8 lessons from Karin Housley’s really bad book

Does Minnesota want a U.S. Senator with investment (and marital) advice as bad as Karin Housley's?

Does Minnesota want a U.S. Senator with investment (and marital) advice as bad as Karin Housley's? Youtube

Karin Housley, wife of Hockey Hall of Famer Phil Housley, was never content to be just a jock’s wife.

She runs a successful real estate firm, Karin Housley Homes, and in 2012, became a Republican state senator representing the Stillwater area.

Housley is ambitious, relatable, warms a room like a fireplace, and has a last name Minnesotans know. Last month, she announced she would challenge DFL U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, who must defend the seat left vacant by Al Franken.

Housley is also a published author, a fact only vaguely acknowledged on her campaign website. In one way, her 2001 book, Chicks Laying Nest Eggs: How 10 Skirts Beat the Pants Off Wall Street… And How You Can, Too!, was ahead of its time. When less than half the country was online, Housley was inviting readers to her website, where she would teach them to form all-female investment groups like hers.

The book aged awfully. A woman following its advice would have lost money, misunderstood the economy, and played her small, wifely duty in setting the women’s movement back 40 years. There are, however, some valuable lessons.

1.) Karin Housley is bad at writing.

Bird puns flitter on almost every page. Analogies are so tortured they would confess to anything. She repeats herself. Housley also likes to “throw in a big word to remind myself that I’m an author,” an apparent reference to her use of “subsequent.”

2.) She is worse at math.

As the self-proclaimed “dumbest woman on earth when it came to numbers,” she can’t calculate out how much to pay the babysitter. She thinks $100 is 11 percent of $1,000, because $1,100 looks like 11. This shtick might have appealed to some everywoman housewives. But seeing as Housley’s two jobs in the U.S. Senate would be writing legislation and balancing budgets, these lessons are a troubling pair.

3.) Investing was easy when Karin Housley wrote this book.

Housley tells her readers their money will “work for you in ways you never dreamed of, without spending a lot of time.” Indeed, Housley devotes big chunks showing readers how to get online, how to conduct meetings—“chicks,” she observes, love to “chit-chat”—and where (Vegas!). The investing part is a slight portion, much of it cribbed from another book, which boils down to buying into big companies whose product you can understand. (“What’s your favorite restaurant—Outback Steakhouse? McDonald’s? Enough, you get the picture.”)

4.) Investing was harder after this book came out.

There is a dramatic irony in watching Housley brag about owning Yahoo, Sun Microsystems, Nokia, Oracle, Cisco, and AOL. “How could [AOL Time Warner] not be the next big thing?” she asks. All of them perched perilously atop the dotcom bubble. Within six months of publishing, the bubble burst, and investors would’ve traded a share in any of those companies for a pair of gently used socks.

5.) Housley relates to women with money.

Among her many real-life examples to help “Chickies” understand basic market principles: Imagine you’re trying to pick the right plastic surgeon; imagine you’re Karin Housley’s cleaning lady; people buy Coca-Cola every day, but they probably only buy a new car... what, every couple years? One Chicks group member asks for help naming a golf course. Housley suggests investment groups take outings to “a hotel, a resort, a spa, Las Vegas, Aspen,” to keep things fresh.

6.) But not the kind who get taken seriously.

According to this book, the most difficult part of investing is getting your husband’s permission. Try “tiptoeing” around it. Say you “really don’t understand” how it all works. “The key is to let him continue to think [money] is his world.” Your husband “will try to discourage, or at least belittle” you. He should get points if he “looks you in the eye” after barely listening. Another financial strategy: “Stay perkier than your neighbor,” so your husband doesn’t run off with her.

7.) You would want Karin Housley as your friend.

She’s funny, down-to-earth, and lively. She comes at a stiff topic with mirth and a ton of asides about wine, dessert, and her kids. Her group’s online message diary finds members sharing about childbirth, a husband’s hospital trip, a mother-in-law’s death, reaching out across state lines to offer advice, prayers, and soulful comfort.

8.) But not your senator.

Don’t expect to hear much from Housley about Chicks Laying Nest Eggs as she campaigns. A lot of people published investment advice books in 2001 they regretted by year’s end. Few were packed with so much casual sexism and tone-deaf rich-gal privilege.

Karin Housley is, indeed, a businesswoman, and you’re welcome to make a bid on the Woodbury property Karin Housley Homes has on the market (“bonus workout/theater room”). But you should reject Housley’s pitch she’s a model for ambitious women.

By the time this book hit shelves, Tina Smith had 15-plus years of experience in the commercial world, first at General Mills, then at a consulting firm that bore her name. She later ran DFL campaigns, then became an unflinching public face of Planned Parenthood as that organization was under fierce attack.

As a chief of staff, Smith’s called shots in the halls of highest power in Minneapolis, then Minnesota. Now more than ever, Minnesota needs a U.S. senator with real-world experience, empathy for the needy, and genuine respect for women.

In Smith, we’ve already got one.

More from Mike Mullen: