For the most part, all of these programs share more or less the same content. Get your spending under control, call up your creditors and negotiate lower rates (or in some cases a balance reduction), adopt a very strong debt repayment plan, and kick it in the teeth. A few of the programs involve some legal manuevering in which you attempt to buy your bad debt from the creditor (and then obviously dismiss it), but the legal gamesmanship there is murky, dealing with legal nuances that are far from clearly explained.

This is the meat and potatoes of personal finance, and it’s pretty much true across the board. Spend less than you earn and get rid of bad debt and plan for the future. Most of it boils down to nuances of those two statements - earn more, spend less, pay off debt, invest, and so on.

In truth, the big difference between most personal finance books, programs, and other materials is in how they’re packaged. Dave Ramsey’s stuff is packaged in the guise of a straight-talking Christian. Suze Orman paints the picture of a successful career woman dispensing this advice. Jim Cramer plays the role of exciting enthusiast. David Bach plays the role of the “friendly teacher” who tries to make something complicated into something simple.

And you also have the people that use other methods to convince you. Kevin Trudeau, for instance, plays the role of the insider who is letting you in on “secrets” (often making over the top and potentially false claims along the way) - and that appeals to some people.

Here’s the truth: almost all of these programs work. They all deliver most of the same information, they all agree on the basic principles, and they all offer a program that will get you into a better financial place.

The only real difference between most of them is in minor details - and in how they’re presented. That’s really it - the little details and the presentation.

So how do I pick the best program if they’re all largely the same? Here’s where the library plays to your advantage. If you’re stuck in a financial hole and need help digging your way out of it, head down to your local library. They have a mountain of books and workbooks on personal finance topics. Dig through several of them and find the one with a voice that clicks for you. It might be the Christian-edged straight shooting of Dave Ramsey. It might be the liberal themes of Your Money or Your Life. You might find what you need in the strong “coach” voice of Larry Winget.

Your local library is the place to find out what works for you. When you do find the right one for you, though, it can be worth your money to buy that program for your own use. That’s so you can get away with writing notes in the margins, underlining key pieces, filling in the blanks in workbooks, and so on.

For me, it happened to be Your Money or Your Life that clicked when I needed it, though I found Dave Ramsey’s material to be influential, too. I found it by realizing I was in financial trouble, going down to the library, checking out a pile of personal finance books, and reading through them until I found one that really made sense for me.

If you’re worried about your personal finance situation, don’t run down to your bookstore and pick up a book for help. Instead, read the free articles that are out there and hit the local library. Then, if you find a book or a program that really clicks for you, then buy it for your own long-term use.


The Simple Dollar chronicles a man's road to recovery from "total financial meltdown." As author Trent Hamm puts it, "The Simple Dollar is a blog for those of us who need both cents and sense: people fighting debt and bad spending habits while building a financially secure future and still affording a latte or two." We'll post a couple of entries a week, but you can check out his writing daily at www.thesimpledollar.com