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Books by Quinn, Farrell and Wood aim to improve people’s money managing habits

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Books by Quinn, Farrell and Wood aim to improve people’s money managing habits 

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By Martha Hamilton
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, January 24, 2010


By Jane Bryant Quinn

Simon & Schuster. 1207 pp. $35

Scared silly by the Great Recession and thinking about changing the way you handle money? That seems to be what the authors of three new books are hoping to take advantage of — improving people’s habits before our attention moves on.

Of the three, the best and most comprehensive is the new version of Jane Bryant Quinn’s “Making the Most of Your Money Now” (Simon & Schuster). I found myself racing through this gigantic compendium because it was engagingly written and full of useful information. And she writes compellingly enough to make you want to spend more time getting things in order. I swear I would have followed the advice about getting financial and health-care powers of attorney on page 30, except I had more than 1,000 pages ahead of me.

The book is organized around eight steps, which she takes you through in detail in multiple chapters. The first, “Building Your Base,” includes chapters about the right way to keep records; finding the right bank in the Internet age; and “Twelve Checklists for Life’s Milestones,” which includes what you need to keep in mind if you are having a baby, facing a divorce or think you might be laid off. “Step Six: Understanding Investing” is nearly 300 pages about stocks, bonds and mutual funds. It also contains warnings about bad investment ideas and information about socially responsible investing as well as the Vice Fund, founded in 2002.

“It revels in global gambling, tobacco, liquor and aerospace/defense,” she writes. “Since its inception, it has performed almost twice as well as the S&P 500.”

I know the length sounds daunting — imagine how I felt when I picked up the paperback proof, which, according to my bathroom scale, weighs 5 pounds — but it is a relatively fast read. And I kept finding the occasional interesting facts, such as Louisiana is the only state that does not allow a parent to disinherit a child.

One other good thing is that for every subject, Quinn refers readers to multiple Web sites with more information. As you might expect in a book of this size, there is substantial repetition, but in most cases, it is warranted. You might have skipped over the divorce checklist, which advises: “Don’t borrow against your house if your marriage isn’t going well.”

Maybe things aren’t going as well as they should be, but you don’t consider yourself a candidate for divorce. Still, it might be useful to read in the chapter on “All the Best Ways to Borrow Money to Invest” that “when you’re married, it takes only one signature to originate a home equity loan. One spouse could borrow up to the limit of the line and spend the money, yet you’re both responsible for the debt.”

(Quinn is a contributing editor to Newsweek, owned by The Washington Post Co.)

As a fan of Chris Farrell’s for his role as economics editor of “Marketplace Money,” I was looking forward to reading his book, but it didn’t pull together. The subtitle of his Bloomsbury Press book, “The New Frugality,” is “How to Consume Less, Save More, and Live Better.” Its genesis seems to be not just the Great Recession but also two personal incidents in Farrell’s life, the death of his father and his scare with colon cancer. Farrell’s father was able to say as death approached, “I’ve lived a good life.” And Farrell’s approach to life and money seems modeled on how his dad lived: “He wasn’t cheap. He wasn’t extravagant. He saved, took calculated risks, provided a home, educated his children, enjoyed his money and gave back to community.”

Another strand ties the way we should live now to sustainability but never gets fully developed. Still, the book is full of information about how to manage money wisely, including a quote from the 15th-century French poet Charles d’Orleans: “It’s very well to be thrifty, but don’t amass a hoard of regrets.”

The book has a lot to like, including the storytelling style and such tips on saving and sustainability as to share books with friends. We’ll see whether he is right that “our love affair with consumer debt is over.”

In “Wealth Watchers” (Free Press, with Glenn Rifkin), Alice Wood has a compelling personal story and a gimmick. Wood worked as an estate planning lawyer before living through a horrifying experience on an airplane — breathing into a faulty oxygen mask, which resulted in serious brain damage. In the wake of the accident, she had trouble managing her work, her weight and her money.

As she began to keep her weight under control through the Weight Watchers program, she had what she describes as a “light bulb” moment, in which she realized that “the solution to both my weight and spending problems lay in the simple, daily discipline of keeping track.”

She takes the reader through the steps of creating a monthly budget, projecting it for the year and dividing disposable income by 365 to get a daily gauge. The book is a good argument for being cheap, the power of small savings multiplied and attentive spending. Like the other books, it has suggestions for saving money, such as getting the first two years of a college education from a community college and substituting experiences with one’s children for material gifts.

I didn’t know till I read it here that www.edmonds.com has information on “true cost to own” for car buyers that factors in depreciation, financing, insurance, taxes and fees, fuel maintenance and repairs. What it is not is a comprehensive financial guide.

And, in the spirit of not spending more than you need to, I should note that the reader is asked to write 126 of its 279 pages in the form of a daily journal. Wouldn’t a one-page model have done?

Martha M. Hamilton writes the Your Financial Future column for AARP Bulletin Today.