Updated: Oct 3, 2019
“Clear as mud.” You have heard this before. It is a phrase used to describe
explanations that are as complicated as possible. After a “clear as mud” explanation, the
listener thinks, “What?” and is more confused rather than less.
Financial topics are often discussed in this way. Many financial writers are more
comfortable using Wall Street lingo or a technical term rather than everyday words. It is
like using the term “canis lupus familiaris” or even the acronym “CLF” in place of the word
“dog.” While accurate, speaking this way is not the best way to communicate.
Finance professors are notorious for this type of writing, seemingly deriving joy from
making things sound mysterious.
My mission is to communicate money concepts in a way that inspires people to act
in their best interests. After years of teaching, I learned that when people understand
something quickly and easily, they are more likely to take action. As a result, I translate
Wall Street phrases and use fun expressions.
Clear as Mud Example: Recently, The Wall Street Journal ran an article that was
clear as mud. Titled, ‘Don’t Save Enough? Perhaps You Have ‘Exponential-Growth Bias.’,
it was written by Dr. S. Bernatzi, professor and co-head of the behavioral decision-making
group at UCLA Anderson School of Management.
Does the article make important points? Yes.
Are the conclusions supported by reputable studies undertaken by prominent
Will Dr. Bernatzi’s article be widely read or understood? No.
Why? The title is intimidating and scary. “Exponential” is not an everyday word and
sounds like complicated math. Hyphenate “Exponential” with “Growth” and add in the word
“Bias” and it sounds like a disease. The article uses a ton of jargon and academia-speak,
is about a thousand words long and has a graph – all scary. Despite the fantastic teaching
points, Dr. Bernatzi’s advice will not have much impact.
Let’s have some fun. Let’s give the article a communications “facelift.”
New Title: People are Bad at Math
Important Points: Since a lot of folks are bad at math, especially math involving
percentages, most do not appreciate the following.
Investment dollars grow faster than you think. Hence, investing can be more
important than people understand.
It is hard to make up for lost time. Delaying is a really bad idea.
Debt costs more and is harder to repay than commonly believed.
Action Items: To act in their best interests, people should:
GET STARTED yesterday.
Think in DOLLARS not percentages.
INVEST as much as possible for as long as possible.
DO NOT BORROW money (other than for a house or car).
Conclusion: The financial math works beautifully if you follow these
straightforward guidelines. Do so and your financial strength will grow beyond belief.
The above was written in plain English by The Roadside Scholar. For more
information and easy to understand explanations of important money matters go to
www.theroadsidescholar.com or purchase a copy of The Roadside Scholar: Amazing
Money Lessons from Behind the Fence.