Your Money: The Missing ManualWhen I started writing Your Money: The Missing Manual, I had problems finding a focus. I couldn’t figure out who my intended audience was. To get over this hump, I eventually hit upon a cunning plan: I would write the personal-finance book that I wish I’d had back when I started my personal-finance journey. I’d pack the book full of the info I’ve found most useful over the past five years, and include links to my favorite books and websites.

Well, I have to say that my target audience of one — me — loves the book. Maybe that’s immodest of an author to admit. And I know that not everyone thinks the book is as useful as I do. Plus, some readers don’t like all of the links (and they especially don’t like the TinyURLs I used). I get that. But in the nine months since the book was published, it’s become a permanent reference for me.

Personalized personal finance
My copy of Your Money: The Missing Manual is with me constantly. When I’m writing, I have it by my computer. When I’m traveling, it’s in my bag. It’s beat up from frequent use. Favorite pages are dog-eared. I’ve begun to jot notes in various sections, too.

For example:

  • Last week, I spoke with a reporter about energy use. To prepare for the conversation, I scribbled in the margins of the book’s “Pay Less for Power” pages.
  • Today, I interviewed Jim from Bargaineering for an upcoming column in Entrepreneur magazine. As I asked him how to use credit cards wisely, I jotted his answers in the margins of the credit chapter.

Elsewhere I have notes about buying used cars, lending money to friends, and how to be happy. Because the book is always by my side — and when it’s not, I feel anxious — it’s becoming packed with personal notes. It’s becoming even more useful with each passing day.

Make your own manual
After having done this for a few months, I’m hooked. I think this is a fabulous method, and I want to recommend it to others.

I’m not suggesting that you need to use my book (though I’d be honored if you did), but find some personal-finance book that you refer to often, and begin to take notes in it. (You might use Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, for example, or Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You to Be Rich, or the classic Your Money or Your Life.)

  • If you read something at Get Rich Slowly or Five Cent Nickel or The Simple Dollar that gives you an aha! moment, get out your personal-finance book and write a note in the appropriate section. (Or maybe take a note on a blank piece of paper and slip it into the book.)
  • If something happens to you in day-to-day life, and you want to remember it for the future, take the time to write it down in your book.
  • And if you want to really personalize the book, use the blank pages at the front and back to keep a list of financial goals. If I were to do this (and I may), I’d jot my goals on the inside of the front cover, and I’d track my progress (monthly? quarterly?) on the inside of the back cover.

This is a great way to build a customized financial reference, one honed to your own individual needs. Take the best from your favorite author, and mix in the best from Real Life. In time, you’ll have written your very own personal-finance manual!