Before you read the first chapter of Smart Money Decisions
, kick yourself. Hard. Then do it again, just for good measure. Because no matter how hard you're able to pummel yourself, it won't match the impact you'll feel when you realize how much you overpaid for your house and your car, how badly you bungled your last job change, how you were suckered into buying an extended warranty because of a fearful scenario that a veteran salesperson planted in your head.
Max H. Bazerman is a professor of negotiation at Northwestern University. Unlike many of today's investment gurus, he's applied statistical models to numerous situations in which the price of a purchase was in flux. And he has concluded, beyond any doubt, that certain tactics will almost certainly save you money, while others put the power in someone else's corner, dooming you to pay a higher price than you might have otherwise. Now, you may already know that there's a mere 10 percent chance you'll use an extended warranty, and thus pass it up; about 60 percent of purchasers are able to resist. But you may not know that you should never let a real estate agent know the highest price you are willing to pay for a property. In fact, you're best off if the agent knows only how low the seller is willing to go. With a knowledge only of the floor and no idea what the ceiling is, guess where the price winds up? Right: hovering just over the carpet. There's more to this book than negotiation, though. One chapter persuades you to keep the value of your time in mind when making a purchase. For example, if you research and shop for 20 hours in order to save $120 on a purchase, you've set the value of your time at $6 an hour. (Would you like fries with that big-screen TV?)
Like the best investment books, Smart Money Decisions should have a permanent place on your shelves. You may need it only a few times a year, but you're virtually guaranteed to have more money at the end of the year. --Lou Schuler
Contemporary guides to financial planning and money management are now apparently obliged to consider the psychological aspects of personal fiscal behavior. The frequent result, however, often consists of New Age mantras or confusing psychobabble. Bazerman, on the other hand, grounds his guide in the behavioral aspects of decision making. He is a professor at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management and author of Judgment in Managerial Decision-Making
(1998) and Negotiating Rationally
(1992). He begins here with a fascinating illustration of how otherwise sensible individuals can make foolish decisions. Students in Bazerman's class are offered the opportunity to bid on a $20 bill; but given his unusual ground rules, they end up paying anywhere from $20 to $70 for it. He explains this behavior and goes on to identify the "top ten money mistakes." He shows them at work in decisions to buy a home, a car, insurance, and mutual funds, and in deciding whether to accept a job offer and how to manage one's time. Bazerman's unique perspectives make this an exceptional book. David Rouse