This article is by staff writer Lisa Aberle.

Man reading at the library


Reading personal finance books is a great way to learn more about what you should do at each point in your financial journey. In some respects, it doesn’t really matter where you are in your journey because, no matter what you need help with, there’s a book that covers it.

Deciding which book to read when, though, can be a bit of a challenge. So we created this huge collection of personal finance books to help with that. Here’s how it works:

  • We divided the books into four main sections, based on the stages of personal finance. And we also added a section for kids and money.
  • And then we broke each main section down into sub-sections to highlight specific needs and interests. Click on any of the hyperlinks to go immediately to that section or group of books.
  • The first book of each sub-section is selected to appear there because it appeals to the majority. If you have no time to read other books, start with that one.
  • Books we consider essential reading are marked with a happy star *.
  • Some books are linked to Amazon.com if you want to read more about the book or purchase it.

  • For each book, we include the readers we believe will get the greatest benefit from the book so you can scan through the list to find a book tailor-made for you.

But don’t ignore other books on that topic! There are many that are still worth the read. They would make a great gift even if it’s not what you need.


Basic personal finance for beginners

This first set of books is geared toward beginners. Even if you’ve picked up a lot of financial know-how through the years, revisiting some classics in this category may sharpen your frugal skills if you feel too much lifestyle inflation creeping in. And if you find yourself back in debt, crack open one of these books again.

These books offer a wide view, discussing many aspects of money. They offer advice about saving, investing, and getting out of debt. They don’t go into much detail about any one subject, but they provide motivation to get started — and that’s what’s most important.


* The Total Money Makeover
by Dave Ramsey
  • For beginners

  • Christian-focused

  • Anti-credit cards

Content: Ramsey’s seven baby steps to financial freedom form the core of this book. By following these in order — and not moving on to the next until the current step is complete — readers gradually progress from debt to wealth.

Applause: Ramsey’s advice strikes cynics as simplistic. But his steps work because they are simple and because they provide tangible results. Your $1,000 emergency fund isn’t just cheap insurance against real life; it’s a visible reminder that you have succeeded, that you can save, that you can be smart with money. The debt snowball is built around quick wins which give you the confidence to continue.

Criticism: Ramsey takes a lot of criticism for his support of the debt snowball, which he describes in detail here. However, Ramsey’s method is not easy. It requires sacrifice, hard work, and focus. In fact, printed on the bottom of every page of “The Total Money Makeover” is the book’s motto:

“If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”

If you’re struggling with debt, there is no better starting place than this book.


  • For beginners

  • Great reference guide

  • Easy to read and follow

Content: J.D. Roth wrote “Your Money: The Missing Manual” precisely to be the sort of book he needed when he was struggling with money.

Applause: I think it’s a great resource, getting to the heart of a broad range of topics. As J.D. put it, his book took the best tips from the best books and presented this info in plain English so that anyone can get out of debt and start building wealth.

In his review, Kevin Kelly (the founder of Wired magazine) wrote, “This is the best user-guide to personal finance I’ve found, and I’ve probably read them all.”

Criticism: None — because I’m partial! :)


  • For beginners

  • Soldier lingo

Content: Each chapter ends with a checklist of things you should have accomplished as well as a bulleted summary. You won’t find any new financial information here, but you will find new metaphors. Rose also shares personal stories from his experience in the armed forces.

Applause: The book is action-oriented. Rose wants you to be a doer, not a talker.

Criticism: The soldier metaphor gets a little old.



The Richest Man in Babylon
by George Clason
  • For beginners

  • Easy to read

  • Good introduction to personal finance

Content: Clason offers personal finance wisdom in the form of parables. These nuggets of wisdom were originally distributed as pamphlets at banks and insurance companies during the 1920s. The most popular were collected into book form. This is the grand-daddy of personal finance (Benjamin Franklin is the great-granddaddy), and many of modern admonitions — “Pay yourself first,” “Invest for the future,” “Learn the power of compound interest” — can be found here.

Applause: Common sense advice that everyone can use.

Criticism: The format may be a deal-breaker for some.


The Simple Dollar
by Trent Hamm
  • For beginners

  • Similar content to The Simple Dollar blog

Content: Along with frugality, savings, and investing, there are chapters on social capital, networking, and relationships. Hamm says all of frugality can be boiled down to five simple rules:

  1. Don’t give up the things you love.
  2. Find inexpensive ways to enjoy the things that are important to you.
  3. Cut back hard on the things that matter less.
  4. Never go shopping without knowing exactly what you want.
  5. Use the 30-day rule for any unplanned purchase.

Applause: This book isn’t really about personal finance. There’s personal finance in it, sure; but like Hamm’s blog, The Simple Dollar, it is about personal and professional transformation. This is a book about change.

