A principal virtue of this unremarkable but unexceptionable personal-finance manual is the lack of pretension. Sloane, a New York Times business writer, does not attempt to provide exhaustive coverage; mainly, he seeks to give middle-income individuals and families enough information to make intelligent decisions. At the outset, he makes the conventional recommendation that readers calculate their net worth and prepare realistic household budgets. Stressing the need for careful shopping, Sloane surveys the newly competitive banking/credit scene--in his sometimes patronizing fashion, enjoining card holders to avoid budget-busting impulse purchases. Insurance protection of all kinds is reviewed as well, along with estate, retirement, and tax planning. In addition, there are risk/reward briefings on investment opportunities--e.g., securities, mutual funds, options, futures contracts, and collectibles. (Conspicuously absent are precious metals and gems.) The rundown on tradeoffs in mortgage alternatives is sound, as are the author's comments on real estate as an investment. Also valuable: detailed listings of industry trade groups and government agencies that will respond to consumer complaints. Though less encyclopedic than Bob Rosefsky's Money Talks, Judith Briles' Money Phases, or Grace Weinstein's The Lifetime Book of Money Management, and not as specifically prescriptive as Justin Heatter's Take Charge of Your Finances (p. 847), Sloane's text represents good value for independent folk in search of reliable self-help counsel.