Ben Stein's winning tips on managing your money
Ben Stein wants to ruin your financial life. The 59-year-old economist and soon-to-be reality TV show star has added another volume to his How to Ruin Your Life series with a hilarious look at our 55 most common bad financial habits, including shopping as therapy, maxing out credit cards (then getting new ones) and finding an "angle" to make money rather than working hard.
BookPage recently caught up with Stein in California to find out which lessons he learned the hard way. Stein admits he has been guilty of #39: if your investment program isn't producing good results, keep doing the same thing anyway. "For years and years I thought I could pick stocks better than the indexes and I couldn't. When I started buying the indexes my life improved dramatically." Stein's 16-year-old son doesn't need Dad's book because he "makes every single mistake he can possibly make, in every regard, therefore I feel it is my duty to earn as much money as I can to try to protect him after I'm dead."
So your son hasn't learned from the financial master?
[No,] he is very stingy with other people but he's unbelievably lavish with himself. His capacity for spending money is mind-boggling. And I should say I also am a wild over-spender. Wild, wild, wild over-spender. But I earn a great deal of money so it makes it possible for me to be an over-spender. I don't overspend compared to my income, whereas my son overspends by any standard.
What do you spend the money on?
A lot of it is spending, but it is really concealed saving. For example, I have four mortgage payments a month but really they're saving because once they're paid off I'll own those houses.
I give an awful lot of money out to people. But anyone who's reading this, please don't call and ask me for money. I only give money to people I actually know and have met. I give out an awful lot of money to close friends, who are sad, heart-rending people.
So you're not the sarcastic guy you play on TV?
I'm the softest touch in the world. I'm very, very, very emotional. I cry more than anyone I've ever met, except I guess . . . no, I don't know anyone who cries as much as I do. And to be as emotional as I am and to manage to keep myself out of insolvency is no small task. In many ways this book is aimed at me. In many ways this book is written to me, by me, reminding me of things not to do.
Your father told you, "Benji, live prudently." What other advice did he give you?
It's interesting, he said that to me, and it actually turned out to be terrible advice. It's good advice up to a point, but he talked me out of buying several pieces of property, which, had I bought them, I would have made so much money on them it's insane. I believe it's possible that I may have been too prudent.
Don't we need to keep spending to support the economy?
No! That is not your responsibility. Your responsibility in the free enterprise system is to yourself, to make your own life as prudent as possible. Don't worry, there will be plenty of other people spending, so don't feel that you have to spend to prop up the economy.
Do you think the government's growing deficit is bad for the country's finances?
It doesn't bother me in the slightest. I think there's some limit to how much of a deficit we can have, but we're not even close to that limit. But the same is not true for individuals. It is extremely vital that individuals not be in a deficit position. Individuals cannot print money to pay for their expenses and to pay for the running of their households the way the government can. Individuals cannot tax other people to make up their deficits in the future, so don't compare yourself to the government. In real life, you should definitely not go into debt. Definitely, definitely do not go into debt unless you absolutely have to.
Do you play the lottery?
No, I used to play the lottery because I used to be the spokesman for the California lottery and I felt as if it was my duty to play the lottery.
Any stock tips for us?
Buy the diamonds. The diamonds are the index of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and just buy them on a consistent basis, month in and month out, and over long periods of time you'll make plenty of money.
You've figured out how to ruin your finances and love life. What's next?
I think my next one is going to be How to Ruin Your Parents' Life. Is that a good one? Just thinking about it makes me laugh.