Criticism: It’s repetitive. Hamm’s writing style is weak and wordy. The message? Good. The delivery? Not so much.


Basic personal finance for recent graduates


The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke
by Suze Orman
  • Recent graduates

  • People with student loan debt and/or credit card debt

  • Job-seekers or under-earners

Content: This is a comprehensive overview of how money should fit into your life, divided into 10 chapters. In this book at least, Suze’s advice is based on the assumption that if you’re truly broke, the ideal option is probably not available to you and you shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Applause/Criticism (depending on your perspective): Many of her recommendations fly in the face of traditional personal-finance advice.


Basic personal finance for under 30


I Will Teach You To Be Rich

  • Perfect for under 30, single, and making a decent living

  • Both strategic and tactical

  • Good for automating your finances

Content: Ramit stresses that “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” is highly tactical, and he’s right. He doesn’t just encourage readers to find the best savings accounts; he walks them through the process. He provides scripts for requesting rate reductions from credit cards and banks. He demonstrates his method of automating his financial life. He describes how to come out ahead in salary negotiations.

Applause: “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” is packed with solid advice, cites its sources, and provides scores of tactical tips for managing money. Smart, bold, and practical. “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” is packed with tips that actually work. This is a great guide to money management for 20-somethings — and everybody else.

Criticism: Ramit has a strong authoritative voice. He’s bold, sarcastic, and even a little sassy. Not everyone likes this. If you’re turned off by his blog, you’ll be turned off by his tone in this book. And if you’re married with kids, struggling to make ends meet, you’re not the intended audience.


Basic personal finance for everyone


* Your Money or Your Life
by Dominguez, Robin, and Tilford
  • For everyone

  • Simplicity or minimalist-focused

  • Intensely practical

Content: The authors play off the concept that time is money in a very literal sense. They encourage readers to sort out priorities, to cut expenses, and then to seek passive income in pursuit of financial independence.

Applause: This is a classic, an excellent book. And also, even though this book was written years ago and has influenced many prominent personal-finance bloggers, its perspective still feels fresh and unique.

Criticism: It can become a little New Age-y in spots.


Personal Finance for Dummies, 5th Edition
by Eric Tyson
  • For everyone

  • Great reference guide

Content: The book includes assessing your financial fitness, setting goals, saving more, spending less, as well as insurance and preventing identity theft. This book can help you figure out why you have the relationship with money that you do, identify aspects of your financial life that need adjustment, and help you develop good habits going forward. Additionally, the assumption is that making positive financial changes will be easier if you can connect it to goals that are important to you.

Applause: The format makes it easy to flip back to sections when you need them.

Criticism: Keep in mind that this book is about general personal finance and not specifically geared to investing.


Basic personal finance for lower income


All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan
by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi
  • Lower income readers may appreciate this one

  • For make-a-budget haters!

Content: This book’s balanced money formula is probably the single most important part of many people’s current financial plan. This book offers a different perspective than many personal finance books.

Applause: For those who complain that most financial advice — including that at Get Rich Slowly — is geared too much toward the middle-class and isn’t appropriate for those who earn less and are struggling, “All Your Worth” may offer some answers.

Criticism: The book takes a dim view of frugality and thrift, and it contains some wild assumptions (like 12 percent stock market returns). But with time, I have come to appreciate the strength of “All Your Worth,” not just for those struggling to shake off debt, but also for those of us who are beginning to build wealth. There’s good stuff here, though you may need to filter some of the authors’ rhetoric.


Reducing debt for everyone, especially recent graduates

For beginners, debt reduction is the most important task. I know from experience that this can seem like a long, lonely battle. But others have fought it before and have lived to document the process. Here are two books that describe different approaches to winning the fight.


Debt is Slavery
by Michael Mihalik
  • Great for recent graduates, but good for everyone

Content: “Debt is Slavery” is a deceptively simple book. It’s short. Its advice seems basic. And it’s self-published, so how good can it be? It’s good. He covers a lot of topics that other authors shy away from, such as, the effects of advertising, the weight of possessions, and the soul-sucking misery that comes from a bad job.

Applause: Mihalik’s advice is spot on. This book may be short, but it’s definitely sweet.

Criticism: But then again, being short, it doesn’t go into too much depth.


Reducing compulsive debt


How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously
by Jerrold Mundis
  • For those in debt, especially compulsive debt

Content: “How to Get Out of Debt” is built on the principles of Debtors Anonymous, a 12-step program founded in 1971 to help those who struggle with compulsive debt. Mundis was himself a debtor, and he based this book on his own experience. This isn’t purely theoretical information from the mind of some Wall Street finance whiz who has never struggled; this book contains real tips and real stories from real people.

Applause: If you’ve tried Dave Ramsey without success, read this. It’s 20 years old, but the information is timeless.

Criticism: This book is better for someone that is just getting started addressing their debt.



