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rob carrick

Personal finance needs a language police.

There are too many stale or misleading phrases that keep financial and investing matters dry and confusing, and help the financial industry avoid taking responsibility for its products and actions. Personal finance writers can be part of the problem when they resort to worn-out clichés about money and saving. Here's a list of terms that need some policing:

Borrowing solutions

What banks call the mortgages, loans and credit lines that help them solve the problem of keeping profits on the rise.

Consult your adviser

What financial companies say so you'll have someone to blame besides them if their products disappoint.

Crystal ball

What will happen in financial markets is said to be unknowable, unless you have one of these props from old movies and sitcoms.

If crystal balls did anything at all, every hedge fund company would have a vault of them.

Do your homework

A classic dodge used by personal finance writers who don't do their homework. Using this phrase means "I'm not really sure about what I've written, so double check it."

Do the math

Like do your homework, but worse. The whole reason we have personal finance writers is that people don't do the math.


Dream house, dream vacation, dream retirement. Think the financial industry has your best interests at heart in using this phrasing to sell mortgages, loans and investments? Dream on.

Good debt

Good one. Someone recently used the term "tolerable debt" – that's more like it.

Keeping up with the Joneses

A quaint old phrase that may refer back to the peer pressure to buy a new buggy whip or gingham dress just because your neighbour has one.


A magic attention-getter in personal finance, which is why it comes up 15,290 times when doing a search in the books area of The wealth-building plan at work here is to make a million by telling other people how to become millionaires.

Mug's game

Another aged phrase, this one meaning a futile activity such as trying to predict the stock market. Financial industry people who use it were probably around for the big crash – of 1929.

Nest egg

Your long-term savings as an egg that you nurture and grow over time. Don't a lot of eggs end up cracked, scrambled, fried, chopped and boiled?

Net worth

The amount by which the long and now precarious runup in house prices and stocks has made your assets worth more than your liabilities.

No one size fits all

Means a financial product might not be right for you. Question: Does one size ever fit all? Maybe in tube socks.

Past results are no indication of future returns

The boilerplate at the bottom of the ads in which investment companies brag about past results.

Pay yourself first

Actually, pay the mortgage and heating bill first. And buy some groceries.


A dated term for purse that dated writers use to refer to your financial resources.

Purse strings

Yes, personal finance has a rich history of purse imagery. Here, the strings of a money purse are referenced. Ask your grandmother whether her grandmother had one of these.


A reference to a defunct coin that was 99-per-cent worthless, just as this phrase is now.

Professionally managed

The fund industry's code for "we charge hefty fees for this product or service, and we get paid regardless of whether we make or lose money for you."

Save for a rainy day

Just save. You'll want money for the sunny days as well.

Socked away

A folksy reference to saving money in a sock. Do not sock money away. Even your bank savings account pays more than your socks.

Salted away

Even more pointless than socking money away. Salt is bad for you, and those little crystals slide right off your bills and coins.

Shop around

A good personal finance writer shops around for the best products or deals and reports back. A lazy one tells readers to shop around. Also, aren't people already shopping enough?

Sleep at night

Refers to an unreachable sweet spot in the fear-greed continuum where all your money worries vanish.

There's no free lunch

Whoever said there was? Anyway, imagine how lame it would be. Probably hot dogs and potato salad.