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Your money getting your finances back to basics


(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)By Chris TaylorNEW YORK Jan 12 To judge from sky-high Wall Street salaries, managing money is such a complicated task that it is worth a hefty price. Could mere mortals ever hope to try their hand at it and save a few bucks?Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack say yes. They are the co-authors of the new book "The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have to be Complicated," which offers ten rules that regular people can follow to manage their own money, without getting a degree in finance or paying high fees. What you need to know is so straightforward, they argue, that it can be written down on a single card and posted on your fridge. The idea came about in 2013, after Olen, a personal finance journalist, and Pollack, a professor at the University of Chicago, talked about it during a video chat, which later went viral (bit.ly/1isBksz). We sat down with Olen to talk about what those simple money principles are, and why they remain so elusive for most of us.

Q: Why do so many of us pay professionals so much money to manage our portfolios?A: We are all pitched the idea that managing money is really hard, and that professionals have some special secret that can help you. In fact, most of this stuff is pretty basic, and can be put on a single index card. I get that people are legitimately busy, and that money management is a task they find unpleasant. So it tends to be put off, or given to someone else like a financial adviser. Since they are the experts, they should know what they are doing, right? But the majority of advisers aren't even legally bound to act in the best interests of their clients. People don't even realize that.

Q: When Harold Pollack's index card went viral (bit.ly/1Le1Xzg), did you realize how much of an effect it would have?A: The exact opposite, actually. We had talked about it in an interview, but then without thinking much about it, he took an index card from his daughter's knapsack, scrawled some thoughts on it with a Sharpie, and put a picture of it online. Then it just took off. I guess it distilled a lot of things that people knew into a simple, easy-to-understand format. Q: So what are a few of these simple tips?

A: Save 10-20 percent of your money. Pay down credit-card debt, ideally the full amount every month. Max out your retirement accounts, at least up to the amount of the employer match. Don't invest in individual stocks. Use broad, low-fee index funds instead. Make sure you are properly insured. Only buy a home when you are financially ready, not because you think you have to. Q: Reuters: You have been pretty outspoken that the 401(k) system is not working, and that the system is stacked against most of us. How does that jibe with this book, which suggests people can take control of their future?A: It is true that I don't think that the 401(k) system works for everyone. On the other hand, it is a fact that we all live within it. I can't get up on my high horse and say we should all boycott 401(k)s. I use mine, and you should use yours, if you have one. But of course I would like to see the system improved. It is what we have, and we all have to learn how to best take advantage of it. The more attention people pay to investment fees, for instance, the lower they will go. Q: Since these money precepts are so simple, where do most people go off-track?A: They go off-track in terms of not saving enough. Half of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and don't have any emergency savings at all. The second place where they go off-track is that they think their financial adviser is their pal, and is always doing what is in their best interest. That is not always true.

Your money the and daughter evolution of family businesses


The Trump Organization is a lot like the thousands of family businesses that dot the land, even though its current leader, Donald Trump, is a U.S. presidential candidate. The New York-based development company, which was started in 1900 by Donald's father, Frederick, and grandmother, Elizabeth, is at the forefront of one of the big changes at small companies: Women are increasingly taking over top leadership roles, even in traditionally male-dominated businesses. Ivanka Trump, 33, is part of a fourth generation working their way up the company's leadership ranks, waiting for the day when their father hands over the reins. So far, she has made it to become an executive vice president of development and acquisitions."I don't think too much about the role of being a female in terms of my own company," she said. "I just look at it as growing and learning."She said her father never treated her differently from her two brothers at the company, Donald Jr. and Eric."There are probably plenty of patriarchs that don't think their daughters are as capable as the sons," she said. "That's not the case in my family."These attitudes are increasingly common, said Walter Kuemmerle, president of Boston-based Kuemmerle Research Group, adding that 20 years ago, there was basically zero preference for women in family businesses.

"I see more women interested and more older generations receptive to the idea of the best person taking over, rather than having a gender bias," Kuemmerle said. Kuemmerle has run annual meetings for young executives in family businesses for Citi Private Bank for the past few years, but this year's was the first where more than half of the people in the room were women. But he cautioned that the evolution was not yet complete. His best advice for women joining family businesses is to get a great education, get outside experience and do more homework than their competitors."As unfair as this sounds, you should be better prepared than you'd think a male would be," he said.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, Ivanka Trump said she had encountered only subtle forms of gender bias."Certainly when people enter a negotiation with my father, they come incredibly well-prepared," she said. "With me, particularly early in my career, that wasn't always the case."OBSTACLES TO ASCENSION

When Julie Smolyansky took over as chief executive officer of her family's Lifeway Foods Inc in 2002 after her father died suddenly, it was his senior advisers who presented the biggest obstacles to her ascension. She had been working for the kefir yogurt maker for years but was only 27."His friends and advisers told the family, there's no way a 27-year-old can run a company," she said. "We needed some gray hair in the leadership."Wayne Rivers, president of the Family Business Institute, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, was not surprised by this viewpoint."One dirty little secret is that the advisers don't like family businesses successors; they perceive that they are spoiled and entitled," Rivers said. "It's awful to watch, because they are prized by senior-generation family members as professional and objective. But they are human beings like everyone else, and they sometimes have an agenda."In the next generation, the challenges for young women entering family business may come from within themselves. That is the view of 23-year-old business analyst Leah Klein of Chicago-based Klein Tools, which has been in her family since 1857."I think a lot of women think it's a barrier if it's a male-dominated business, but I think it's more about them," said Klein, who is among the sixth generation working at her company. "If a woman is interested, they have to make their choices about what they want to do for their life."