Frugal living for beginners

Saving money is a key skill to develop if you hope to get rich. (Read “The Millionaire Next Door” if you don’t believe me.) These books can help you learn to cut corners, to save money in ways that may not have occurred to you.


  • For beginners

  • Parents

  • Especially lower income-earners

Content: “The Tightwad Gazette” was a newsletter published during the early 1990s by Amy Dacyczyn (pronounced like the word “decision”). Eventually, the back issues were collected into a series of books which were, in turn, collected as “The Complete Tightwad Gazette.” Dacyczyn wrote articles like: “Used Shoes: Are they Good or Bad?”, “Budget Bug-Busting,” “Tightwad Toys,” and “Saving Money on Your Mortgage.” Sounds just like a personal finance blog, doesn’t it?

This book has thousands of tips, many of which were contributed by readers of the newsletter. (You won’t find any info on investing here. This book is about being frugal!)

Applause: I have read this book cover to cover at least three times. I have flipped through many other articles more than that. This book is one that I want to always have on my shelf. Plus, she is funny.

Criticism: As much I love this book, it is outdated in certain areas. It’s not always easy to find specific information, and I miss investing advice.


365 Ways to Live Cheap!
by Trent Hamm
  • For beginners

  • A year’s worth of one-paragraph tactics for saving money

Content: Along with focusing on useful and practical tactics for saving money, Hamm also includes two chapters of general tips for flexing your frugal muscles — things like, plan ahead for car replacement, install a programmable thermostat, exercise more frequently.

A book like this doesn’t lend itself to easy review. It’s not meant to be read from cover to cover. Instead, use it as a resource, as a pool of ideas. Looking for ways to save on electronics? Pull out “365 Ways to Live Cheap!” for tips like this.

Applause: This is a compendium of tips (or “tactics”), and as such, it succeeds admirably.

Criticism: Hamm’s book isn’t for everyone. It’s not trying to be “The Tightwad Gazette” or “Your Money or Your Life.”


Frugal living for stay-at-home moms


Miserly Moms
by Jonni McCoy
  • Stay-at-home moms

  • Helpful as an introduction to frugal living, especially if you’ve never had to be concerned about money

Content: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Sometimes it’s the most unassuming of books that offers the best advice that can actively help you on your quest to get rich slowly.

Applause: Miserly Moms is ostensibly a guide for stay-at-home mothers but is actually filled with useful tips for anyone who is concerned with frugality (especially parents with young children).

Criticism: The cover!


Frugal living for recent graduates and lower income


Wealth on Minimal Wage
by James Steamer
  • Great for recent graduates and families with low income

  • Easy to read

  • Shows that financial independence can be attained

Content: This book offers hundreds of ideas on how to avoid debt, maximize your wages, save on insurance and utilities, and generally live a frugal lifestyle.

Applause: Filled with good advice, but be careful about going without healthcare.

Criticism: A bit out of date, and maybe a little radical.


Frugal living for minimalists


* The Joy of Simple Living
by Jeff Davidson
  • Minimalists/supporters of simple living

  • Comprehensive reference guide

  • Covers home, office, vacation/travel

Content: This book is packed with tips. Davidson covers a wide range of topics; and for each, he offers several ways to save money.

Applause: A great resource for anyone wanting to cut down the clutter of life.

Criticism: But then again, if you have a bit of experience with your finances, maybe it won’t exactly be groundbreaking information to you.


  • If you’re not interested in getting rid of your car, this isn’t the book for you

  • If you’re on the fence about getting rid of your car, this is the book for you

Content: Balish begins by explaining why you’re better off not owning a car — financially, ecologically, and socially. He spends the rest of the book describing how to survive without one. He offers tips for mass transit, walking, bicycling, and more.

Applause: If you’re in its target audience, it is worth a read.

Criticism: This book has a narrow focus.


Psychology of money

How we feel often affects how we spend. And sometimes we have unconscious triggers that trick us into spending more money! Here are some books that illuminate this connection so we can achieve financial goals.


The Happiness Project
by Gretchen Rubin
  • For anyone seeking to improve their happiness

Content: I’ll admit that, on paper, “The Happiness Project” may seem sort of lame. Rubin decided to spend one year consciously pursuing happiness. Each month, she tackled one specific aspect of life — marriage, work, attitude, and so on — and during that month, she attempted to master a handful of related resolutions she hoped would make her happier.

Fortunately, the book isn’t lame. Rubin’s style is warm and engaging. Though “The Happiness Project” includes tons of info from research into happiness and well-being, this data isn’t presented in a dull, dry way; it’s neatly woven into Rubin’s account of her day-to-day progress toward happiness (or lack thereof). She shares the research in casual prose, not in academic jargon.

Applause: I’m guessing that for many GRS readers, a personal happiness project could lead to increased wealth — financial and otherwise.

