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Book Review: The Number

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“They’ve got your number.” “Your number’s up.” These phrases might arise while riding Lee Eisenberg’s whiplash spin through the maze of retirement planning. He deluges readers with facts and references made palatable by his witty but non-stop prose. A conversation with Eisenberg must leave one breathless.

In this era of let it all hang out reality whatever, the Number remains the last bastion of modesty. No one, Eisenberg says, will reveal how much money he thinks is needed to retire comfortably. Worse, many don’t know. Worse yet, many are mistaken.

Hold on while he sorts us all into categories. You’ll find yourself in descriptions of the brainless Procrastinator, the scatterbrained Plucker, the left-brained Plotter, or the right-brained Prober, all victims of the Eisenberg Uncertainty Principles that can blindside anyone’s plans. While we’re all getting smacked with changes and unpredictable life events that destroy our financial illusions, along comes a new breed of financial consultants billing themselves as “life planners.” More like “Rest of Your Life Planners.”

This is one of Eisenberg’s major themes, that retirement isn’t what it used to be. It’s morphed into “The Rest of Your Life,” and it stretches out farther than anyone ever imagined when the current generation of retirees began planning (if they did at all.) Throw in failing social support systems (pension plans, Social Security) with investing roller-coasters and you bring strong men to their knees when forced to face the Number. New Age life coaches to the rescue!

Don’t be surprised if one of these life planners or coaches asks you three particular questions. Those questions were the only surprising part of “The Number” for this Plotter. Question 1. How would you live if you had all the money you would ever need? Question 2. Same setup, but you know you’ll die in 5-10 years. Question 3. Same setup, but now you have only one day left, so what would you miss not having done? Oddly, my response was the same for all, but Eisenberg cites the questions’ source, George Kinder, as saying that the response to the third is usually something more “qualitative” than the materialistic answers to the first two questions. “And it’s here, Kinder says, in the answer to question three, that he zeroes in on what the Number is really for.”

This seems to be Eisenberg’s conclusion, that what counts isn’t how big the Number is, but what you do with it. He does offer a simple calculation tool in an appendix. It’s as good as any you’ll find online or in money magazines and probably a lot easier to use. However, he admits it’s an ex post facto tool that focuses only on figuring out how much income a certain Number can produce. It doesn’t tell you how much you would need to regret having an answer to Question 3. If you can’t wait and perform the calculation before reading the book, do yourself a favor and recalculate at the end. You might also want to recalibrate your life.

Read this review and more at Writer’s Edge.

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About Georganna Hancock

Retired San Diego publisher, journalist, freelance editor and writer, blogged almost daily for eight years at A WRITERS EDGE. She helped writers on the path to writing success with critiques, edits and publishing advice. Find her author page on Amazon and her tweets on Twitter, where she's aka @GLHancock. Georganna's first writing appeared in print in the 1960s. She worked as a journalist for many years. She reviewed books for the FORT PIERCE NEWS TRIBUNE and THE LOUISVILLE COURIER-JOURNAL and wrote for THE MIAMI HERALD, regional publications, and many national magazines. She was a member of the National Book Critics Circle, the San Diego Professional Editors Network and the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild, for which she served as Web Manager. Books reviewed may have been received as gifts. All her writings are protected by U.S. copyright law.