High finance has gotten so complicated that many so-called experts no longer seem to understand it. Wall Street has become a computer-driven casino, where huge gains can become huge losses within seconds.
Personal finance can be much simpler. In fact, a whole information industry has sprung up to preach common-sense money management to average people who forgot or never learned time-tested strategies.
Richmond's Don McNay, a financial consultant and syndicated columnist, is the author of a new book, Wealth Without Wall Street, that has been selling briskly on Amazon.com since it came out in paperback Aug. 25 ($9.99, Kindle $5.99). The hardback ($19.99) debuts Tuesday at a 7 p.m. signing at Joseph-Beth Booksellers.
"I don't just complain about things; I give people practical advice to do something about their situation," McNay said. "It's about taking control of your finances and your life."
McNay's timing is perfect: Unemployment is high; many people are struggling with debt; and the public is angry at Wall Street fat cats, who are back to their old shenanigans after receiving $700 billion in taxpayer bailouts three years ago.
It also doesn't hurt that two of the nation's most popular personal finance gurus — Clark Howard and Dave Ramsey, whose philosophies McNay generally shares — also have new books out. McNay said his book is benefitting from Amazon's computer-generated referrals. "People who pull up their books see, 'You also might like this,'" he said.
McNay, 52, who writes for Huffington Post and several small Kentucky newspapers, owns a company that specializes in what are called structured settlements. He helps people who get big payouts from an insurance settlement, or maybe a lottery win, manage and conserve their money.
His slim, easy-to-read book isn't technical; it's more like common-sense advice from a wise uncle.
McNay said he has learned how to explain things simply after years of working with accident victims, many of whom have little education and many financial problems. Plus, he and his own family have made a lot of mistakes over the years.
For example, McNay said, he became a successful broker in the 1980s and splurged on all the trappings — a Mercedes-Benz, a big house and a fancy office in downtown Lexington. Then he lost it all through a complicated real estate investment he didn't understand. He had to dig himself out of debt.
The book tells several other painful stories that taught McNay lessons. "It's embarrassing," he said, "but it's real life."
Here is a sample of McNay's advice:
Avoid credit cards: McNay said most of the pushback to his book has come from readers who say credit cards can be great tools when managed properly. But he avoids them because he doesn't want to be like too many Americans and let credit cards become a debt trap. McNay, who said he has always struggled with his weight, compares credit cards to keeping fattening food out of his house; if it's there, he will eat it.
Work for yourself: Not everyone is cut out to own their own business, but if you are, do it. It's hard work, but it gives you more control over your life and future.
Get rich slowly: To McNay, that means don't spend more money than you make. Avoid debt. Save through conservative investments. Consult an attorney when necessary. Have a will and life insurance to protect your assets. Not only does this make you richer, it will remove a lot of stress. "It takes power away from those who can control you," he said.
Move your money from a big bank to a small one: Wall Street has so much power, McNay said, because so much of Americans' money is invested in big banks. They were behind most of the risky activities that tanked the economy. Big banks also make only 28 percent of small-business loans, while small banks, defined as those with less than $1 billion in assets, make 34 percent.
"A lot of this really is common sense, and it's about balancing power in your favor," McNay said. "These are things that could spark a revolution."