Criticism: None. Well, actually, I mean it’s hard to find fault with happiness! But the book honestly isn’t about your finances, so maybe that should be said.


  • Readers with big goals

  • Create a blueprint for your success

  • Offers action steps you can practice to become more successful

Content: There’s a little personal finance advice here (all of it solid), but mostly this book is about changing the way you think about money and about yourself.

Applause: I found “Secrets” inspirational. It’s a good choice for somebody with big goals or somebody trying to overcome negative thinking.

Criticism: If you’re looking for a book with lots of personal finance advice, this book isn’t it.


Change Your Life in 7 Days
by Paul McKenna
  • For anyone wanting to reprogram their responses to money

Content: Most of his books, like this one, are accompanied by DVDs/CDs to help induce a hypnotic state so that the lessons become part of your subconscious. McKenna’s aim is to help people reframe their experiences so that they can both achieve their goals (like losing weight or paying off debt) and also become mentally flexible enough to take advantage of unique opportunities as they arise. By training yourself to approach and react to situations in particular ways, your responses can become more productive and you can more successfully manage stress.

Applause: If you are interested in digging into your psyche to discover why you act the way you do with money and want to reprogram your responses so you can approach money matters in a productive and positive way, “Change Your Life in 7 Days” may be a useful book for you. And because it has so many applications beyond personal finance, it may be useful to a wider audience as well.

Criticism: Some of his recommendations are a little woo-woo in my estimation.


Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes (and How to Correct Them)
by Gary Belsky and Thomas Gilovich
  • If you’re not achieving the financial success you should be, read this book

Content: In this short book, Belsky and Gilovich catalog a menagerie of mental mistakes that cause people to spend more than they should. This book covers more than a dozen psychological barriers to wealth and explains how to prevent them from sabotaging you.

Applause: What might have been a boring topic becomes fascinating thanks to an engaging style and plenty of anecdotes and examples.

Criticism: One criticism I might level is that the book isn’t very scannable, meaning that it’s not laid out so that you can easily find your topic and read what interests you.


The Paradox of Choice
by Barry Schwartz
  • For everyone

  • Understanding consumerism in today’s marketplace

Content: Schwartz argues that the vast array of choices available to us in the marketplace actually make us less happy. We’d be better off with two options for a wide-screen plasma television instead of 22. Too much choice doesn’t just make us unhappy, it prevents us from making smart decisions.

Applause: Fascinating stuff, and it has a bunch of New Yorker cartoons in it.

Criticism: It’s written from an academic perspective if that’s off-putting to you.


Your Money and Your Brain
by Jason Zweig
  • If you are interested in the relationship between money and our behavior, read this book.

Content: Zweig covers the latest research into how money affects our behavior. Zweig’s extensive footnotes point to tons of great research studies about how we handle money.

Applause: There are a lot of interesting books out there about the psychology of personal finance, but this is the most comprehensive.

Criticism: It’s oddly one-sided — information about the problems, but very little about solutions to the problems.


Mind Over Money
by Ted and Brad Klontz
  • For anyone interested in how we relate to our money

Content: “Mind Over Money” won’t teach you how to budget, and it doesn’t ever mention index funds. This isn’t a book about the nuts and bolts of personal finance; it’s a book about how we relate to money.

The authors argue that our relationships with money are complex and not entirely rational. Our financial behavior is influenced by psychology and emotion and, especially, our personal history. We’ve all developed money blueprints that shape how we deal with our finances.

Applause/Criticism: “Mind Over Money” doesn’t provide all of the answers you need to correct your money blueprint, but I don’t think that’s the point. The strength of the book isn’t in the answers it provides, but in the questions it provokes.


Financial journalism

This trio of books won’t help you get rich — at least not directly. They don’t contain overt stock tips, guidance about personal finance, or advice for frugal living. Instead, they tell real-life stories about certain aspects of finance.


Den of Thieves
by James B. Stewart
  • For anyone that is interested in the dark side of the market

Content: It’s not just Bernie Madoff. Wall Street has fallen prey to all sorts of unscrupulous men over the course of its history.

In “Den of Thieves,” Stewart takes us inside the high-finance worlds of Michael Milken, Ivan Boesky, Martin Siegel, and Dennis Levine. These men were embroiled in the insider trading scandals that shook the market during the 1980s, and through their stories we’re able to see just how much corruption the influence of money can bring.

Applause/Criticism: A little dense at times, but it’s a great way to learn about the market.


The Making of an American Capitalist
by Roger Lowenstein
  • For anyone interested in Warren Buffett

Content: In this biography of Buffett, Roger Lowenstein describes the events that shaped his life, starting as a boy in the early 1930s. As we follow Buffett’s growth, we learn about the development of investment theory. In addition, there is plenty of information here about Buffett’s investment philosophy.

