Beyond the mall: Books to help you spend smarter

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Budgeting, investing and saving all are important foundations to sound personal finances. But smart spending is at the core.

Spending habits are about more than what you charge at the mall, encompassing most aspects of daily living.

Here are a few new titles that should provoke some thinking about how you spend your money, and provide lots of tips about how to be savvier about it.

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TITLE: The Lazy Couponer

AUTHOR: Jamie Chase

PRICE: $13 (paperback)

E-BOOK: Available for iPad, Kindle, Nook and Sony Reader

SUMMARY: Some people are so diligent about using coupons they can routinely knock 30 percent off their total bill. Master couponers would consider that to be overpaying; they know how to go on shopping sprees virtually for free.

Who has the time to learn those techniques? The author, who has a background in retail management and teaches a class on couponing, makes a strong case that most anyone can include coupons “almost effortlessly” in a hectic everyday life with some initial learning efforts.

The book explains in an entertaining, easy-to-grasp style how to find, categorize, combine and maximize coupons. It even gives a chain-by-chain rundown of how to harvest the most coupon riches at major retailers. The tips may not enable you to buy $167 worth of groceries for 42 cents, which she did as documented by a network TV crew. But if you’re up for the challenge, they could save you a lot of money trying.

QUOTE: “Maybe you’ve seen a $200 grocery order brought down to merely $30 and thought, ‘No way. That has to take hours to achieve.’ Let me assure you that savings like that take only minutes a week.”

PUBLISHER: Running Press

? Dave Carpenter

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The Vigilant Investor: A Former SEC Enforcer Reveals How To Fraud-Proof Your Investments

AUTHOR: Pat Huddleston

PRICE: $24.95

E-BOOK: Available for iPad, Kindle, Nook and Sony Reader

SUMMARY: A fundamental lesson learned by investors in the past few years is how to recognize a scam. The Ponzi scheme became a household word after the 2009 conviction of Bernard Madoff, but it’s only one way to separate investors from their money. Former Securities and Exchange Commission Enforcement Branch Chief Pat Huddleston lays out all the ways scammers work, their personality characteristics, and more importantly how to spot them. He starts by discussing how our mindset can set us up to be vulnerable to crooks. Huddleston explains how to overcome natural human tendencies including overconfidence and pride to avoid falling victim. He also discusses types of criminals including the career criminal, the golden boy, and the fibber and lays out how to do some homework to uncover them before handing over any money.

QUOTE: “The FBI estimates that Americans lose $40 billion annually to investment fraud. That’s the equivalent of one Madoff-sized mega-fraud every single year. And the problem is only getting worse. Despite access to innumerable resources published by regulators and consumer reporters on how to avoid scams, we are falling for them in record numbers.”

PUBLISHER: Amacom books

? David Pitt

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TITLE: The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things With Money

AUTHOR: Carl Richards

PRICE: $24.95

E-BOOK: Available for iPad, Kindle, Nook and Sony Reader.

SUMMARY: The chorus of financial advice in the media tends to focus on maximizing results, such as picking investments that fetch the biggest returns or buying a home at exactly the most opportune moment.

The author ? a financial planner and columnist for Morningstar Advisor ? argues that this creates a lot of unnecessary anxiety and remorse. More importantly, he says it detracts from greater life goals.

Richards urges readers to let go of the fixation on numbers and one-size-fits-all advice that tends to dominate the personal finance industry. He instead encourages readers to figure out what would make them happy in life, then build a financial plan around that goal. For example, he notes that a private sector job may pay far more than working for a nonprofit foundation. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right decision for everyone.

QUOTE: “The financial press, personal finance bloggers, and bestselling authors are all sources of information. They may have good ideas, which you may find useful. But they can’t tell you how the information and the ideas apply to your situation. They don’t know you. More to the point, they aren’t you….Planning for your financial future is personal. It has to be. A good plan will be unique to your situation, and what is right for your situation may be a disaster for your neighbor.'”

Publisher: Portfolio

?Candice Choi

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TITLE: The Elements of Investing

AUTHOR: Burton G. Malkiel and Charles D. Ellis

PRICE: $19.95

E-BOOK: Available for iPad, Kindle, Nook and Sony Reader

SUMMARY: In a more concise format, the authors revisit and update advice that they offered in two investing classics written in the 1970s: Malkiel in “A Random Walk Down Wall Street” and Ellis’ “Winning the Loser’s Game.”

The jargon-free book is written for the vast majority who didn’t major in economics or finance. It teaches the basics of investing, and simple rules to avoid the frequent trading that hurts so many investors over the long term. They show how difficult it is to beat the market. Investors are advised to instead focus on something they can control: reducing investment costs by selecting broadly diversified index mutual funds or other low-cost alternatives. But first, they must learn to save.

QUOTE: “Don’t let anyone tell you that investing is too complex for regular people. We want to show you that everybody can make sound financial decisions. But it doesn’t matter whether you make a return of 2 percent, 5 percent, or even 10 percent on your investments if you have nothing to invest. So it all starts with saving.”

PUBLISHER: Wiley

? Mark Jewell