Commentary: Get rich! Write a 'how to' get rich book

Yes, write one... because you'll never get rich reading them.

Warning label: "The only way to get rich from a get-rich book is to write one." Seriously, that's the "gospel truth." Brother Ty's "7th Law" in God is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7 1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth. And considering his source, we better believe him, right? But does that mean stop reading all how-to get rich books? How to become a millionaire? How to beat the market? Just stop? Yes, stop reading all of them! Oh OK, maybe an occasional sneak peek. But then put them on the bottom shelf of your library, next to favorites - stuff like travelogues, Ansel Adams photography, Rachel Ray's recipes, Tai Chi, Renaissance architecture, old National Geographic magazines, whatever turns you on. Why? The truth is, unless your stock tips really are divine revelations, reading "how to" get rich books is dangerous to your financial health. Why? Because they contradict one another. And waste time: from family; from working at a real job where you'll make real money. Commit these basics to memory: • Fidelity's Peter Lynch says: "If you spend more than 15 minutes a year worrying about the market, you've wasted 12 minutes." • Uncle Warren's "Two Biggest Rules of Investing: Rule One. Never lose money. Rule Two. Never forget Rule One." Newspapers? He reads the comics. • Ric Edelman surveyed five thousand millionaires: "They devote less than three hours a month to their personal finances." Six minutes a day! • Stop playing the market. Professors Odean and Barber tell us "the more you trade, the less you earn." Transaction costs, taxes and bad decisions kill returns. • Go inside The Millionaire Mind: George Stanley says focus on making money, not on investing: "If you are creative enough to select the ideal vocation, you can win, win big-time. The really brilliant multimillionaires are those who selected a vocation they love." Get it? Do what you love, money will follow. Reread Edelman's summary: Millionaires don't watch cable, read financial news or obsessively track their portfolios: "Why not? Because you don't have the time, you find the subject incredibly boring, and you haven't a clue as to what all those people are talking about." So how do they become millionaires? "A strong case can be made that the people who don't pay attention are more likely to succeed, if only because they avoid the avalanche of information that's continually produced by the markets and the media." Super-bears vs perma-bulls, no end in sight America's obsession with information for its own sake exhausted the authors of God Is My Broker. Two journalists, old friends from Yale having dinner "bemoaning the number of self-help books on The New York Times best-seller list... Suddenly the title, 'God Is My Broker,' was there, hovering over us, and we were off and running." That's a common complaint. Most "information" is repetitive... biased... myopic... misleading... boring... recycled press releases... or blatant sales pitches. And yet our brains can't seem to stop chasing it, so the media obliges by feeding and reinforcing our addiction to useless information. So the media keeps Brother Ty's "7th Law" alive. We see it all the time: Two of my favorite Forbes columnists are super-bear Gary Shilling and perma-bull Ken Fisher. Miles apart. Shilling sees a long recession. Fisher says "we're too gloomy," and expects a recovery. Last year his forecast of 10 percent for the S&P 500 was virtually on the money. But as a stock picker, Fisher, whose firm manages $30 billion, was way off: "My Forbes stock picks, which were chosen expecting a more vibrant market, did not do well. Since 1995 Forbes has asked its columnists to compare the performance of their picks with the market. This was my third worst of those 12 years. If you had bought all 60 of my 2007 recommendations you would be up 0.9%. Most of the lackluster performance of my picks came from a very wrong decision in February to jump into housing stocks." Mutual funds you love to hate Fisher's frank admission piqued my curiosity; partly because his latest book, The Only Three Questions That Count, recently hit the shelves. It's a best-seller with upscale investors. I liked his earlier ones, but this one's a bit too cryptic for average investors. The main reason Fisher's explanation about his 2007 performance caught my eye was because Fisher tells his Forbes readers he "hates" mutual funds. Actually, the real culprit is actively managed funds, so we basically agree. However, since I track some successful well-diversified "Lazy Portfolios" of index funds, I wanted to compare his stock-picking to our portfolios. Turns out that seven of our eight indexed "Lazy Portfolios" beat Fisher's 2007 stock-picking results. The top-billed Aronson Family Portfolio beat Fisher's 2007 stock-picks 13.5% to 0.9%. Aronson's firm manages about $25b. Back in the 2000-2002 bear-recession, Schultheis's Coffeehouse Lazy Portfolio beat the S&P 500 by 15 percentage points all three years. However, here Fisher's stock-picks beat the Second-Grader's Starter Portfolio all three years, although by smaller margins. On the other hand, the kid's portfolio would have beaten Fisher 23.1% to 20.5% in 1999. "Would have?" Yes, because the kid was born in 1997 and didn't create his portfolio until age eight. Nevertheless, the asset allocation of his portfolio would have beaten Fisher's stock picks in the bullish years of 1998 and 2004, and virtually matched it with an amazing 31% in 2003. Fisher's staff emphasized, however, that his "stock picks beat the S&P 500 six out of nine years, and the Second-Grader six of nine as well." OK, I admit the three-fund Second-Grader's Starter Portfolio may seem too simple for wealthy investors. But it works for investors with small nest eggs. Others may choose one of our larger, more-diversified seven to 11-fund "Lazy Portfolios." Bottom line: I'm leaving it up to you to decide which is right for you: Investing with Fisher or custom-building your own Aronson-style diversified "Lazy Portfolio" of index mutual funds. Another 'three questions' that really count Read Fisher's Three Questions. If it is too complicated, check out these keep-it-simple alternatives: Jack Bogle's Little Book of Common Sense Investing; Schultheis's Coffeehouse Investor and my Lazy Person's Guide to Investing. Ooops! What about the warning in God is My Broker: "The only way to get rich from a get-rich book is to write one." Shouldn't you stop reading all "how-to" books? Remember, it's OK to take a peek, then park them on your bottom shelf. Paradoxically, Fisher underscores my point. He writes: "The only way to beat the market is knowing something others don't!" Well, I do "know something": Picking stocks isn't the "only" nor best way for most investors. Index funds are better. Our "Lazy Portfolios" are proof positive we have a winning alternative. Different strokes for different investors.