Dollars & Sense is part
of the "Living Well with Montel Williams" series of life
coaching programs. This DVD set focuses on money-related issues,
which particularly interested me since I also write on
"Finding Your Savage Number"
- 47 minutes, with Terry Savage, an author of personal-finance books.
At the start of the program, it
seems like it might be a scattershot look at a bunch of different
finance-related topics. She argues at the start of the program that
there are two "money personalities": spenders and savers.
While there's a lot to be said for understanding the way that your
personality affects the way that you relate to finances -- and I've
read some interesting articles and books that take that approach --
cutting it down to "spenders and savers" is such an
oversimplification that it's of limited use. She doesn't really get
into detail on this; she also glosses very rapidly over debt: just do
the following easy steps, and you'll be out of debt in three years...
now we can move on to retirement planning! I'm more interested in
seeing some concrete suggestions about how to start saving, because
it's not as simple as "just" stopping the use of the charge
card. Yes, that is what it boils down to, eventually... but it
doesn't take into account the varied reasons for why people got into
trouble in the first place.
The overall focus of the program
ends up being investments. Savage makes a strong case for investing
in the stock market, and particularly for investing in index funds.
Here's where she is strongest, as she warns against market timing and
speculative investing. She gets fairly technical, going into Monte
Carlo modeling and directing viewers to go to financial-planning
sites to get detailed investment suggestions. However, she spends
more time promoting the benefits of investing than she does
explaining how to make good choices.
I also had some doubts about her
specific advice: she presents a strong case for reverse mortgages as
a way to use a paid-off home as a pension fund. Yes, it's an option
for some people, but it also has significant downsides that Savage
doesn't even mention. I felt very uncomfortable with the way that she
encourages viewers to make a move in investment areas that they may
know very little about... without giving a really solid grounding on
the essentials that they need to understand before making a decision
about something like making investment choices in a 401k.
"The Success Principles"
- 62 minutes, with Jack Canfield.
Canfield, the co-creator of the
Chicken Soup for the Soul series, gives viewers ideas about
how to improve their lives. He's an excellent speaker, combining a
relaxed and appealing delivery with interesting material. Drawing
from his book The Success Principles, Canfield emphasizes the
way that we can take control of our own lives, focusing on topics
like responsibility and the power of positive thinking, determination
Canfield makes some very practical
suggestions, such as pointing out that you should do something
concrete toward your goals every day. I liked in particular his
comment that "You have to do the work as well as dream the
dream." Many young people dream of having a better life, a job
they love, and so on: as a college professor, I'm lucky enough to be
able to work with those students who've made the decision to actually
do the work, taking classes and working toward a degree or
certificate, so I really see how important Canfield's concepts of
goal setting, visualization of success, and working toward their
What makes Canfield's program
effective overall is its clear structure and overall coherence.
Canfield takes viewers through a clear and engaging explanation of
the principles of success, explaining why they work, and how to
improve your life through the application of these principles.
Because of this clear focus, the material is understandable and
I particularly liked the way that
Canfield is very straightforward about the principles he's
discussing. He's clear on the need for hard work and responsibility,
and that's what makes his program worthwhile. He's not selling a
fix-it pill or some magic formula that makes life better with no
effort, but instead giving viewers a set of excellent tools that will
enable them to make their lives better if they apply them.
"Who Owns the Definition of
You?" - 35 minutes, with Montel Williams
The program starts off with a
testimonial about Williams' show; it goes on considerably too long
and starts to feel cheesy. Fortunately, as soon as it shifts over to
Williams himself, it feels much more grounded. He draws on his
experience as a talk show host to identify recurring problems in
peoples' lives, as well as on his own experiences as suffering from
This program focuses on the
obstacles to living the life you want to live, with Williams
explaining the points and illustrating them with examples from his
own life. He's an excellent speaker: he's passionate about what he's
telling the viewer, and he's able to speak directly to the camera
with conviction and energy, so that it feels entirely natural to be
listening. The points that Williams makes here are very important: he
discusses obstacles like fear, self-doubt, lack of knowledge, and
emotional difficulties. The material is fairly general, but it works
well as a general motivational piece, especially for viewers who are
fans of Williams' show.
The main fault that I find with this
program is that it's repeated on all the Living Well DVD sets,
so that viewers are stuck with paying for the same disc several times
if they decide to buy more than one of the Living Well
The image is clean but very
pixellated, with heavy edge enhancement. Colors are good, but there's
a noticeable degree of digital artifacting here. It's watchable, but
the image quality is low enough to get in the way. All three programs
are presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
The stereo soundtrack is
satisfactory, giving a clear track for the presenters. There's not
too much depth to the sound, and sometimes it feels a bit flat, but
it conveys the material in a reasonable way.
"Finding Your Savage Number"
has a seven-minute "deeper discussion" interview with
Savage, along with nine minutes of Q&A. "The Success
Principles" has thirteen minutes of "deeper discussion"
and twelve minutes of Q&A. There are also trailers for "Living
Well" and "The Montel Show" on each disc.
Living Well: Dollars & Sense
is a mixed bag. "The Success Principles" is an
excellent program, offering a well-organized and thought-provoking
set of principles to improve your life in general (not specifically
related to money); "The Savage Number" has some useful
insights on retirement planning but doesn't provide a solid enough
foundation for its recommendations on investing. I was also not
thrilled to see that "Who Owns the Definition of You?",
while a decent motivational piece, is repeated from the other Living
Well DVD sets, so if you've bought any of the other Living
Well sets, you're only getting two new programs for the price of
three. I'd give a strong "recommended" to "The Success
Principles" but a "rent it" for the overall package.