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Give the gift of financial power, in the form of a good book

By Michelle Singletary
Wednesday, December 1, 2010; 8:05 PM

Information is power.

When I ask people if they believe that statement, the answer is most often a resounding yes.

I've always thought so, too. But while I was taking a financial management class at my church, the instructor challenged us to think about the statement.

"What if the information is wrong?" he asked.

We have been fed the wrong information about so many things concerning our money. For decades, we were told that a credit card was a great financial tool, that home values would always go up and that student loans were good debt. If nothing else, the recession proved that such information was not powerful. It was perilous. The challenge now is to obtain good financial information.

Every month I try to help readers with that search by selecting financial books for the Color of Money Book Club. As I looked back on a year in which so many people have lost so much - their jobs or homes or financial peace - I wanted to put together a list of financial books you might give as presents this holiday season. My recommendations:

l "Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth and What Can Be Done About It," by Mariko Lin Chang (Oxford University Press, $24.95). The wealth gap between men and women still matters because about half of all households are headed by single people (never married, widowed or divorced). "My intention in this book is to shift the dialogue about women's economic future toward one that includes the importance of building wealth," writes Chang, a former associate professor of sociology at Harvard University.

l "I Found a Job!: Career Advice From Job Hunters Who Landed on Their Feet," by Marcia Heroux Pounds (Jist Works, $12.95). The stories and advice from people who have lost and found jobs in this gut-wrenchingly awful economy make this book interesting.

l "The Cheapskate Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily Below Their Means," by Jeff Yeager (Broadway Books, $12.99). Whenever I think I'm the cheapest person around, I remind myself I'm a spendthrift compared with the affable Yeager, who is not ashamed to admit he sometimes boils his eggs in the dishwasher (bottom shelf for firm eggs). In this book, Yeager interviews other like-minded penny pinchers and shares the common characteristics that help them lead great lives on the cheap.

l "Mimi, Money and Me: 101 Realities About Money Daddy Never Taught Me but Mama Always Knew," by Patricia A. Davis (Davis Financial Services, $19.99). This self-published book is a sweet testimony to the author's mother, Beatrice Staunton, who had to raise the last three of her five children alone after her husband died in 1960. I met Staunton and daughter Patricia when they came to a reception I gave nine years ago for my annual Penny Pincher of the Year contest. Davis channels her mother's common-sense approach about money by putting together a basic book that includes solid tips on budgeting, banking, credit, insurance and estate planning. You can find this book at Amazon.com or by going to www.yourmoneywiz.com.

l "Money Management: From Grade School to Grad School," by Ernest Burley Jr. (Vital Visions Publishing, $15). Burley, a Maryland-based certified financial planner, has written a guide for parents to teach their children about money. And when should the lessons start? "I recommend parents start teaching their children about money as soon as their children start asking them to buy things for them," Burley says. You can find the book on Amazon.com or at www.liveandsave.com.

l "Perfect Credit: 7 Steps to a Great Credit Rating," by Lynnette Khalfani-Cox (Advantage World Press, $14.95). This is a road map to keeping or getting good credit scores from someone who has been in the credit dumps.

Here are two of my favorites that I keep on my bookshelf:

l "Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties," by Beth Kobliner (Fireside, $16). Be sure you get the latest edition, updated last year. This is a wonderful money blueprint for the younger generation.

l "Your Money or Your Life," by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez with Monique Tilford (Penguin, $16). This book was first published in 1992. Although it's been updated, the message - that many people need to examine their financial lives and ask whether what they are doing with their money is making them truly happy - remains relevant no matter the economic times.

I know a financial book may not top many people's holiday wish lists, but the information they'll absorb will last a lot longer than just about any other present they'll receive.

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Her e-mail address is singletarym@washpost.com. Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible.

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