Book Review: The Index Card by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack

Adam Books, Personal Finance 3 Comments

I just finished up the The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to be Complicated by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack. If you haven’t heard of Harold (or his famous index card), it’s a fun story.

Harold was challenged to share his best financial advice on a single index card. What he put together was about as good as any personal finance I’ve ever read, and it went instantly viral (as far as financial topics go).

In his own words, “The card came out of an RBC chat I had with Helaine Olen regarding what I view as the financial industry’s basic dilemma: The best investment advice fits on an index card. A commenter, Alex M, asked for the actual index card. Although I was originally speaking in metaphor, I grabbed a pen and one of my daughter’s note cards, scribbled this out in maybe three minutes, snapped a picture with my iPhone, and the rest was history.

We covered it heavily ourselves when we launched The Index Card Challenge and invited personal finance bloggers from around the net to contribute their own index card with their top financial advice (you can still submit one to

I’ve got to be honest, at this point I’m not your ideal reader/reviewer for a personal finance book. Once you’ve read a dozen or so books in this category, you’ll learn that it’s very hard to say anything new. Add to that fact I follow a lot of friend bloggers in this space and write on the topic myself, and you can see how I end up quickly flipping the pages, going “yep, yep, yep, disagree with that a bit, yep, yep, done.”

Having said that, I did enjoy The Index Card and I think it will be great for its intended audience. It’s written in very simple English and is clearly geared toward the uninitiated. While I don’t personally follow or agree with quite everything for myself (like never buying an individual stock), if I was giving advice to others, that’s probably what I would say.

The book is quite comprehensive, covering 10 basic rules for living a healthy financial life. I won’t give them all away, but you get everything from savings and 401ks to specific asset allocation, home ownership, a very solid explanation of “fiduciary” for the non finance nerd, and I even learned a few new things about insurance.

If I was to quibble a bit, I think that talking about diversifying your income streams is an incredibly important rule that we should all be applying in the modern era. Companies aren’t loyal anymore and we can lose a job in the blink of an eye. I think encouraging things like rental income, online income, and any other side hustle you can do (rooommates, Uber driving, ebay and amazon selling, etc) should have been Rule #11.

I also think the savings goals were a bit light for my frugal self. I think a call of 10-20% savings is not the way to financial freedom Anything less than 25% is going to see you working well past when I have any desire to.

For the uninitiated, The One-Page Financial Plan by Carl Richards might be the best book I’ve seen due to it’s genius use of simple, visual illustrations, BUT this book would make my top couple for handing out to a cousin, niece or nephew, that was just hitting high school, college, or starting their first job. It’s a solid companion and covers most everything. As Harold’s story in the book will explain, it’s not bad for the older crowd either if they don’t have their act together. It’s also helpful to have an author who has made his own mistakes. It doesn’t feel preachy and nobody is looking down on you from their tower.

I highly recommend The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to be Complicated by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack. as one of several foundational texts for those new to personal finance and managing their own money and would add it to the list of graduation gifts you hand out.

Harold Index Card

Harold Pollack's index card.

My Index Card



Check out the Index Card Challenge page to see all the submissions and grab a copy of Harold’s book!

For more book reviews (often with detailed notes), head over to our Books Page to check out all the recommendations.

Comments 3

  1. Pingback: A Review of “The Index Card” by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack | AllFinancialMatters

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