Boston — When the ''curl up with a good book'' mood strikes, try something a little more out of the ordinary -- a book on financial planning. It may not be exactly what you had in mind, but it could lead you to profitable investments or other financial actions you never thought of. The following is a guide to some of the more recent books on the subject.
Money Dynamics for the 1980s, by Venita VanCaspel. Reston Publishing Company Inc. $15.
This is one of the most detailed, comprehensive books around and has put in a few appearances on the New York Times best sellers list. Though it's relatively easy to read, you have to be serious about wanting to get your financial situation in order before you tackle the book. Not only does it tell you about the usual investments (money market funds, mutual funds, stocks, and bonds), but it also goes heavily into insurance, real estate, collectibles, and energy. Through this book you can learn how to set aside funds for college, how to find professional financial advice, how to plan for retirement.
To make sure you really picked up the focus of a chapter, the author finishes each one with a ''summary and application.'' She also includes plently of worksheets, tables, graphs, and a thorough glossary of financial terms.
Most of the time, VanCaspel presents all sides of the picture; when she doesn't, at least she's honest about it. For instance, she feels everyone should have some investment in diamonds - and so devotes the better part of a chapter to the subject.
Though this may be one of the better books on financial planning, it came out before the new tax laws were passed, and is out of date in that respect.
Financial Survival in the Age of New Money, by Gordon Williams. Simon & Schuster. $14.95.
Somewhere, somehow, somebody goofed on the economy -- and it's not the people , and it's not business, so it must be the government, Williams figures. The author says his book ''is for the average person who doesn't like where we are, who'd like to know how we got here, how - and when and if - we'll get out, and how to get by until (it) ends.''
The ''how to get by'' is revealed in an excellent, though broad, financial planning chapter at the end of the book. It gives enough details to provide you with a general knowledge of the many avenues of investing and also whets your appetite for a walk down some of those streets.
But the main theme of the book is the part before that last chapter, the part that simply explains how money works. For the person who never quite understood what the Federal Reserve's role is compared with the Treasury's, or wants to know what all the fuss is about Euro- and petrodollars, this book has a clear way of explaining them. But watch out for the sarcastic streak. It's running all the way through.
Financial Freedom, a Positive Strategy for Putting Your Money to Work, by Jim Barry. Reston Publishing Company Inc. $14.
On the other end of the scale, Jim Barry thinks the economy is really looking up. He spells tax relief ''R-E-A-G-A-N,'' and thinks now is the time the financial planner can pull ahead. The book takes a detailed look at life insurance, retirement plans, estate planning, annuities, money market and mutual funds, stocks, bonds, and tangibles.
This is one of the few financial planning books that devote a whole chapter to the new provisions under the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981. It further drums in the importance of understanding taxes in a chapter focusing just on filling out your income tax return.
A certified financial planner himself, Barry provides plenty of helpful worksheets in every chapter as well as a glossary of financial terms.
Family Investment Guide, a Financial Handbook for Middle-Income People, by John Dorfman. Atheneum Publishers. $14.91.
This book gets four stars, or however many mean top notch. As its title says, it's for the middle-income family. It will teach you how to save for college payments and still have room for investing.
At the beginning of his book, Dorfman runs the reader through a little obstacle course on the rules of financial planning. Wherever you stumble is where you'll need to learn more. His first five rules are these: Try to invest 15 percent of your after-tax income; keep three months' income in a NOW account or savings account; keep another three months' income in either a certificate of deposit or a money market fund; don't invest until you have enough insurance; and don't invest until your debts are under control. Fifteen more helpful maxims follow.
The appendix includes some handy tables on ''saving or investing for a specific goal'' and ''accumulating for a retirement fund.'' It also lists other sources to look into. Another plus -- it is up to date with the new tax laws, but doesn't discuss them extensively.
Get Out of Debt Now, by Fred Graver. Little, Brown & Co. $11.95.
Do you spend more than 20 percent of your take-home pay on monthly installment bills, not including mortgage payments?
Are you juggling payments to your creditors?
Have you recently had to borrow cash with your credit card to meet household expenses?
If you answer ''yes'' to these few questions asked by Graver, then it's time to ''gain control of your financial affairs,'' he says.
And he has a straightforward way of telling you how to do it.
First, he completely explains your creditors -- how they work, what they are looking for, and how to deal with them. Second, he shows you how to make a plan you can stick to, which will take discipline. He includes worksheets with this explanation. Third, he tells you what to do in a credit emergency.
He also focuses on credit bureaus and credit records, collection agencies, and the option of bankruptcy -- which he doesn't recommend unless you've tried every last alternative.
This book is a bit alarmist at times, but then again, getting out of debt often means totally restructuring your finances.
Personal Financial Planning, by David M. Brownstone and Jacques Sartisky. John Wiley & Sons. $19.95.
This book puts finance in layman's term. At the beginning, it sets forth seven basic rules in financial planning - getting you started on the right track. This is an expository book, covering topics as simple as a NOW account and as complex as speculation. It contains relatively few lists, charts, tables, and graphs.
Of particular interest is the chapter ''Personal Financial Planning Situations: Twenty Practical Plans.'' This is a series of case studies on people's financial problems and what they did to get out of them. Toward the back of the book there is also a descriptive list of business publications, from newsletters covering specific areas to general business magazines and newspapers. And of course, no financial book is complete without a glossary.