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Caldwell: Wizard of wealth passes it on in new book

SUNDAY, JAN. 2, 2011

Glenn Petry estimates he taught finance to 15,000 Washington State University students. Now, he wants to teach you.

The retired but apparently untiring professor has written his first book, “The Money Saving Wealth Building Guide for the New Economy,” a 470-page primer on personal finance, and more than a little psychology.

It could have been longer, Petry says, but he withheld more than 100 pages of additional information on some aspects of health care and real estate because of length, and with the thought that “Money Saving” might be followed by another volume.

The relatively short shrift given real estate will surprise Pullman residents who recall Petry’s apartment projects, and his $1.2 million resurrection of the landmark Greystone Church.

They might also be surprised that someone with Petry’s command of finance put 5,000 hours into researching his book. It shows.

He peppers the book with references to useful websites – 336 to be exact, all handily indexed in the back.

He kept the material extremely timely, incorporating 2010 changes in banking and consumer finance regulations.

There are whole chapters on scams, conservation techniques, car buying and maintenance, and insurance. Some of it is common sense; some of it more sophisticated guidance on topics like tax audits, or purchasing insurance to supplement Medicare.

“I learned so much in writing this book that I never knew before,” Petry says.

He wanted the book to be comprehensive. He also wanted to avoid peddling any “get-rich-quick” programs or one-size-fits-all solutions.

Nevertheless, he said, “There’s a lot in there that will put dollars in your pocket.”

He’s not above recommending short-cuts, especially when it comes to fast-tracking your way to undergraduate and graduate educations. Petry earned his bachelor, master’s and doctoral degrees in 5 ½ years, and he shares some of the ways he greased the fast track: relying on class notes and bypassing textbooks, recycling his own research, convincing professors some course prerequisites were really not necessary. Find the easy graders.

But in an age when many schools assume a five-year path to a degree, or do not offer enough class sections to accommodate everyone, Petry says some of his methods may not be as effective as they once were.

He is also a self-described complainer and inquisitor – traits that once had him crossing swords with then-WSU President Sam Smith over university plans to build housing, and with former U.S. House Speaker Tom Foley, who was supporting an irrigation project Petry thought unwise.

“That’s my personality,” he says.

His Petry Puffery Index is a stab at humor, and catching the same lightning bottled by WSU graduate Lawrence Peter, father of the Peter Principle.

The formula: Your opinion of yourself divided by others’ opinion of you. Sounds like an app in the making.

Clearly, Petry has a sharp mind, and sharp elbows. He salts his text with anecdotes, and wraps it up with recommendations on restoring the nation’s fiscal health.

Early on, he suggests neophyte investors find a mentor with a good track record.

Maybe Petry should be yours.

“The Money Saving Wealth Building Guide for the New Economy” is published by Grand Avenue Press of Bend, Ore., and is available through Petry’s website: Copies are $22.95.

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