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 personal-finance topics.
"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 and self-discipline.
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 goals are.
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 useful.
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 multiple sclerosis.
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 programs.
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.