The best books on money: 25 essential personal finance books
I shared a list of my favorite books about money once before, but that was over two years ago. I've read dozens of books since then (and thumbed through dozens more). Here is a revised list of 25 great books about money.
These are all books that I found entertaining or influential. There are still many “big name” books that I haven't read, such as “A Random Walk Down Wall Street” and “The Intelligent Investor,” and I've left off some perennial favorites such as “The Richest Man in Babylon” and “The Wealthy Barber.”
These books are grouped into sections, roughly following the financial progression of the average person (from debt to financial independence). I've linked to the Amazon page for each book, but, as always, I encourage you to borrow the titles that interest you from your public library. If you prefer to read on a device, get to know Overdrive, which allows you to borrow e-books for free.
For those in the first stage of personal finance, 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 three books that describe different approaches to winning the fight:
The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
Ramsey is an anti-credit zealot. He made a $4 million fortune by his mid-twenties, and then lost it to bankruptcy. Now he runs a personal-finance empire. He takes a lot of criticism for his support of the debt snowball, which he describes in detail here, but the thing is, his methods work. If you're struggling with debt, there's no better starting place than The Total Money Makeover. Ramsey's advice is permeated with his Christianity, but you can get a lot out of this book even if you're not religious. [My review.]
Debt is Slavery by Michael Mihalik
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? Well, I think it's great. In fact, I found myself wishing that I had written it. Mihalik's advice is spot-on, and 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. This book may be short, but it's sweet. Especially great for recent graduates, I think.
How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously by Jerrold Mundis
How to Get Out of Debt is built on the principles of Debtors Anonymous, a twelve-step program founded in 1971 to help those who struggle with compulsive debt. Jerrold 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. If you've tried Dave Ramsey without success, read this. It's 20 years old, but the information is timeless. [My review.]
Everyday Personal Finance
After you've defeated debt, you enter the second stage of personal finance, mastering the everyday habits that allow you to build wealth. The books listed here offer a wide view, discussing many aspects of money. They offer advice about saving, investing, and frugality. 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.
Your Money or Your Life by Dominguez, Robin, and Tilford
A classic, and one of the foundation books for the simplicity movement. The authors play off the concept “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. A little New Age-y in spots. Your Money or Your Life is an excellent book, and a huge influence on many prominent personal-finance bloggers. I hope to review the new, revised edition of YMoYL soon.
All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi
I didn't like All Your Worth when I first read it. The book takes a dim view of frugality and thrift, and it contains some wild assumptions (like 12% stock market returns). But with time, I've 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. This book's balanced money formula is probably the single most important part of my current financial plan. There's good stuff here, though you may need to filter some of the authors' rhetoric. [My review.]
I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
This book is great, but it's not for everyone. It's targeted almost exclusively at young adults. If you're under 30 and single, and if you make a decent living, this book is perfect. But if you're 45 and married with two children, and if you struggle to make ends meet, this book is less useful. Plus, Ramit has a strong authorial voice. He's bold, sarcastic, and even a little sassy. Not everyone likes this. If you're turned off by his blog (or by his guest posts at Get Rich Slowly), you'll be turned off by his tone in this book. These caveats aside, I Will Teach You to Be Rich is packed with solid advice, cites its sources, and provides scores of tactical tips for managing money. [My review.]
The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn
“The Tightwad Gazette” was a newsletter published during the early 1990s by Amy Dacyczyn (pronounced “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 frugality!)
Learning to invest your money wisely is one important aspect of the middle stages of financial development. Wall Street is not friendly to the small investor. It's designed to part you from your hard-earned dollars. These books can help you develop an investment philosophy that will let you improve your odds of retiring wealthy.
The Four Pillars of Investing by William Bernstein
I've read dozens of books about investing. Of these, The Four Pillars of Investing is probably my favorite. 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. This is a great book. [My review.]
The Random Walk Guide to Investing by Burton Malkiel
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 easy to understand. But that doesn't mean it's simplistic. 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. [My review.]
The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias
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% of everything you earn (and never touch it), and live on the remaining 80% no matter what. Awesome. The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need is a classic introduction to the subject of investing, though at times it seems a little dated. (You can read Andrew Tobias every day at his blog)
The Bogleheads' Guide to Investing by Larimore, Lindauer, and LeBoeuf
You want expert investment advice? You can't beat the info found in The Bogleheads' Guide to Investing. These devotees of Vanugard 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. It's not nearly as boring as it sounds. This book covers a broad range of topics, though its primary focus is investing. Highly recommended.
The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach
There's more to David Bach than just “the latté factor”. The system he recommends in The Automatic Millionaire 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 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 be in need of an update.
This next group of books may be my favorite. These volumes cover 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.
