To be a standout in the pack of personal finance books on the market today is no easy task. Jean Chatzky, author ofMoney 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved, knows that well. Several of them are her own, including Pay it Down!, Make Money, Not Excuses and The Difference.
Her solution: an uber-personal finance guide, one that sweeps the landscape from dealing with debt to paying for college to saving for retirement. Chatzky’s new offering is a comprehensive compilation of SOS cries posed by viewers of her corresponding “Money 911” series on NBC‘s Today, where she is financial editor. There’s advice here for practically every challenge you might face — even questions to ask a potential nanny. And that’s quite a feat.
Despite this “everything but the kitchen sink” approach, Money 911 is orderly, accessible and user-friendly. She presents a series of 130 basic questions organized into 15 chapters — insurance, taxes, saving and investing — and so on. She parses each to the appropriate bin and tackles them one-by-one in a calm, steady voice of an expert friend. After each question, Chatzky follows up with a series of related ones about other things you also need to know. For instance, Question 16 is, “Should I bank online?” She answers, “In a word, yes. I pay all my bills online, and I love it. It saves me time, it keeps me organized, and it saves money on stamps.” Then she follows up with a string of extra questions and answers:
- •Is online banking safe?
- •How can online banking help me get a grip on my finances?
- •What about online savings accounts?
- •Which financial papers should I keep?
- •Do I need a shredder?
- •Are the contents of my safe-deposit box protected by the FDIC?
And as the additional queries are tacked on, Chatzky’s chapters, build into mini-tutorials on a range of inter-connected concerns. Consider, for example, one question in the “Budgeting and Cutting Spending” chapter: How can I cut my utility bill? She begins with heat — “The absolute easiest way is by lowering your thermostat. … For every degree down, you’ll shave 1% off your bill.” This discussion is followed by: What should I look for in a new appliance? First, a straightforward explanation of the two labels — the EnergyGuide, required by the Federal Trade Commission on nearly all home appliances and the Energy Star logo, which the government slaps on products that have tested to be energy-efficient. Next, Chatzky provides the formula from the U.S. Department of Energy to estimate how much an appliance will cost you in energy, accompanied by a chart of the typical wattage used by everything from a coffee maker (900-1,200) to a clothes iron (1,000-1,800. It’s uncertain how many consumers will actually run those numbers, but she gamely shows you how if you do.
In many ways, the questions are boilerplate fare. But that’s the point. These are real concerns people have day-in and day-out in a course of a lifetime:•How do I deal with bill collectors?•Which credit cards should I pay off first?•I’d like to hire a financial adviser, but after all the frauds in the news recently, I’m nervous. Can you help?•What’s a good credit score?•Where should I live when I retire?•How can I save money on my wedding?•And, of course, a real beauty — How long will I live? Her answer: “That is the million-dollar question.”Chatzky doesn’t leave it at that. She provides the U.S. Census Bureau average life expectancy table. She points out the roles health and genetics play in the outcome, and refers to a life calculator available on the University of Pennsylvania website.
Most of these questions are softballs, by design, one would surmise, to not scare readers away with intimidating money talk. As silly as the highlighted question might sound, she keeps drilling and, presumably, readers keep reading, and, before long, there are nitty-gritty tips and hard-core financial guidance. The life-expectancy query is, in reality, an important consideration when it comes to making your retirement funds last as long as you do. And, yes, you guessed it, she’s got plenty of charts and stats and websites, such as the Choose to Save Ballpark E$stimate, www.choosetosave.org, to help you identify how much you will need to save for retirement.
As a final stroke of salesmanship, Chatzky spins her book into one-stop Yellow Pages for personal finance resources. Each chapter concludes with several pages of sources to turn to for more help. It seems as if every useful website, government agency and non-profit association is provided for each category. Moreover, Chatzky recommends books by other authors for more in-depth reading on specific topics such as managing a windfall, how to save money on insurance or overcoming overspending. It takes a team to write a book likeMoney 911. There are roughly two pages of these helpers thanked in her acknowledgements section — from credit and financial experts to bankruptcy and matrimonial attorneys to financial planners and tax pros. Chatzky has churned out a solid guide gleaned from advice proffered by a Who’s Who of personal financial gurus — and it shows.