If you spend much time looking at personal finance books, you can’t help but notice that a number of the books have companion “workbooks” associated with them. These workbooks are in essence stripped down versions of the main book, but they include specific blanks for you to fill in as you go through the book.
Here are two well-known examples of workbooks that you might find in personal finance stores:
Suze Orman’s Financial Guidebook is a workbook companion to her 9 Steps to Financial Freedom (which I reviewed earlier). The workbook basically serves as a direct companion to the nine steps to financial freedom, step by step, and the workbook provides more than ample space for you to take out a pen and write down your responses to the questions raised in each step (these questions are asked in both books, but the workbook actually provides space for the answers).
The big problem here is that most of the power in Suze’s book is her use of anecdotal information to expand upon the ideas she presents; the workbook is missing that and thus leaves you wondering why you’re doing a lot of this stuff. In this case, you’re better off buying the original book than the workbook.
The Total Money Makeover Workbook is a workbook companion to Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover (which I reviewed a while back). Basically, this workbook takes Dave’s fairly simple plan and converts it into workbook form, where you can fill in the blanks the book provides with your own numbers and calculations. In this case, the workbook is a pretty solid idea, because Dave’s book isn’t heavy on specifics to begin with. In fact, the workbook has almost all of the worthwhile content from Dave’s original book.
Clear as mud? It’s because, just like any other kind of book, workbooks vary greatly in quality. Some of them manage to encapsulate a great message, while others lean heavily on another book to make any worthwhile sense. How do you determine which is right for you?
First of all, ask yourself if you feel comfortable working through exercises on scratch paper. If you do, you’re almost always better off avoiding workbooks and instead buying full books. The original books provide a lot more detail and explanation and usually explain all of the exercises as well, so you can just use scratch paper to go through them. This also has the added benefit of leaving the book untouched when you’re done with it, which means that you can easily trade it or give it to someone else, while if you’ve filled a workbook with writing, you’re not going to want to hand it to someone else.
That’s not to say you should entirely avoid workbooks, though. If you’re ambivalent about whether a workbook is appropriate for you, compare it to the original text while you’re in the bookstore. If the workbook has almost as much actual text as the main book (as is the case with the Dave Ramsey pair above), the workbook is usually a solid choice. However, if the main book has a lot more content than the workbook (as with the Suze Orman example), the main book is probably a better choice.
Of course, you have the third option of just reading The Simple Dollar, but I’ll leave that up to you.