Applause: Entertaining and educational.

Criticism: It is more the story of his life as opposed to his investment techniques.


Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression
by Studs Terkel
  • History lovers

Content: Writer Studs Terkel published “Hard Times” in 1970. It features excerpts from over 100 interviews he conducted with those who lived through the 1930s. Terkel spoke with all sorts of people: old and young, rich and poor, famous and not-so-famous, liberal and conservative.

Applause: By including the perspectives of so many different people, Terkel is able to paint a richer picture of what things were like during this period.

Criticism: This might be helpful if you are going through a difficult financial period, but there isn’t a lot of detail to each story.



Making more money

Meeting our financial goals often requires making more money — sometimes a lot more. These books cover different money-making methods so you can get ahead.


Overcoming Underearning
by Barbara Stanny
  • Primarily for women

Content: This book is about asking for more, creating more, and working your way through the psychological pitfalls that lead to being satisfied with less in the first place.

As a reporter, Barbara Stanny interviewed 150 high-income women and wrote a book about them, “Secrets of Six-Figure Women.” In the process, she learned that the big difference between highly successful women and less successful women was how they valued themselves and what they were willing to do to get what they wanted. They didn’t think of limits, and they surrounded themselves with people who also were successful.

Applause: “Overcoming Underearning” is a good book, and it’s in line with Get Rich Slowly’s ideals. If you need to get started — or have started but have hit a wall and you don’t know why — this might be the book for you.

Criticism: However, the book contains few actionable steps that will help you make more money or invest well. If you need a how-to book, keep looking.


The 4-Hour Workweek
by Tim Ferriss
  • Higher income earners interested in mini-retirements

Content: This book is filled with inspirational anecdotes and provocative ideas about how you can make the leap from desk jockey to the pursuit of your dreams — all while investing less time into your work. The flow of ideas is relentless. An intelligent reader can easily extract a wealth of useful ideas from the book.

Applause: Despite its flaws, “The 4-Hour Workweek” is a great book. I think that most people can draw something useful from it.

Criticism: A lot of the advice seems impractical and out-of-reach for the average person.


Entrepreneurship


The Other 8 Hours
by Robert Pagliarini
  • Wannabe entrepreneurs

Content: First, the book offers ideas to finding more time and making better use of the time you have. However, the heart of the book (over half its content) describes how you can make the leap from passive consumer to active Cre8tor™. Cre8tor™ is Pagliarini’s term for folks who make things, and in this section he urges readers to tap into their entrepreneurial side.

Pagliarini includes his list of top 10 channels, including blogging, inventing, starting a company, freelancing, and turning hobbies into income. For each channel, he offers basic guidelines and resources for getting started.

Applause: As a huge proponent of earning extra income, I liked this section. I wish more people understood how quickly they could improve their cash flow by boosting income. This book is excellent for people understanding how making more money can improve their cash flow dramatically

Criticism: Reading Pagliarini’s proprietary terms (Cre8tor™, etc.) gets old rather quickly.


The Incredible Secret Money Machine
by Don Lancaster
  • Wannabe entrepreneurs

Content: This hard-to-find volume from 1978 looks like a get-rich-quick book. It’s not. It’s all about starting and running small businesses, especially craft businesses. To Lancaster, a money machine is any venture that generates what he calls “nickels.” Nickels are small streams of revenue from individual customers.

Applause: If your goal is simply to earn a comfortable income for yourself by doing something you love, then this book can help you explore the idea of business ownership.

Criticism: The groovy ’70s lingo threw me off a little.


The Eventual Millionaire:
How Anyone can be an Entrepreneur and Successfully Grow their own Start-up

by Jaime Tardy
  • Wannabe entrepreneurs

Content: After finding out that corporate America wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be and racking up significant debt (~$70,000) while on a six-figure salary during that process, Tardy left that world behind to focus on being happy. Today she runs the website EventualMillionaire.com. She’s interviewed over a hundred millionaires to track down some common denominators in financial success, and this book shares her discoveries with you.

In other words, while this book is intended to make some connections and give you some guidelines, it’s not going to do the work for you. Taking action is your job. You can be intimidated by that … or inspired by it. Tardy votes for inspiration.

Applause: This book might be for you if you…

  • are inspired by others’ success (without expecting to replicate it exactly)
  • enjoy worksheets and lists of action items (without getting bogged down in them and failing to follow through on the big stuff)
  • and have always wanted to start your own business.

Criticism: Some of the reviewers on Amazon were disappointed with the grammatical errors and felt that there was not much new ground shared.


Money Making Mom
by Crystal Paine
  • Stay-at-home moms who want to earn money

Content: This is Paine’s third book. Paine is the blogger behind the massively popular blog Money Saving Mom. In this book, Paine shares her challenges with starting businesses in the past, real-life examples of moms who are making real money, and practical tips for replicating some of her success.

