Whether your finances need fine-tuning or a total overhaul, there’s a book for you.
Works covering personal finance have proliferated during the economic downturn, with dozens of titles making their way to my desk each year.
Here are a handful I’ve found to be the best at helping you learn more about financial and retirement planning, budgeting, living a frugal lifestyle and saving at the grocery store:
The “B” word • Newly released, The Money Saving Mom’s Budget is a good first book to read if you really need to make some changes in your finances. Author Crystal Paine, who blogs at MoneySavingMom.com, is a driven goal-setter and saver — one who with her husband purchased their first home with cash. Her book, which focuses on creating and adhering to a budget, is both informative and inspiring.
The Money Saving Mom’s Budget tackles the topics of sticking to your budget, goal setting, paring down debt, finding new sources of income and, ultimately, learning to be content without spending a lot of money. Paine’s lifestyle may be too radical for some — she doesn’t use credit cards and shuns any type of debt, even a mortgage. Also, I found the book a tad too basic. People already living a frugal lifestyle who are looking for new money-saving ideas may not find a whole lot of new information here.
But there’s no doubt Paine is skillful at mobilizing and inspiring readers to make a change. I have read a lot of books on de-cluttering and organizing. But after reading her chapter on tackling clutter, I was inspired to embark on an aggressive de-cluttering campaign at home and at the office.
Best tip: Give yourself some wiggle room in your budget to allow for little splurges. If your budget is too constrictive it will be difficult to stick with it over the long haul.
Saving at the grocery store • I had high hopes that The Money Saving Mom’s Budget would detail how some people save tons of money at the grocery store. Paine’s blog, for example, contains a lot of specific shopping scenarios that can be followed step-by-step for big savings. But the book didn’t deliver in that regard.
One that does is Pick Another Checkout Lane, Honey, by Joanie Demer and Heather Wheeler. It can help you figure out the often crazy world of using of coupons to save a lot of money.
Before I started my blog in 2008, I used coupons casually and found most couponing blogs confusing. I had no idea what “stacking” coupons (using a manufacturer’s coupon and store coupon on the same item) meant, or the definition of overage — a term that explains a situation when your coupon is worth more than the item you’re buying. And I was baffled by just how shoppers with the big coupon binders were getting so many groceries for so little.
Demer and Wheeler’s book explains it all, featuring ideas on how to amass a large stash of coupons and how to use them to get highly discounted food and other items your family needs. It also provides tips on how to cope with coupon policies that vary among grocery chains and even how to deal with stores and store employees who aren’t coupon friendly.
Although the book is jammed with information, the authors manage to make it an engaging read. There are coupon-themed comic strips throughout and plenty of humor. For instance, they suggest a little cashier profiling can go a long way — young male cashiers are the most accepting.
The book’s most important contributions, however, are the explanations of coupon jargon you encounter on websites and the shopping scenarios that yield free stuff.
Best tip: Get a rain check. In an era of “extreme couponing,” many beginners get frustrated because other shoppers have already cleared the shelf of an item discounted by coupon. But many people don’t realize that stores issue rain checks for groceries. In most instances, you will be able to return to the store when the item has been restocked and get the sale price with your coupon.
Financial and retirement planning • One path to building wealth — and safeguard against financial disaster — is through budgeting, saving, investing and making sure you are adequately insured.
The Smartest Money Book You’ll Ever Read, by Daniel R. Solin, covers these issues in an informative and engaging manner.
The book offers a great way to teach yourself about personal finance or to refresh your understanding.
Best tip: Pay yourself first. Enroll in retirement plans that automatically transfer money from your paycheck or checking account into savings and retirement accounts. That way, you aren’t tempted to skip a month of saving, and you can’t forget to write out a check or make a call to transfer funds.
Adopting a frugal lifestyle • Need some ideas on how to become a more frugal person or family? I have two favorites in this category. The first, Be Thrifty: How to Live Better with Less, edited by Pia Catton and Califia Suntree, covers ways to become more frugal in nearly every aspect of your life.
The book includes sections on saving money on home repairs and upkeep, and cooking your own food. Advice on recipes was my favorite part, such as how-tos for meals, snacks and edible gifts, including entrees, desserts such as rice pudding treats and even condiments such as barbecue sauce. There also are recipes for things such as homemade play-dough and finger paint. It also inspires you to learn how to check your tire pressure or do some basic home repair.
By comparison, Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing and Saving, doesn’t have a lot of step-by-step instruction or information.
It’s more like The Money Saving Mom’s Budget in the way it nudges readers toward a more frugal lifestyle, suggesting stops at thrift stores and garage sales and buying in bulk (wisely, of course). The book is a narrative of the Amish way of handling personal finance.
Like Paine, author Lorilee Craker challenges and inspires readers to be more content with what they have — and to resist the urge to try and “buy” happiness.
Both books make a compelling case that adopting — and learning to be content with — a frugal lifestyle can actually make you a happier person because you will have fewer money worries.
Best tip from Be Thrifty: How to Live Better with Less: More people are renting homes and apartments these days, but many forgo renter’s insurance, even though it doesn’t cost a lot of money. If you can’t afford to replace your possessions in the event of theft, fire or some other loss, you need it.
Best tip from Money Secrets of the Amish : Teach your kids the difference between needs and wants, and the concepts of financial self-control and delayed gratification when they are young.
You can do this by refusing to give them everything, resisting the temptation to go overboard with gifts and making them work for much of what they want. Children who don’t learn these important lessons can become adults with real money problems.
Lesley Mitchell writes One Cheap Chick in daily blog form at blogs.sltrib.com/cheap. firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @cheapchick Facebook: Facebook.com/OneCheapChick