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Book Club Advice, All Wrapped Up

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, December 7, 2008

By now you've either read or heard that we are in a recession.

In fact, we've been in one since last December, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The economists on the panel that determines the beginning and end of a recession said payroll employment -- the number of filled jobs in the economy, based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics' large survey of employers -- peaked in December 2007 and has declined every month since.

This is one of the longest downturns since the Great Depression. But now that we have proof of what many of us already suspected, what the heck do we do?

Should you pack any cash you have under a mattress, as one reader told me he wants to do?

Or should you lose faith in the economy and let fear keep you from spending on anything other than necessities, as another person said she wants to do?

Part of what I'm doing, and what I've been encouraging people to do for years, is to become more educated about personal finance. I don't care who you are -- all of us, myself included, can do better with what money we have.

That, my friends, means you have to set aside some time to read and research what it takes to make the best decisions about the money you earn. It's why I started the Color of Money Book Club.

"Knowledge is power," wrote Francis Bacon, the British philosopher and essayist. But that isn't quite right. What if what you think you know is wrong? That could cost you money.

If you haven't done so already, take a look at the list of personal finance books I've selected this year, which I think give you the right information. You can find the complete listing at http://www.washingtonpost.com. In the search field, type "Color of Money" and then click the link for "book club."

This month I haven't selected a book. Instead, if you can afford to shop this holiday season, consider buying one of these books I've already recommended instead of a lotion set or cologne or something else that won't last past spring. Here are several of my favorite picks:

· January: "Isn't It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?" by Jeanne Fleming and Leonard Schwarz (Free Press). A less-well-off friend may think you should pick up the tab more because you earn more. A sibling is always borrowing money from your parents, who complain to you. A relative is angry because you won't co-sign a loan. What's the right way to respond to these situations? This book will help you navigate such money challenges.

· February: "The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches" by Jeff Yeager (Broadway Books). "Conditioning yourself to spend less and to be content doing so is the way to slay your Enoughasaurus," he writes. Yeager proves you can enjoy life more by spending less.

· April: "Money Changes Everything" by Jenny Offill and Elissa Schappell (Broadway Books). This is a collection of essays on the pocketbook issues we all face: debt, poverty and wealth. The 22 essayists include a woman widowed by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the author of the popular "Lemony Snicket" children's books. This isn't just a woe-is-me collection. Some essays are humorous, others heartbreaking.

· June: "Changing Your Course: The 5-Step Guide to Getting the Life You Want," by Robert and Melinda Blanchard (Sterling). "Change" has certainly been the word of the year. Perhaps you know someone who could use an inspirational handbook to deal with the emotional and financial fallout from the recession.

· August: "Mortgage Rip-Offs and Money Savers" by Carolyn Warren (John Wiley & Sons). If mortgage money is going to begin flowing freely again, this book will help you get the right loan.

· September: "The Teen Girl's Gotta-Have-It Guide to Money" by Jessica Blatt with Variny Paladino (Watson-Guptill). This book is packed with basic financial information for teen girls. After I reviewed this book, many parents of teen boys e-mailed asking for a recommendation for their sons. I suggest "The Ultimate Kids' Money Book" by Neale S. Godfrey (Aladdin Paperbacks). This wonderfully illustrated book is recommended for ages 8 to 12, but it's not so elementary that a teen boy wouldn't find it helpful in explaining everything from saving to writing a check to the economy.

I know not everyone in this book club is going to buy or borrow every book I recommend. But you ought to try to read at least one of my selections.

And here's a quote about knowledge from James Madison that does work for me: "Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

So give some knowledge this holiday season, or get it for yourself. It's a present that won't need returning.

· On the air: Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and at http://www.npr.org.

· By mail: Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

· By e-mail: singletarym@washpost.com.

Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses are not always possible. Please note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

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