Applause: I appreciated the real-life stories and examples. This book makes making extra money feel within reach.

Criticism: To me, most of the examples felt more like businesses just added to the family budget, instead of businesses that actually supported entire families.


The $100 Startup
by Chris Guillebeau
  • Entrepreneurs who want to bootstrap their businesses

  • Based on thorough research

  • Guide format

Content: To say Guillebeau did some serious research is an understatement. More than 1,500 entrepreneurs were considered for inclusion in the book. They had to meet the following qualifications:

  1. Make at least $50,000 per year from their business.
  2. Started the business on a very low budget. (The average cost of initial investment for entrepreneurs included in the book is $610, with a median cost of $125.)
  3. Willing to cough up financial data and demographics.

Applause/Criticism: This is an actionable guide that you can customize. If you have zero desire to start a business or if your goal is to be the founder of a big Internet startup, this book isn’t for you. But if you’re interested in starting a small business doing something you’re passionate about, I highly recommend it.


Work The System: The Simple Mechanics of Working Less and Making More
by Sam Carpenter
  • Overwhelmed business owners

Content: After spending years running his business out of his head, lunging from one emergency to the next, trying to physically and financially keep the company running, Carpenter had a life-changing epiphany that transformed his relationship to work, to home, and to other people.

Carpenter discovered the value of creating step-by-step instructions or systems for almost any process that encompassed his business. Once those systems were in place, anyone within the organization could follow the procedures and accomplish the objectives and goals of the company. He stresses the importance of first developing strategic objectives, general operating principles, and then working procedures (the fluid part of the Work the System method) to maintain a healthy sense of control.

Applause: What I thought was going to be a theory filled with holes and short-cut tricks turned out to be something to which I could relate. Though Carpenter focuses on his own company and the application of the steps to creating systems, the concepts carried over to my world outside of telecommunications.

Criticism: Although this material is applicable to more people, the primary audience is business owners who are overwhelmed.


Achieving success

Wealth is about more than money. These books will help you become a well-rounded person and will help you develop skills that will indirectly aid your personal finances.


* 50 Success Classics
by Tom Butler-Bowdon
  • Readers looking to gain knowledge quickly

Content: Butler-Bowdon selected 50 important books from success literature. For each, he created digest versions, summarizing each volume in only a few pages, distilling its key points. He also provided biographical information on each author, and attempted to explain why each book is relevant, placing it in a larger context.

Applause: If you don’t have time to read all 50 books, this gives you an option to get the concepts quickly.

Criticism: And if you want to read all 50 books, this book is unnecessary :) .


  • Readers interested in improving their relationships

Content: One of the classic success books. Carnegie uses anecdote after anecdote to illustrate the best way to make the most of human relations. It all boils down to this: “To win others to your way of thinking, put yourself in their shoes.”

Applause: The devil is in the details, and Carnegie’s simple prose does a fine job of pointing the way.

Criticism: Even though this is a beloved classic book on relationships, I came across an interesting criticism on Amazon. It pointed out that, because it was written so long ago, the culture has changed and some of its principles may actually steer people in the wrong direction today. But I still think there’s a lot to be gleaned from the book.


Getting Things Done
by David Allen
  • Readers looking for systems

Content: Little needs to be said about this book — it’s a geek classic. Allen describes his formalized system for creating greater efficiency. Though I’ve found it difficult to maintain the precise system for long, I use elements of it all the time.

Applause: If you have trouble procrastinating or staying organized, this book is for you.

Criticism: Although I have implemented some of Allen’s systems, GTD feels clunky and complicated as a whole.


Never Eat Alone
by Keith Ferrazzi
  • Anyone who wants to create/improve their social network

Content: This book helps you learn how to relate to people, how to establish contacts, and maintain connections.

Applause: Worth reading if you have contact with a wide group of people.

Criticism: Networking for the sake of networking puts me off. The endless name-dropping gets old fast.


For beginning investors

Learning to invest your money wisely is obviously one important aspect of building wealth. Wall Street is not friendly to the small investor; instead, it’s designed to part you from your hard-earned dollars. These books can help you develop an investment philosophy that can help you improve your odds of retiring wealthy.


The Random Walk Guide to Investing
by Burton Malkiel
  • For beginners

Content: Malkiel is best known for his classic “A Random Walk Down Wall Street.” This book is shorter, written in plain English (there’s no investing jargon), and is easy to understand. But that doesn’t mean it’s simplistic.

Applause: This is an excellent book, filled with advice based on sound financial principles. It covers risk tolerance, asset allocation, diversification, and even a little behavioral finance. An excellent guide for beginners.

Criticism: If anything, the criticism would be that it’s for beginners.


