makes everyone look bad. I've always thought that the American economy, if one bet on the whole spectum, would be pretty safe. I feel bad for folks who had lost of ton of their savings of late. I know my wife and I have, and I have followed and studied this stuff for years! I think the Obama election will be good for the future of the country, and for what I think is positive stuff about American and the future, I recommend reading Thom Hartman books and Paul Krugman (sp?). Take care. Thanks for your comments. George Fulmore.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 3, 2013 2:13:46 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 28, 2013 10:58:47 AM PDT
Merlyn says:
Dear Xuan Loc:

Updegrave wrote for Money Magazine. Do you even know where Kansas is?

I'm a financial professional and retirement plan administrator. If I could stuff this book into the brain of 95% of my participants, I would have improved their lives by a few hundred percent.

Fulmore's review is a long blast of hot air. Filled with generalities, it has no grasp of the world of most individuals who are abysmally ignorant of what they are doing and what is coming their way. Actually, given all the smoke, I cannot even tell if he read the book.

I'm happy Fulmore is a genius with a firm grasp of info that has been has been around for years. With his superiority, I'm sure he must be one of the 1%'ers.

The NBER (the organization that determines when recessions begin and end) did a study a few years ago. Query: if you had to come up with $2,000 within 30 days, could you.

Approximately 25% of Americans report that they would certainly not be able to come up with such funds, and an additional 19% would do so by relying at least in part on pawning or selling possessions or taking payday loans. If we consider the respondents who report being certain or probably not able to cope with an ordinary financial shock of this size, we find that nearly half of Americans are financially fragile. While financial fragility is more severe among those with low educational attainment and no financial education, families with children, those who suffered large wealth losses, and those who are unemployed, a sizable fraction of seemingly "middle class" Americans also judge themselves to be financially fragile.

The hard fact is that the vast majority of Americans really need to absorb these principles and apply them. "Kansas" is a valuable plea, with directions, to pay attention and take action.

As of this date 284 people have been "helped" by Fulmore's review. How about you, are you doing so nicely? Feeling all warm and fuzzy in 2013? If you had read and executed Updegrave's advice, you would be so much better off. But in Fulmore's fat and happy 2004 all was well. Follow "Kansas" advice and be ready for the next financial fiasco. Buy the book used from an Amazon re-seller. Use it. Sleep better. Prosper.
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