Home > Book Review: "The Number"

Book Review: "The Number"

March 4th, 2008 at 11:27 pm

Recently finished reading "The Number: A Completely Different Way to Think About the Rest of Your Life" by Lee Eisenberg.

From the inside flap: "It's the burning question for 76 million baby boomers. It is a question that ought to burn for everyone over thirty. It is a life-defining issue. Most of us don't want to face it, but we have to. It's The Number: How much money do you need to secure the rest of your life? Do you know what your Number is? Do you know how to think about it? Do you know what you want to do with it?"

First of all, I should say that while this is a personal finance book, it is NOT a general advice PF book. It is very focused on retirement, and it is probably most appropriate for folks who already have a fair amount tucked away in their retirement savings and are attempting a "reality check" about where they stand. If you are in the earlier stages of the PF journey (struggling to get out of debt, working out a budget, learning about 401Ks and IRAs and such) then this is NOT the book for you. I know everyone's situation is unique, but I'll throw out "35 and older, if retirement savings are your primary financial concern" as an appropriate demographic for this book. But if you're 30 and are hoping to retire at 50, by all means give it a look-see. Smile

I enjoyed this book. Overall, I'd give it a B+.

The author spends quite a bit of time exploring all of the variables that make coming up with "The Number" so challenging. He also encourages us to think about how we envision our lives in retirement. He met with people who help others plan for their retirement (CFPs and the like). And he visited with people who are preparing for retirement or are already retired to see how they are "living their dream." He attended retirement planning seminars, met with the brain power at Fidelity Investments, and visited "active adult" communities. He writes with a sense of irreverant humor that sometimes borders on the snippy (he did live in NYC for quite a while which may explain that).

This book raised more questions than it answered (and that is not necessarily a bad thing), tho I did come away feeling that I had a slightly better grasp on my Number.

I really liked what he calls the "10 commandments of modern portfolio management" ... his condensation of the rules written about so much in the financial press that unfortunately too many people still don't follow. The following are Mr. Eisenberg's words, not mine, from pages 125-6 of the book. (If I'm breaking any copywrite laws, let me know and I'll delete.)


* Thou shalt not put all thy eggs in one basket.

* Thou shalt have the patience of a nesting hen.

* Thou shalt know that past performance is no guarantee of future results, nor shalt thou become so exuberant so as to forget that eggs drop, cookies crumble, bubbles burst, and that which goes up will eventually come down.

* Thou shalt not invest in anything thou dost fail to understand.

* Thou shalt not question the divine power of compounding interest.

* Thou shalt not squander long-term returns by incurring frequent trading commissions or excessive management fees.

* Thou shalt honor thy company's retirement plan.

* In particular, thou shalt honor thy company's match --- after all, it's free money.

* Thou shalt take on risk commensurate with thy ability to sleep well at night.

* Thou shalt honor thy age and timeline by properly apportioning thy ratio of stocks to bonds.


If you'd like to learn more, you can find links to articles by the author at the following site:

Text is and Link is

I'd recommend starting with the article "Nailing Your New York Number" from New York magazine.

3 Responses to “Book Review: "The Number"”

  1. merch Says:

    I have this number in my head to 2-3 million. That should generate 60k - 80k a year and outpace inflation. The 2-3 is liquid assets.

    What I find amazing is how quickly the number drops as soon as debt is paid off.

    Even though I am paying down debt, I am still maximizing my 401(k). This is where I part ways with Dave Ramsey. Saving for retirement is so important and people minimize it.

    Do you want to be a financial burden on your children? Collecting cans to make ends meet?

    Anyway, I always enjoy your blog and I think he should add another commandment dealing with making sure your allocations are still where you expect them to be.

    Looking to break 1 for my BA sometime. If I paid my debt plus my mortgage, I would be over. Sigh, seems so far away. LOL.

    My income doubled over the past three years. So I think it kind of threw the numbers off. So, I basically went from around 1.4 to .7.

  2. Amber Says:

    I am socking away not nearly as much as I need. Thi is a book I wil have to check out

  3. davera Says:

    Fascinating articles on the link. Thanks

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