The Millionaire Next Door by Stanley and Danko
The authors interviewed and surveyed a pool of millionaires, attempting to find common connections among them. They discovered that millionaires live below their means. They budget. They let their adult children make it on their own. This book introduces several key concepts, including degrees of wealth accumulation. It's a bit tedious in spots, at least in the audio version. The Millionaire Next Door is one of just a few books to cover both sides of the wealth equation: saving money and earning money. [My review.]
Yes, You Can…Achieve Financial Independence by James Stowers
Yes, You Can…Achieve Financial Independence is informative without being dense. It's accessible without being condescending. Its advice is solid. 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. [My review.]
The Incredible Secret Money Machine by Don Lancaster
The Incredible Secret Money Machine is a hard-to-find volume from 1978 that 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 “nickels”. Nickels are small streams of revenue from individual customers. 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. One of my Dad's favorites, and one of my favorites, too. [My review.]
The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
The 4-Hour Workweek is a frustrating book. A lot of the advice seems impractical and out-of-reach for the average person. But on the other hand, it's filled with inspirational anecdotes and provocative ideas about how you can make the leap from desk jockey to the pursuit of your dreams. In my review, I wrote that this book “is like a kick in the head”, and it's true. The flow of ideas is relentless. Despite its flaws, I think this is a great book. [My review.]
Work Less, Live More: The Way to Semi-Retirement by Bob Clyatt
While Financial Independence is my long-term dream, semi-retirement is my more immediate goal. Clyatt describes techniques for leaving the workaday world years (or decades) before the traditional retirement age of 65. Work Less, Live More: The Way to Semi-Retirement 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. I like it. A lot.
The Psychology of Money
I firmly believe that success with money is more about mind than it is about math. We all understand the arithmetic behind personal finance — to build wealth, you must spend less than you earn — it's mastering the emotions and habits that causes us trouble. These books explore your money and your brain.
Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes (and How to Correct Them) by Gary Belsky and Thomas Gilovich
In Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes (and How to Correct Them), Belsky and Gilovich catalog a menagerie of mental mistakes that cause people to spend more than they should. What might have been a boring topic becomes fascinating thanks to an engaging style and plenty of anecdotes and examples. This book covers more than a dozen psychological barriers to wealth and explains how to prevent them from sabotaging you. [My review.]
The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz
I just finished The Paradox of Choice the other night, and hope to provide a full review in the next week. It's fascinating. 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 twenty. Too much choice doesn't just make us unhappy — it prevents us from making smart decisions. Fascinating stuff.
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.
Living Simply with Children by Marie Sherlock
In Living Simply with Children, 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. There's some great advice here (the book is strongly influenced by Your Money or Your Life), but some readers may be put off by the author's philosophy.
Growing Money: A Complete Investing Guide for Kids by Gail Karlitz
Growing Money: A Complete Investing Guide for Kids 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. 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. [My review.]
What Color is Your Piggy Bank? by Adelia Cellini Linecker
What Color is Your Piggy Bank? is a slim volume that's a great choice for kids from 10-14 who are beginning to show an interest in entrepreneurship. Linecker covers the world of jobs, setting up shop, and how to manage money.
This final trio of books won't help you get rich — at least not directly. These don't contain overt stock tips or advice for frugal living. Instead, they tell real-life stories about certain aspects of finance.
Den of Thieves by James B. Stewart
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 were able to see just how corrupting the influence of money can be. A little dense at times, but a great way to learn about the market.
Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist by Roger Lowenstein
It's no secret that Warren Buffett is one of my financial heroes. In Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist, Roger Lowenstein describes the events that shaped Warren Buffett's life, starting as a boy in the early 1930s. As we follow Buffett's growth, we learn about the development of investment theory. This biography has plenty of information about Buffett's investment philosophy. Entertaining and educational.
Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel
Writer Studs Terkel published Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression 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. By including the perspectives of so many different people, Terkel is able to paint a richer picture of what things were like. [My review.]
Bonus! The Worst Book About Money
Over the past few years, I've read many bad books about money. But none can compare to the idiocy contained in The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. This book promotes all of the wrong messages, and encourages readers to believe that if they simply wish for something, it will come true.
The Secret contains tips like:
- “It is helpful to use your imagination and make-believe you already have the money you want. Play games of having wealth and you will feel better about money; as you feel better about it, more will flow into your life.”
- “The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts.”
- “Visualize checks in the mail.”
“This kind of crap is dangerous,” I wrote in my original review. “It's get-rich-quick drivel of the worst sort. It doesn't help people address their money issues. It puts them into a pattern of wishful thinking.”
This book is awful.
Few personal finance books are perfect. For most, you need to employ personal filters. Dave Ramsey's The Total Money Makeover is a fantastic book on debt reduction, but if you're not Christian, you'll have to tune out the Bible verses. All Your Worth contains a great plan for achieving financial balance, but you may need to ignore its constant disparaging of frugality and thrift.
Because I've limited myself to 25 books, I've had to leave a lot of great titles off the list. Please feel free to share your favorite books about money and explain why others should read them.