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Splurge a little on 3 books that offer advice on spending, saving

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Nancy Trejos, a reporter for The Washington Post, was also leading a double life. Even as she was researching and reporting on credit card fees and adjustable mortgages, she was making poor real estate investments, ignoring her retirement fund and living beyond her means.

She bares all in "Hot (broke) Messes: How to Have Your Latte and Drink It Too." Trejos entertains even as she informs in a vibrant "don't be like me, girlfriend" tone, recounting how she learned to live within her means.

As a woman in her early 30s, her financial predicament is by no means unique: The boom time of the 1990s and the quest for security in the decade after 9/11 encouraged spending (be it clothes, cars or fashionable homes) without educating consumers on how to manage debt.

Trejos is the child of immigrants, the first of her family to graduate from college and "make it out of Queens." Her Papi and Mami, who worked hard in service jobs and accumulated modest wealth slowly, were not equipped to counsel their daughter trying to navigate a fast-paced journalist's life in the nation's capital.

Hiring a financial planner helps Trejos temper her spending, start saving and live the good advice she has been delivering to readers.

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In "Shift Your Habit," Elizabeth Rogers advocates "going green" as one way to cut down on your expenses in earth-friendly ways. Her book is structured like a quick-reference guidebook with chapters organized under such subtitles as "Home and Garden," "Pets" and "Transportation and Travel." Her theory is that hundreds of simple shifts, such as planting a vegetable garden to cut down on the grocery bill, can add up quickly in savings.

Throughout are testimonials from families and people who, after a consulting session with Rogers, have adopted even just a few of her tips and experienced healthier lifestyles and lower bills.

But this isn't a book for just those who want to raise chickens and watch cable TV with electricity generated by wind power. It's also for suburban and urban dwellers already living somewhat modestly, except for that massive waste they might not even recognize.

For instance, Monica, a married beauty professional with a young son, was able to buy a new car after she realized how much food she was wasting by not feeding her family leftovers. (That must have been some shift.) You never know; what might seem like commonsense to someone else might be a totally overlooked budget drain by you.

All three books are good examples of how debt and spending can be brought under control with a little self-knowledge, planning and restraint. Judging by the nation's current economic mayhem, we all could use some of that great-auntie frugality -- but do throw those nylons out.

Kendra Nordin is a staff editor for the Christian Science Monitor.


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