This is a very well-written and practical book, as I hope to describe. Morningstar is a reasonably well-known and well-regarded investment research firm, and the author, Christine Benz, is Morningstar's Director of Personal Finance. Benz rose rather quickly through Morningstar's analyst ranks--she eventually became the director of all Morningstar's mutual fund analysts--and she would have had a crack at a top corporate job, had she not decided to work in the area she loves best, financial planning.
The "30-minute" part of the title does not mean that you can read this book in 30 minutes or that you can build a personal financial plan in that short a time, either. The book is divided into 11 parts, and each part has several chapters that are oriented to help you accomplish specific goals in 30 minutes. So, the book's title might have been "36 Chapters of 30-Minute Discussions about Financial Planning." But that doesn't grab me very well.
If you have a particularly complex financial situation, this book isn't going to solve all your problems. Indeed, it won't tell you everything you could possibly know about a number of financial topics. (If it claimed to cover everything completely, I'd be very suspicious.) However, it will help a large majority of the public. A key attribute of the book is that it breaks down the financial planning process into manageable, doable steps. You can make a list of the steps relevant to your situation, check them off one at a time, and move on. Here is how the book is organized:
Part One: Find Your Baseline. (1) Calculate your net worth, (2) See where your money goes, (3) Set your financial goals, and (4) Create a budget.
Part Two: Get Organized. (1) Create a bill-paying system, (2) Create a filing system, and (3) Create a master directory.
Part Three: Find the Best Use of Your Money. (1) Determine whether to pay down debt or invest, and (2) Decide where to invest for retirement.
Part Four: Get Started in Investing. (1) Find the right stock/bond mix, (2) Create an investment policy statement, (3) Invest for short-term and intermediate-term goals, and (4) Create a hands-off long-term portfolio.
Part Five: Invest in Your Company Retirement Plan. (1) Determine how good your company retirement plan is, (2) Decide between a traditional and Roth 401(k), (3) Select the best investments for your company retirement plan, and (4) Make the most of a subpar 401(k) plan.
Part Six: Invest in an IRA. (1) Determine what type of IRA is best for you, (2) Identify the best investments for your IRA, (3) Determine whether to convert your IRA, and (4) Roll over your retirement plan into an IRA.
Part Seven: Invest for College. (1) Find the right college saving vehicle, (2) Find the right 529 plan, and (3) Select the right investments for your college savings plan.
Part Eight: Invest in Your Taxable Account. (1) Identify the best investments for taxable accounts, (2) manage your portfolio for tax efficiency, and (3) Harvest tax losses.
Part Nine: Invest During Retirement. (1) Determine your portfolio withdrawal rate, (2) Build an in-retirement portfolio, and (3) Find the right sequence of in-retirement withdrawals.
Part Ten: Monitor Your Investments. (1) Conduct a portfolio checkup, and (2) Rebalance your portfolio.
Part Eleven: Cover Your Bases on Estate Planning. (1) Get started on your estate plan, (2) Handle beneficiary designations, and (3) Create a personal legacy.
Obviously, you don't need to read the various chapters in sequence. This book does not emphasize complex solutions. Indeed, Benz is convinced that some of the best-laid plans are often the simplest ones. For example, just because there's minute-by-minute coverage of the stock market doesn't mean that successful investing involves frequent, rapid changes to your portfolio. Simplifying myself, I would say that a basic theme of this book is to save enough and have sensible investments.
Importantly, there is a companion website that's "free and exclusive" to readers of this book. The website provides downloadable worksheets, useful financial calculators and other planning tools, and lists of Morningstar's picks of investments for various goals. That's a good idea.
In short, this will be a very helpful book for many individuals. If it merely starts you off on the right track, that's an important accomplishment. Regardless of one's age, it pays to know something about finances, yet this stuff is hardly taught in schools. Obviously, the best time to have planted an oak tree is 20 years ago. But the next best time is now, and that's where this book comes in.