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book review

A lot of David Chilton's new book, The Wealthy Barber Returns, is devoted to a basic message that could help a lot of people and fix some of the country's most pressing financial problems.

Mr. Chilton thinks people are spending too much money and he wants them to cool it so they incur less debt and have more money to save for retirement. It sounds like a simple solution to a complex problem, but Mr. Chilton has a way of making the simple approach work.

His first book, The Wealthy Barber, has sold more than two million copies since 1989 by reducing smart money management to a practical concept called paying yourself first. Just take 10 per cent or more of your gross pay and save or invest it.

It's great advice – I follow it myself. But not everyone does, a fact that is painfully obvious in our high levels of personal debt, poor investment returns and questionable levels of retirement savings. And so, Mr. Chilton is back with a new book that covers much of the same ground as The Wealthy Barber, but with fresh perspectives based on his experiences talking to people about how they manage money.

Mr. Chilton speaks in his own voice in the new book, not through the fictional cast of characters he used last time. He strikes just the right tone as a witty regular guy who happens to know a lot about money and is glad to share.

The book is built on a series of short, very readable chapters on topics that range from lines of credit and credit cards to a look at whether it's better to save in a registered retirement savings plan or tax-free savings account. The best material is on spending, though.

Mr. Chilton doesn't come out and say it, but it's fairly obvious that he thinks people are too materialistic and self-indulgent. To quote one of his chapter titles, they're "consumed with consumption."

There's no simple solution to the issue of overspending, but Mr. Chilton does try. He urges people to try saying "I can't afford it" as a way of extricating themselves from peer pressure to spend money, and he warns that we live in a world where "almost everyone wants you to spend as much as possible."

There are fresh insights in the book, too. For example, Mr. Chilton believes credit cards may cause harm even to people who pay their bills off in full every month. He argues that because paying with plastic is so easy and painless, people are prone to spending more and thereby blowing money they might otherwise have saved.

Mr. Chilton is one of the great communicators on personal finance and he writes in a way that will hold the interest of people at all levels of financial expertise. Why would you not read this book?