Smart women don’t need this book

Meet David Bach, financial advisor turned author. Bach has been pumping out books containing advice that everyday people can apply to their finances since 1999. He has written a generic manual, The Automatic Millionaire, in addition to several books targeting specific groups. Examples include Smart Couples Finish Rich; Start Late, Finish Rich (for an older audience); and the upcoming Start Early, Finish Rich, which might come in handy for life after graduation. But Bach’s FinishRich series has one more part, targeting yet another societal niche: women.

Wait — what? Women aren’t exactly a subgroup of the population: they’re half of it. That is, unless you’re in the world of David Bach, where women are just another marketing group. Bach’s books give the impression that women are just another category of people, like married couples, the elderly, or high school and college graduates. In Smart Women Finish Rich, Bach provides financial advice that is tailored to fit a female audience. And apparently they needed the help, because Smart Women was Bach’s first book, preceding even The Automatic Millionaire. But wait — do women need their own book? Why isn’t there a Smart Men Finish Rich? Your inner feminist — however small — should be reeling.

Timing is a funny thing. Sunday was Carnegie Mellon’s 10th annual MOSAIC conference, a vital campus event meant to survey the role of gender in the modern world. Mosaic also recognized the centennial of the Margaret Morrison Carnegie College — it’s been a full hundred years since old Carnegie Tech first opened its doors to female students. A mere three days before all of this, on Thursday, the Joseph-Beth Booksellers store in South Side hosted one of Bach’s trademarked FinishRich seminars.

Pittsburgh, what are you doing? How can you be the home of such a progressive conference concerning gender issues, and yet embrace the teachings of David Bach? Can we really live in a city where MOSAIC 2006 and a seminar on Smart Women Finish Rich are allowed to occur simultaneously?

Skeptical, I paid a visit the South Side seminar. But who goes to these things? The audience was entirely female and diverse in age, and by a show of hands about half had already read Bach’s book. A representative from Van Kampen Investments — the corporation that bought the rights to Smart Women — was leading the show. He navigated through a tedious PowerPoint as we took notes in our complimentary workbooks. On a table in the front of a room were about 50 copies of Smart Women. Well, nobody ever had to write David Bach Finishes Rich... plenty of people already love his books.

Bach’s methods include a nine-step plan, such as constructing a goal ladder, and catchy tips — one of these is finding your Latté Factor. He suggests that people waste something like $10 a day on things they don’t really need. Miscellaneous expenses such as new clothes and dining out can gobble up considerable amounts of cash. The point is obvious, but it nevertheless succeeded in making me feel guilty for my pre-seminar stop at Caribou Coffee. And some of the topics in Smart Women are a little more complicated: If you think W4 forms are complicated, try deciphering Bach’s advice regarding IRA accounts and 401(k) plans. By the time I left Joseph-Beth, I felt intimidated about finances and thankful for collegiate cushions such as DineX and CampusXpress.

I’m pretty sure most people feel like that, though. Everybody feels overwhelmed on April 14, the day before tax day — men and women. So again I ask, why do we get our own book? Well, I learned from the seminar that there are some gender-specific financial issues that women would be unwise to ignore. The statistics are daunting: not only do females outlive males by an average of seven years, but the mean age of widowhood is only 56. Perhaps the most disburbing is that approximately one fourth of widowed women spend the death benefits of their departed spouses in two months. This is due, in part, to the typical lack of adequate insurance in men and the regularity of debt before death. Additionally, on average, women sacrifice 11½ years of their careers to raise children.

And many women simply find it natural to let finances remain a male domain. I talked to Samantha Bushman, the committee chair of last year’s MOSAIC, and Rebecca Steinberg, a gender issues intern, who both agreed that it’s common for married women to give their husbands complete control over the family’s money. Surprisingly, this is true even for women who own their own businesses. The David Bach seminar also mentioned that married couples often defer to the 401(k) plan of the male, even if that of the female will do more for their money.

Just the fact that reading the title Smart Women Finish Rich probably made you wince is what I would call a good sign. Bach’s books are doing a service for previous generations of women, but as Bushman and Steinberg agreed, female financial independence is less of an issue for those of us now in college. Maybe the ‘Burgh is big enough for MOSAIC 2006 and David Bach... for now.