The Smartest Investment Book You’ll Ever Read
by Daniel R. Solin
  • For beginning investors or anyone investing in actively managed funds

Content: If you have recently or will soon be entering the land of full-time employment, 401(k)s and 403(b)s, then this is probably a good book for you to read. You may or may not need to read the entire thing to be convinced that index funds are the best bet. However, Solin himself says several times throughout the book to go ahead and skip to Chapter 36 as soon as you’ve internalized that message. That’s where you’ll find the step-by-step instructions for picking the best funds for you.


For intermediate investors


  • For anyone interested in automating their finances

Content: There’s more to David Bach than just “the latté factor.” The system he recommends here is excellent — an automated approach to managing your personal finances. If you’ve been meaning to open a Roth IRA but have never actually done so, then read this book! He’ll explain how to set it up so that it’s painless.

The Automatic Millionaire is based on sound financial concepts. The author encourages readers to eliminate debt, to live frugally, and to pay themselves first. But the core of his book is unique: Rather than develop willpower and self-discipline, Bach’s thought is, why not bypass the human element altogether? Why not make your path to wealth automatic?

Applause: If you have your personal finances in order, you probably don’t need to read “The Automatic Millionaire.” But if you’re struggling to gain control, this book can make a big difference.

Criticism: The only caveat I’d note is that this book is several years old now, and because it contains specific recommendations for financial companies, it may be in need of an update.


The Four Pillars of Investing
by William Bernstein
  • Intermediate investors

  • Comprehensive, holistic approach to investing

Content: Most investing manuals espouse one sure-fire method or another. Four Pillars does that to an extent, but the author provides a great deal of depth and color to support his argument. I love that Bernstein takes a comprehensive, holistic approach to the subject, not just looking at the theory and business of investing, but also looking at the history and psychology of investing.

Applause: This is a great book for anyone that wants to self-educate on investing.

Criticism: The history section may be a bit of a slog for some readers. (From a review on Amazon.com: The new edition is essentially a reprint of the 2002 edition with a short commentary on the Great Recession.)


Investing for everyone


  • For anyone interested in investing

Content: Andrew Tobias is an entertaining writer. His jocular, conversational tone will keep you interested as he describes mutual funds, bonds, and treasury bills. There’s a good section on how to handle a windfall (lottery, inheritance).

My favorite bit from Tobias is his three-step budget: Destroy your credit cards, invest 20 percent of everything you earn (and never touch it), and live on the remaining 80 percent no matter what. Awesome.

Applause/Criticism: This is a classic introduction to the subject of investing, though at times it seems a little dated.


* The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing
by Larimore, Lindauer, and LeBoeuf
  • For anyone interested in investing

Content: You want expert investment advice? You can’t beat the info found here. These devotees of Vanguard founder John Bogle are big on slow, sure investments like indexed mutual funds. They tap their decades of experience to teach about diversification, inflation, and asset allocation. This book covers a broad range of topics, though its primary focus is investing.

Applause: Not nearly as boring as it sounds. Highly recommended.

Criticism: It sticks pretty much to the notion that index funds are the best choice and could have done a better job of teaching how to decide which is the best choice.


4th stage: Financial independence


Woman celebrating independence


Reaching financial independence

This penultimate section includes volumes covering topics related to financial independence — that magical point where you no longer have to work. This is the final stage of money management. For many people, this means retirement. But it doesn’t have to be that way. These books offer solid advice for how to create a future that matches your dreams.


Early Retirement Extreme
by Jacob Lund Fisker
  • For engineers

  • Anyone who wants to retire by cutting costs drastically

Content: Imagine a personal-finance book written by a theoretical physicist. What would it be like? Full of formulas and figures, right? Well, that’s what you get with “Early Retirement Extreme.” But you get more, too.

This is more than just a personal-finance book filled with formulas and figures. It’s also philosophical. This book is about strategies, not tactics — it’s about the big picture instead of the day-to-day actions needed to retire early. If you’re up to the challenge of filling in Fisker’s framework with your own details, this book could be a life-changer.

While many people think you need to earn big bucks to retire early, Fisker did it differently. Instead of boosting income, Fisker cut costs drastically. While drawing an average salary, he learned to live on less. Much less. He started to do things himself. His pre-retirement lifestyle and post-retirement lifestyle are essentially the same. Except now he doesn’t have to work.

Applause/Criticism: Early Retirement Extreme feels like a book written by an engineer for other engineers. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is unique. Some people will love it; others will hate it. But if you’re up to the challenge of filling in Fisker’s framework with your own details, this book could be a life-changer.


The Quiet Millionaire
by Brett Wilder
  • For those who are out of debt and building wealth

Content: “The Quiet Millionaire” is a quiet book. Wilder isn’t bombastic and he doesn’t tout any gimmicks. It’s not really a book for beginners. It’s targeted at folks who have reached the third stage of personal finance — or beyond.

