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PERSONAL FINANCE

Worth It or Not Worth It: That Is the Question

A new book boils each of life's financial dilemmas down to a simple question. And it actually works.

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Life isn’t simple, but people often want simple answers. That’s how we get books like Eat This, Not That trying to distill the best advice into an easy-to-digest format.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time before someone tried the same approach with money. Fortunately, that someone was personal finance writer Jack Otter, author of the new book Worth It…Not Worth It?

As Executive Editor of CBS MoneyWatch.com, Otter has access to some of the smartest minds in finance and personal financial planning. He’s clearly paid attention and has distilled what people need to know in a format that doesn’t waste their time.

In fewer than 150 easy-to-read pages, Otter tackles most of the money dilemmas that people wrestle with: Buy or rent? Term insurance or permanent? Roth or traditional IRA? Cash back or travel rewards card? He not only declares clear winners (buy, term, Roth and cash back) but gives compelling, financially sound reasons for his choices. Even if you disagree on occasion--I like travel rewards cards, and have ones with the annual fees he warns against--you’ll probably find, as I did, that he’s mentioned the exceptions that prove the rule (we’re big spenders, which means we rack up enough rewards to dwarf the fee, and we squeeze more value from our rewards than what cash-back cards offer).

What appears at first glance to be a simplistic approach to finance--lots of big type and colorful graphics--contains some surprisingly sophisticated analysis. Otter's advice for navigating the bond bear market to come is excellent, as is his suggestion that would-be gold bugs look to a more valuable commodity--timber--for the future. He demonstrates how buying longer-term CDs right now might not be a bad idea--even assuming rates will soon rise.

Otter sprinkles the book with personal anecdotes, which makes him seem like the nice, approachable guy he actually is. But he doesn’t waste time with a lot of touchy-feely nonsense or pop psychology. He doesn’t try to justify bad advice by saying it’s “psychologically” sound. He can do math. In other words, as an author he’s superior to many, if not most, personal finance authors on the market.

The book was released in May, which means the publisher was positioning it as a graduation gift. It would be a terrific one, but Worth It…Not Worth It? is a great read for anyone who doesn’t have a competent, comprehensive financial planner on speed dial. Worth It…Not Worth It? gives the kind of advice you’d otherwise have to pay a small fortune to get. That makes this book definitely worth it.

Last updated: Sep 17, 2012

LIZ PULLIAM WESTON: Liz Weston is an award-winning columnist and author of books on personal finance, including her latest, The Ten Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy.




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