For years, people who know me well have been encouraging me to read Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. “You’ll love it,” they’d tell me. “A lot of it is about comic books.” My friends were right: I’m the target audience for this book. Here it is late Wednesday night, and I’ve spent the past few hours unable to put it down. I had to finish.

But Kavalier & Clay isn’t the only great book I’ve read recently. I’ve lucked into a string of great personal-finance volumes, too. Out of the past half-dozen money books I’ve read, not a one has been a dud. Some examples include:

  • The Quiet Millionaire is an excellent sourcebook for “third-stagers” (those who have eliminated debt and mastered the basics of money management).
  • The revised Your Money or Your Life is as good as the original — maybe even better.
  • And Alexandra Levit’s New Job, New You is packed with tips for career-changers (but don’t look for it yet — the book won’t be in stores until January).

Another in this list of great books is Gregory Karp’s The 1-2-3 Money Plan. Karp is a nationally-syndicated finance writer. His “Spending Smart” column appears in newspapers across the United States. Among other things, he’s a firm believer that more Americans should consider switching to prepaid cell phone plans.

In The 1-2-3 Money Plan, Karp aims to arm readers with enough information to make good financial choices on a day-to-day basis. Like me, Karp doesn’t believe it’s necessary (or even desirable) to spend a lot of time searching for the “best” option. He writes:

Every money decision doesn’t have to be the very, absolute best you could possibly do. Sometimes good enough is good enough. You will accomplish your goals. Get it done and get on with your life. After all, so many of us don’t want to devote innumerable hours to dealing with our finances and picking nits with our spending.

Exactly. This philosophy is the source of my mantras: “Do what works for you” and “The perfect is the enemy of the good”. It’s better to make a good choice now than to make constant delays hunting for the best choice.

The 1-2-3 Money Plan offers smart choices for dozens of common financial tasks, from grocery shopping to obtaining insurance. For each task, Karp provides three specific action steps (a “1-2-3 money plan”). For example, here are his retirement savings action steps:

Retirement 1-2-3

1. Invest automatically. Invest 10 percent of your income into a retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or Roth IRA.

2. Diversify. Invest all the money in a target-date retirement fund closest to when you’ll retire.

3. Hold on. Never touch the money until you retire.

Each list of action steps is followed by a detailed explanation. Why should you invest automatically? Why should you diversify? Why should you leave the money untouched? Karp explains his rationale in the pages that follow.

The book is also packed with tips and tangents. Karp spends two pages, for example, detailing his experience purchasing eyeglasses online. Most of his tips look something like this:

Quick Tip
When buying something that will depreciate, imagine what you could sell it for at a garage sale the next day. A $15 music CD becomes 75 cents. An $80 cordless phone becomes $6. A $50 toaster oven becomes $5. That puts the purchases in perspective in a hurry.

The 1-2-3 Money Plan isn’t a conceptual book. Karp does provide a framework for making decisions, but this book is more about providing actual practical tips that readers can use to save money today. It’s a distillation of current financial wisdom delivered in concentrated doses, real-world solutions to real-world problems.

Note: The 1-2-3 Money Plan deliberately focuses on the spending side of the wealth equation. It doesn’t address income and earning. It’s true that you can get the most bang for your buck by boosting your income, but everyone has to live within their means. (“You can’t outearn dumb spending,” as Karp writes.) And besides, it’s easier to cut spending than it is to increase earnings.

If this book has a drawback, it’s that its advice is too narrow. Because of the detailed nature of the advice, much of the information is specific to products, situations, and websites that are very 2009. The book should still be relevant for a year or two, but it will eventually become dated.

But this year — today — The 1-2-3 Money Plan is an excellent resource for those folks who are looking for more ways to save money in their day-to-day lives.

Note: Author Greg Karp will be our guest on Monday’s episode of The Personal Finance Hour. If you’d like to ask him a question, be sure to call in between 3pm and 4pm Pacific (6pm and 7pm Eastern). Or feel free leave a question in your comment on this review.

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