Applause/Criticism: In many ways, “The Quiet Millionaire” is boring. It’s like a textbook for financial independence. But you know what? Smart personal finance is boring too. Smart personal finance isn’t about being flashy or gambling in the stock market. Smart personal finance is about making the right choices day after day, year after year. “The Quiet Millionaire” may not make any best-seller lists, but I’ll bet it makes some of its readers rich.


Work Less, Live More: The Way to Semi-Retirement
by Bob Clyatt
  • Those seeking alternatives to traditional retirement

Content: Clyatt describes techniques for leaving the workaday world years (or decades) before the traditional retirement age of 65. “Work Less, Live More” includes sections on defining your goals, learning to live on less, putting your investments on autopilot, and more.

This book is like a toned-down, practical version of “The 4-Hour Workweek.”

Applause/Criticism: Although this is applicable to all readers, high-income earners will find this material easier to apply.


  • Anyone interested in achieving financial independence

Content: The book is filled with investment advice, but it gives equal time to thrift and savings. Best of all, it asks as many questions as it provides answers. It prompts the reader to think, to evaluate her priorities. Its message is that yes, you can achieve financial independence; but you can’t get there overnight, and you can’t get there without setting goals and making sacrifices.

Applause: “Yes, You Can … Achieve Financial Independence” is informative without being dense. It’s accessible without being condescending. Its advice is solid.

Criticism: I didn’t find much to criticize about this book, and nor is there much criticism on Amazon.com – so there you have it!



Kids and money

Many parents are unprepared to teach their children about money. You needn’t be one of them. These books suggest methods for getting kids to understand how money works.


Raising Financially Confident Kids
by Mary Hunt
  • For parents

Content: This book provides a financial plan for your kids. Touching on debt, saving money, giving money, its goal is to help you teach your children how to handle money responsibly.

Applause: The book is practical and covers preschool-aged children to teenagers. So, if you haven’t started your child’s financial education as soon as you’d have liked, Hunt gives you tips on how to talk to your kid — no matter what age they are!

Criticism: If you are looking for a book about investing or entrepreneurship for kids, there are others that are better. This book is kind of like “The Tightwad Gazette” for kids.


What Color is Your Piggy Bank?
by Adelia Cellini Linecker
  • Kids from 10 to 14

  • Budding entrepreneurs

Content: Linecker covers the world of jobs, setting up shop, and how to manage money.


Growing Money: A Complete Investing Guide for Kids
by Gail Karlitz
  • Kids ready to consider how to build wealth

Content: Growing Money has good chapters on banks and bonds, but most of the book is devoted to stocks. The book also contains chapters on the history of the stock market, how investors make money, and how to buy and sell stocks.

Applause/Criticism: This is probably my favorite book for children, but it does have some weak spots. Only one page out of 120 is devoted to mutual funds. Because the book is aimed at children, taxes are barely considered. Still, its strengths outweigh its weaknesses. It’s the sort of book to buy for your nephew, but read yourself before you pass it on.


You Call the Shots
by Cameron Johnson
  • Young entrepreneurs

Content: This book was written by a young entrepreneur.

Applause: Flexo at Consumerism Commentary wrote: “This book should be required reading for any young adult showing an interest in entrepreneurship.”

Criticism: But the criticism on Amazon.com listed the inexperience of a young entrepreneur as a negative.


Living Simply with Children
by Marie Sherlock
  • For parents

Content: Sherlock offers tips for how to raise children that aren’t part of the consumerist culture. She encourages strong family ties as a counter to the relentless purchase to acquire stuff. Sherlock is also a proponent of using family rituals to replace consumer-oriented cultural activities.

Applause: There’s some great advice here (the book is strongly influenced by “Your Money or Your Life”).

Criticism: Some readers may be put off by the author’s philosophy.


The Wealthy Barber
by David Chilton
  • For beginners

  • Novel format

  • Great for teenagers

Content: This book offers good, general personal finance advice in the guise of a novel. Several friends meet once a month at the barber shop where the titular character dispenses wisdom on saving, investing, buying a house, and so on.

Applause: The advice here is excellent, often backed by clear examples. The book’s conversational tone may appeal to some who might otherwise be turned off by personal finance.

Criticism: While the conversational tone is a novel approach, some people may get impatient with it.

Final Thoughts

Though we’ve linked to the Amazon pages for many of these books, we encourage you to get them free from your public library. J.D. Roth used to acquire the books in his personal finance library on the cheap from garage sales and thrift stores.

I’m sure I’ve left out a book or two. Please feel free to add your favorites to our list!

[Editorial note: We updated this article about the list of 25 books in J.D. Roth's personal finance library, adding quite a number of other noteworthy books. They make great gifts (especially if you find a used book at a yard sale as J.D. used to do).]

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