A curmudgeon reads The Barefoot Investor

Sonnie Bailey

17 December 2018

(Note: This article includes some very high-level comments about The Barefoot Investor. If  you’re looking some more practical resources associated with Scott Pape, you may be interested in the very active “Following the Barefoot Investor” Facebook group, which is unrelated to this blog. Ruth from The Happy Saver blog also talks more explicitly about applying the Barefoot Investor in NZ.)


I like Scott Pape’s values 

The Barefoot Investor is all about batting for the consumer. It’s refreshing.

He calls a spade a spade, and he’s not afraid to say the things that most people in the financial services industry are scared to say.

On this, I’m with him 100%.

He also seems to value the right things in life. Yes, on the face of it, he talks about money. But he talks about money as a means to an end: of treading your own path through life.

Pape also appears to put the important people in his life first. I like that.

I don’t like the way Pape writes

I want to start by saying I’m probably not in Pape’s target market.

The way he writes, and the things he says, really grate with me.

Here are some specific things that get my goat:

  • The subtitle of The Barefoot Investor is “The only money guide you’ll ever need”. I take massive exception to that. It shouldn’t be the only resource you read! (And Pape clearly doesn’t believe this either, as he wouldn’t have written a follow-up: The Barefoot Investor for Families. If his original book was the only guide you’ll need, surely it would apply to families as well? Nor would he offer his “Barefoot Blueprint” service.)
  • He uses an us-versus-them/us-against-the-world mentality: after explaining that the people who “make it” financially have an “alpaca attitude” he explains that “most people aren’t alpacas – they’re groundhogs”. This is just an example. But this mentality seeps throughout the book.
  • He creates strawmen: for instance, he says “Some finance books are wishy-washy on what you should do.” “Others are written by weirdos who have colour-coded spreadsheets for their undies drawer and whose idea of a holiday is the Bendigo caravan park (communal toilet option).” Maybe he has different reading habits to me, but that’s not the case with the finance books I’ve read.

(As I read this article with fresh eyes, it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that Pape has a cult-like following. Because these are exactly the sorts of techniques cult leaders use.)

  • I take exception to quite a few things he says. For example:

Here’s Scott: “It’s not about what you earn, but what you save.”

Here’s me: “It’s what you save, but you can’t ignore your income: what you earn makes a pretty big difference.”

Or he says: “my publisher would have liked me to be a bit more ‘self-helpy’.”

I say: “Are you kidding me? This book is self-helpy all the way down.”

  • Pape talks about the “belly of this book” coming from the moment when he lost his home in a fire. It’s a great story. But he wrote earlier versions of this book, and already was very well known, well before this happened. Maybe he’s telling the lie that tells the truth. But it means I don’t fully trust him.
  • Boy, does the book seem to have a lot of filler.
  • My broad sense from reading The Barefoot Investor is that it is a one-size-fits-all kind of book. To my eyes, it is very black-and-white, and I’m more of a shades-of-grey, many-paths-up-the-mountain kind of guy. When providing advice, I usually offer very simple and straightforward recommendations. But those simple and straightforward recommendations are always unique and tailored to the individuals in question. At a personal level, I don’t think I’d be living my best life if my wife and I were to divide all of our income into “splurge” and “mojo” and “fire extinguisher” accounts. What we do works for us, and I’m not going to shove that down anyone else’s throat. Which is a roundabout way of saying that Pape’s system might work for some, but it isn’t a prerequisite for financial success. You do whatever works for you!

Perhaps I’m being too literal. But I love reading, and I read a lot of books. If Pape’s book didn’t have such a big following, there’s no way I’d have finished it.

The book is short and easy to read (unless you share my temperament).

He seems to be changing people’s lives for the better

Pape claims to hear from people all the time saying that he’s changed their lives. I believe him.

As I write this, I get the feeling that I sound like a curmudgeon. I promise, in real life, I don’t come across that way!

Most of my criticisms in this article relate to the fact that his writing doesn’t resonate with me. In the same way, my writing doesn’t resonate with a lot of people – but seems to resonate with a specific type of person.

Interestingly, I have had a lot of clients who have read his book before engaging me and they all tell me my advice and philosophy very closely aligns with Pape’s.

At the end of the day, if Pape’s writing resonates with you, and his system works for you, that’s awesome. If it doesn’t, don’t despair: his approach isn’t the only system out there. If it doesn’t work, keep trying to find what does. You do you.

We all need to tread our own path, and Scott Pape appears to be doing a good job of treading his and helping others do the same.

He’s got a good message and the right values. He also doesn’t have an agenda to sell you financial products, and that goes a long way.

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