Better to Givens than to receive. (software developed by investment adviser Charles J. Givens) (Evaluation)
by Rosalind Resnick
Charles Givens has made a fortune telling other people how to get rich. Now, the king of self-help financial books has set his sights on conquering the market for money-management software. His debut program is WealthStarter with Charles J. Givens (Reality Technologies, 3624 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104; 215-387-6055; $59.95). Simply load the Givens program into your home computer (the sales pitch goes) and make the master--Charles Givens himself--your personal investment coach.
"My strategies change people's lives," Givens says. "There hasn't been software before that did that."
Indeed, there hasn't. But Givens's rags-to-riches story shows that he's no stranger to doing what others believe to be impossible. Born in Decatur, Illinois, to middle-class parents, Givens got hooked on self-improvement books growing up, dropped out of college, and went on to make and lose three fortunes. In the early 1980s, he started peddling tapes on investing. When a local newspaper reporter mistakenly overstated his wealth, Givens seized upon the angle of the millionaire telling ordinary folks how to make money.
Today, the Charles J. Givens Organization in Orlando has 425,000 dues-paying members nationwide. Givens's books, Wealth Without Risk and Financial Self-Defense, have sold millions of copies and topped the New York Times bestseller list for years.
But along with success has come controversy. Givens's detractors say that his advice--tips such as "Don't buy bonds when interest rates are rising" and "When in doubt, deduct it"--is simplistic at best and, at worst, downright dangerous. Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission and North Dakota state securities regulators were investigating several Givens companies.
Givens isn't fazed by people who say his investment advice is too simple. Givens says that investment is a long-term strategy and it's better in the short run to increase the power of the money you currently earn. As for the government regulators: "When a business is as big as [ours], they ought to take a look."
How you'll feel about Givens's software will probably depend on your view of his investment philosophy. As Givens says in his promotional literature, "if you like my books, you'll love my software." If, on the other hand, you think the books are hogwash, you probably won't think much of the software, either.
Stripped down to its essentials, WealthStarter with Charles J. Givens is little more than a set of basic spreadsheets with 300 of Givens's trademark tips tossed in. Some examples are "Put your financial goals in writing," "Purchasing a plastic box for checks," and "Create your dream list." In fact, one of the program's key features is a blank Dream List worksheet with room for 100 dreams such as "Buy two ponies" and "Retire with lots of money." Another feature is an electronic version of Givens's 7-Step Financial Plan, which includes some rather obvious planning steps like "Itemize Your Expenses" and "Achieve Your Goals." Givens's spreadsheets, meanwhile, don't do much more than you could do with a sheet of paper and a $5 calculator.
That's not to say, of course, that WealthStarter is totally without merit. For financial novices who've never mapped out a budget or tallied up their net worth, Givens's program is a good place to start. The program's easy-to-follow screens prompt you to type in personal financial data and help you build a 12-month budget and personal balance sheet in a matter of minutes. If you're already using Quicken to pay your bills and write your checks, you can import this data directly into WealthStarter.
For newcomers, WealthStarter offers 400 pages of tutorials on stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other topics.
WealthStarter with Charles J. Givens won't make you rich overnight--though it can help you get your financial house in order and give you the discipline you need to sock away money and invest it wisely. And, finally, consider this: Givens himself has lived out 175 of his 188 original dreams, including becoming one of the richest men in America.