Let’s be completely honest: most personal finance advice is not directed toward younger people. There are plenty of reasons for this, some good and some not so good. (Most personal finance magazines don’t write articles directed at young people, so most young people don’t read those magazines because they have no relevant information, and in turn the magazines don’t write articles for the young people who aren’t reading. It’s something of a Catch-22.) The end result is a tendency for younger people to ignore personal finance until much later in their life.
Get a Financial Life is one of the books that bucks the trend. Directed at people in their twenties and thirties, it covers a variety of personal finance information from many aspects of life. Does it provide enough information to help readers, well, get a financial life? Let’s read on to find out!
After a short introduction, Get a Financial Life opens with a ‘Crib Notes’ chapter, covering everything from insurance needs to preparing taxes in short thirteen page burst. Chapter two is about getting your personal life in financial order. It touches on everything from putting a price tag on your dreams to filling out a form to monitor where your money goes, and ends (as all the chapters do) with a ‘Financial Cramming’ section that summarizes the major points in the chapter on a page or so.
The third chapter covers debt, and how to repay it. Starting with one of the trickiest types of debt, credit card debt, it covers student loans, car loans, and home equity loans, providing information about each type and suggestions on how to handle the debt. Chapter four is all about banking, starting with finding a good checking account and ending with a variety of ways to save, from a standard savings account to Certificates of Deposit (or CDs, if you prefer).
Chapter five gets into investing, focusing on mutual funds and breaking them up into three broad categories: money market funds, bond funds, and stock funds. It stresses the importance of finding a good fund company and keeping inflation in mind while investing. The sixth chapter continues the theme, looking into retirement accounts and the importance of retirement saving (as well as what can happen if you don’t save enough to meet your needs).
The seventh chapter looks into renting or buying a place to live. For renters, there is advice on getting the best deal on rent and helping to ensure that you don’t have to deal with crazy or oppressive conditions from your landlord. For would-be buyers, there is plenty of information about the financial aspect of home-buying and mortgage financing, as well as how to get the best prices. Chapter eight covers insurance, insurance, insurance. From basic advice on shopping for any type of insurance, the chapter then covers a whole range of insurance types, including health, auto, disability, and life.
The ninth and final chapter is all about taxes: how to pay them, and how to minimize how much you need to pay. There is advice on how to fill out the forms and determine your tax rate, as well as advice on how to maximize your deductions and find a decent tax preparer, if you decide to go that route. The book ends with a long list of books for further reading.
The book is well-written, humorous and very informative. The chapters are generally fairly thorough, most doing a good job of covering their financial topic. There’s also a good amount of humor and congeniality in the writing style, making for a pretty entertaining read.
There are parts of the book where more depth could be helpful; the investing chapter doesn’t give more than a vague sense of a decent asset allocation, for example. The sheer amount of data in some of the chapters can be a bit overwhelming, or at least make it harder to sort out the most important data.
Get a Financial Life is a solid introduction to personal finance in all its glory. If you (or someone you know) want to get a decent start organizing their finances, it makes a good introductory guide, if a bit much to take in for some of the chapters.