Book Review: Balance: How to Invest, and Spend for Happiness, Health and Wealth by Andrew Hallam ©2022

Book review by Ray Hoger

Andrew Hallam is a former schoolteacher who has written the international best-selling books Millionaire Teacher and Millionaire Expat. He has written columns for numerous financial publications in North America.

Balance is full of humorous stories, references to various scientific studies (over fifteen pages of notes), and numerous tables full of numbers. All these reports, statistics, and wonderful stories are threaded together to make a compelling and entertaining read.

Hallam introduces us to his philosophy of a successful life — he sees it as a four-legged table. Those four legs are enough money, strong relationships, and solid physical and mental health, all wrapped together to provide a sense of purpose.

In the first few chapters Hallam examines what he sees as society’s views of money and the pursuit of material things like fancy cars or bigger homes. According to Hallam, those pursuits may be knocking us out of balance. He believes we should focus on creating memorable experiences with friends and loved ones rather than getting more or bigger “things.” These beliefs are backed up by some solid scientific studies. He discusses building solid social relationships, and shows how kindness, generosity, and positive social interactions can lead to a longer, happier life. If we take time to appreciate what we have and less time dreaming of keeping up with our neighbours or chasing the next promotion (at the expense of family time), we will be happier and healthier. An interesting point (and chapter) deals with the idea that we can have anything but not everything! Hallam discusses the idea of prioritizing spending in a way that allows us to maximize our level of life satisfaction.

The middle chapters, six through ten, focus on how and where you should invest all the money you are saving by following the ideas of the first part of the book. There is no need to spend hours on analysing stocks, tracking the market, or staring into crystal balls. There is no need to interview, evaluate, and pay a broker to recommend individual stocks. There is no need to invest in a savings account that typically pays less than the rate of inflation. Hallam is an advocate of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) and regular, disciplined deposits into your ETFs. Mutual funds are the traditional vehicle for those with no interest in analysing and picking individual stocks. A mutual fund may invest in multiple companies, in just one country or perhaps multiple countries. It may invest in a specific part of the economy or across a wide spectrum of the economy. Hallam points out that ETFs provide similar qualities (broad based, multi-country, etc.) but at a fraction of the cost of traditional mutual funds. The book dedicates several chapters to explaining in an easy, simple to understand manner why ETFs are superior to mutual funds. Hallam also discusses who you should talk with to buy the ETFs. There are many options available such as full-service brokerages, discount brokerages, and fee-only financial advisors.

These middle chapters also discuss Robo-advisors (online programs that provide digital financial advice based on mathematical rules or algorithms), consistency of investing, suggested portfolios, and where to start looking. Tables, charts, and research over many years are presented to support all of Hallam’s reasoning. The material is educational and compelling.

There is an entire chapter (“Happy Planet, Happy People”) devoted to Socially Responsible Investing (SRI). Hallam discusses what makes an SRI fund and considers how they perform compared to a non-SRI fund. He also uses this chapter to promote his ideas of over-consumption and environmentalism.

In the second to last chapter Hallam delves into the dicey arena of child rearing. He looks at chores, the development of a savings attitude, and limiting screen time. He gives his thoughts on what portion of post-secondary education costs parents should be responsible for.

His last chapter, titled “Rethink Retirement,” talks about things like part-time work, deferring your Canada Pension Plan, moving to a lower cost destination, and other thoughts sure to create some discussion amongst family members. Hallam pushes the idea that we should focus on why we can do something instead of why we can’t.

Maybe you think you are just a touch too well-aged to benefit from this book? Perhaps it’s too late? Remember the title of this book is Balance. According to Hallam, balance is always within reach, with just a wee bit of tinkering! This is an enjoyable read for many and, I believe, a necessary read for our children. Enjoy it and pass it on!

Ray Hoger reports that this is another book that will end up in the libraries of his daughters. It’s also been added to the ATA library, if you have access to that.