Our new Lifestyles column begins with three smart writers. Whether advising readers on how to save money, how to grow memories with grandkids or how to plan a sane wedding, all aim to increase quality of life—not a bad way to start a year.

Think big, save big
Elisabeth Leamy, consumer correspondent for “Good Morning America,” advises a radical shift in how we think about saving money. To save in a big way, we have to look beyond traditional strategies that aim small. Save BIG: Cut Your Top 5 Costs and Save Thousands! identifies where we spend the most to find out where we can save the most: housing, cars, credit, groceries and healthcare. Each tip promises a minimum savings of $1,000. Advice is practical, clearly explained and, best of all, does not require daily maintenance or routine deprivation. Keep the morning latte, just as long as you buy the right house, negotiate the mortgage, pay it down early and keep an eye on property taxes. These daunting tasks are laid out in commonsense, bottom-line style, accessible even to newbies. Leamy also explains why buying a new car is never, ever a sound investment, how to shrink credit card debt and how to interpret and improve credit reports. Even if readers choose only one or two tips from the hundreds offered, Save BIG should live up to its tantalizing title—and you can read it over your latte.

Making memories
When Sharon Lovejoy says her gardening books are for children of all ages, she means all ages, including grandparents. Her magical activities, projects and ideas prove it is never too late to have a happy childhood. The newest bag of tricks, Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars, is ostensibly written for grandmothers, but parents and teachers can employ the same ideas as well. What grownup or child would not succumb to the simple joys of leaf-rubbings, bird calls, faerie furniture, mud pies and firefly lanterns? City-dwellers are included too: a container garden and nearby park can supply enough “natural world” to host outside activities. Indoors, readers discover how easy and fun it can be to grow plants from kitchen garbage, to “coax life from the most unlikely scraps.” Rainy days become the perfect excuse to stay inside and make musical instruments, toys, paper, games, puppets, artwork galore and a nifty worm motel. Detailed supply lists and instructions make every project a possibility, and the author’s charming watercolor illustrations make every page a pleasure.

Miss Manners vs. Bridezilla
Ten years ago, the wedding of Miss Manners’ son prompted a book in which the etiquette expert defended good sense and propriety against a wedding industry gone berserk. This might have been the last word in wedding etiquette, but the industry has now morphed into a far larger menace (the average American wedding costs $30,000). Plus, the kinds of questions lately posed by baffled brides, parents, attendants and guests indicated an urgent need for fresh instruction by a supreme authority. Thus, when Miss Manners’ daughter recently married, the time seemed right for the last last word. Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding is an antidote to the overblown, exploitative and utterly out-of-control wedding. Miss Manners and daughter Jacobina offer a calm compromise between throwing a garish extravaganza in which guests are asked to contribute to the honeymoon by cash, check or PayPal (this really happens) and simply eloping. Questions about budget, venues, “destination weddings,” gifts, showers, same-sex ceremonies and the ever-problematic bridesmaid dress are answered in typical Miss Manners style: dry, direct and didactically sound. With this gem as a guide, it is possible to plan a wedding that does not beggar the parents, spoil the bride, alienate the groom or abuse the guests. In other words, instead of a nightmare, you get a real dream wedding.

Joanna Brichetto lives in Nashville, where her lifestyle includes the pleasures of reading and writing about new books.

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