For those of you who’ve put “Get my finances under control” at the top of your New Year’s resolutions, we’ve compiled a reading list to make it happen. Whether you need a step-by-step approach to getting a handle on your money, advice for recovering from the market plunge or ways to work philanthropy into your budget, the advisors below have a plan to help. These six volumes vary in terms of voice, length and philosophy, but they all work toward the same goal: helping readers better manage their money so they can do good and enjoy life, worry-free. And what could be better than that?
Big book of personal finance
First published in 1991, Making the Most of Your Money Now has grown by more than 200 pages and has been significantly revised to include advice for readers struggling to achieve balance in a still-unstable economy. Jane Bryant Quinn, a longtime financial journalist, shares her own financial missteps (there were more than a few) as a lead-in to advising readers on what she has learned, from “keep all your insurance plans simple” to “tune your BS detector to high.” This lengthy tome includes worksheets (in the appendices and throughout), filing-system strategies, a primer on CDs, advice on paying for college, retirement-planning tips and a lot more. While some of the information may seem rudimentary, the book’s structure makes it easy to flip to pertinent sections, and it provides plenty of information and ideas for undertaking a soup-to-nuts personal-finance improvement plan.
Do the math
Saving for retirement can seem daunting or mysterious: we know we should do it, but aren’t sure how—or how much to save. In Your Money Ratios: 8 Simple Tools for Financial Security, Charles Farrell, an investment advisor and CBS Moneywatch columnist, has devised a set of tools aimed at helping readers be more aware and in control of their financial present and future. For starters, he writes, “All decisions you make should help you move from being a laborer to being a capitalist.” With that in mind, he describes key ratios (e.g., capital to income, mortgage to income) and offers formulas that will help readers determine how much they should be saving each year in order to retire at a particular age or income level. In addition to straight dollar-figure calculations, he explores and advises on investment vehicles, insurance and real estate. Your Money Ratios is a no-nonsense, comprehensive resource for those ready to grab the reins of personal finance once and for all.
Financial recovery, Cramer-style
From his CNBC show “Mad Money” to the website he founded, TheStreet.com, to his numerous books on money and investing, Jim Cramer has spent a long time educating consumers about investing. In his latest book, Jim Cramer’s Getting Back to Even: Your Personal Economic Recovery Plan, he and co-writer/nephew Cliff Mason, who’s head writer for “Mad Money,” dive right in to his advice for recovering from the 2008 stock-market crash and the continuing fallout: Chapter 1 is entitled “Don’t Give Up!” Cramer notes that he’s had personal experience with getting back to even—after his hedge fund was down $91 million in October 1998, he finished that year at a two percent profit. Of course, many readers may not be dealing in millions, so Cramer is careful to offer advice for new and experienced, wealthy and not-so-wealthy investors alike. Highlights include 25 rules for “post-apocalyptic investing” and details on five regional banks that earn high returns and also serve as templates for how to analyze and buy bank stocks. Throughout, Cramer mixes encouragement with signature exclamations, plus to-the-point exhortations like “Empathy is great, but it won’t make you money. You need concrete solutions, and this book is filled with them.”
A powerful plan for giving
From working at a refugee camp in the former Yugoslavia to conducting fundraising and generosity training at U.S. corporations to founding Raising Change (a fundraising group that works in America and abroad), Kathy LeMay has been actively involved in working to improve the lives of people around the globe. In The Generosity Plan, she advocates for an incremental approach to effecting positive change, noting that if you’re generous in your daily life, you “will develop a habit of giving that will transform you and expand philanthropy to its fullest potential.” She recommends reflecting on your past giving—was it through money? Time? What sorts of activities?—and identifying the causes that are most meaningful to you. A “giving formula” will determine how much money can comfortably be shared, especially in uncertain financial times, and giving goals can be set. An appendix offers further food for thought with questions and points to ponder—information that would be useful for passing along the philosophy of generosity and philanthropy to family, friends or colleagues. It’s a strong finish to a thoughtful, comprehensive resource.
Small donations, big impact
While media stories about über-rich philanthropists—from Bill Gates to Oprah Winfrey and the like—may give the impression that only large donations can lead to positive changes in the world, Wendy Smith begs to differ. In Give a Little: How Your Small Donations Can Transform Our World, she makes a strong argument for casting aside all-or-nothing thinking in favor of making small donations. Among other statistics, she cites a study by Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy that found “most of the giving to the tsunami relief efforts came from gifts of less than $50 made by millions of Americans . . . similar to the charitable response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and what we believe occurred after Hurricane Katrina.” Armed with this information, and the knowledge that small contributions have a ripple effect, Smith profiles groups that address hunger, health, poverty, education and access to tools, information and infrastructure. She includes anecdotes about people and places that have benefited from small contributions, plus appendices with contact information and methods for assessing various organizations. Give a Little makes a compelling case for the value of including a “donations” line in our personal budgets—no matter how small the amount may be.
Linda M. Castellitto wrangles her finances in Raleigh, North Carolina.