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Getting Off the Dime On Investment Plans

INVESTMENTS and financial planning often are relegated to the bottom of many working peoples' priority lists.

With no spare cash to invest, it's easy to put off planning. Cutting back on planning, however, often ensures that the worker or family will never have the cash to invest.

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"If Time Is Money, No Wonder I'm Not Rich" by Mary L. Sprouse (Simon & Schuster, 224 pp., $20) addresses this quandary. "Of all the activities you must cram into your busy life, managing your money is the one you can least afford to overlook," she writes. Sprouse delineates "Ten Timeless Investment Strategies" that explain areas such as dividend reinvestment, asset management accounts, and mortgage prepayment options. In the chapter on "Ten Safe Investments You Can Make in 20 Minutes or Less," the discus sion of zero-coupon bonds is especially helpful. Also useful are her comments on how to choose financial professionals and computer programs for analyzing market trends.

At points, Sprouse's writing is a bit too snappy for the topic, but it may sustain the reader's interest.

In "How to Buy Mutual Funds the Smart Way" by Stephen Littauer (Dearborn Financial Publishing, 216 pp.,$16.95), the complex mutual-fund industry is explained in clear terms. This book is ideal for a reader who already has a savings plan, has money to invest, and is looking for direction. Step by step, Littauer explores how to find funds that fit specific planning needs. A chapter on "How Greed Can Cost You Money" advises readers on how to keep from being their "own worst enemies." The chapter on "How To Turn Your Losers into Winners in Ten Minutes" details an exit plan from poorly performing funds. It goes on to warn that the next step after leaving one fund be taken carefully because "one thing you don't want is to move into another loser." Littauer's book is not fast-paced but can be used to chart a course through this rapidly growing industry.

Despite an uninteresting cover, "Dun & Bradstreet Guide to Your Investments 1993" by Nancy Dunnan (HarperCollins, 394 pp., $15) is an excellent general guide to investing.

Its main calling card is the lively "Special Advice for 1993" section that looks at trends and economic cycles from an investor's perspective. Dunnan gives a humorous "top 10" list of indicators that the recession is winding down along with information on investing in low-debt companies and other hard-times strategies. The book is laid out well, but plan on a few hours to get through the material.

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