Somehow the writing of comprehensive personal finance manuals has become a preserve of female authors. Sylvia Porter, a widely read veteran personal finance columnist, was first. Then Jane Bryant Quinn, another columnist, and Venita VanCaspel, an economist and certified financial planner. Now Grace W. Weinstein, the ''Your Money'' columnist for Good Housekeeping magazine, has produced a fourth personal finance encyclopedia. All four are well done, offering usually conservative, sound advice, and are relatively easy to understand.
By now there is a certain formula of what topics should be covered - same as there is for another lucrative book publishing area, economics textbooks. But each publisher and author must dream up some wrinkle to justify an additional book in the genre.
The Weinstein book is typical. The first chapter outlines the unique approach - life-cycle planning. This is the view that as a rule people go through a financial cycle, learning in their teens to budget through an allowance, onward to training for a career, establishing a household, providing for retirement, and so on until retirement and reviewing a will.
Then the book looks at the usual topics: checking accounts, savings accounts, a new era in banking, investment strategy, investment vehicles, tax shelters, getting started with credit, staying afloat, various aspects of
housing, automobiles, financing an education, life insurance, health insurance, tax planning, estate planning, and retirement planning. A final chapter discusses the impact of inflation and recession.
Sylvia Porter's New Money Book for the '80s is more comprehensive (and expensive in hard cover), looking at such additional topics as energy-saving, dressing well on less money, jewelry and beauty, and vacation costs. Venita VanCaspel's Money Dynamics for the 1980s examines investments with more sophistication. And both the Porter book and Jane Bryant Quinn's Everyone's Money Book are available in cheaper paperback versions.
One strength of the Weinstein book is its chapters on housing, which discuss buying a house, financing it, insuring the property, taxes, remodeling and renovation, condominiums, cooperatives, and mobile homes.
Another advantage of the book is that it is brand new. The financial world is changing so rapidly nowadays that the older volumes are not always up to date, despite occasional revisions. For instance, in looking at the banking scene, Ms. Weinstein includes such relatively new bank accounts as Super-NOWS and money market accounts. She also reviews such areas as paying bills by telephone, banking at home, and debit cards.
The chapter on tax planning is clearly written, but anyone needing guidance in tackling 1983 taxes would get more detailed information from a tax manual such as H&R Block's.
To break up the type and make it easier reading, the book is sprinkled with questions and answers and various charts and tables. Most chapters conclude with a few paragraphs giving key points.
In her introduction, Ms. Weinstein points out: ''Many of the rules of the financial game have changed, turned upside down by new players in a new ball park. It isn't possible, for example, to talk simply about 'savings' and 'checking' as alternate forms of cash management when a wide variety of multipurpose accounts now exists. It's almost impossible to differentiate between stockbrokers and bankers when they are equally willing to offer you a checking account or sell you securities.
''It's no longer possible to declare that a specific percentage of income, and no more, should be spent on housing. And it's not appropriate to offer advice geared to the 'traditional' nuclear family to today's single-person, single-parent, or live-together households.''
Ms. Weinstein suggests that in this ''topsy-turvy world'' it is necessary to learn to make the most of what money you have, to make your assets grow, and to achieve your goals. She notes how the disinflation of the last two years has meant that those that agreed to fixed superhigh interest rates on their mortgages may be regretting it, that house prices are not rising so fast, that investments in fine art, gold, rare coins, and some other collectibles may have plunged in value, and that social security payments are rising more slowly.
The public is fortunate that several first-class texts on personal finance have been published, including the Weinstein book, making available information that would have been hard to obtain in past decades, or expensive to acquire and thus available mostly to the well-to-do.