Books about money that might make appropriate Christmas gifts

“My brother sucks with money,” a friend told me the other day. “I'm thinking of giving him a book about money for Christmas. Do you have any recommendations?”

“Honestly, I'm not sure gifting a book about money is the best way to help,” I said. “I know you mean well, but from my experience this sort of gift has the potential to create hard feelings rather than help. Sometimes it creates resistance rather than acceptance.”

“But didn't you get started with your financial turnaround because people gave you books about money?” my friend asked.

“Good point. That's true,” I said. “But that was because I was at rock bottom. My friends could tell that I was ready to listen, that I wanted help. Before that, if somebody had given me a book about money, I wouldn't have liked it.”

“I'll tell you what,” I said. “I'll draw up a list of books you might want to consider, and I'll publish the list at Get Rich Slowly sometime soon. Sound good?”

“Sounds good,” my friend said.

After some consideration, I've put together a short list of books about money that might be appropriate for gifting. If you too want to help out a friend or family member, these are great options. But as I warned my friend, try to be certain the intended recipient is ready to listen. Otherwise you run the risk of pissing them off.

Books About Money

My default recommendation is Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. My friend Michael sent me a copy of this book when I was at the lowest point of my financial life. (But he only did so because he could tell I was ready to read it.)

Your Money or Your Life introduced many concepts that nowadays we take for granted in the world of personal finance. It covers budgeting, mindful spending, financial independence, simple living, and your true hourly wage. And it conveys the info using real-life stories from real-life people. (The book can get a little New Age-y in parts, so keep that in mind.)

That's my default recommendation. Based on the subject's circumstances, though, I might suggest a different title. Here are some examples:

  • For young adults just starting out, I recommend I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi. Sethi's book is filled with actionable advice applicable to kids just out of college (or high school). It covers topics such as salary negotiation, basic investing, and smart use of credit. This is an essential money manual for people in their early twenties.
  • What if it's too late to catch your intended recipient before they develop bad habits? When it comes to books about debt reduction, there are several good options. If your friend is Christian (or open-minded enough that they don't mind religious talk in a book), then Dave Ramsey's The Total Money Makeover is the gold standard. For short and sweet, I like Debt is Slavery. For touchy-feely, try the excellent Dear Debt by Melanie Lockert (which I'll review next Sunday!). And an often-overlooked past bestseller is How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously by Jerrold Mundis [my review].
  • For parents with young children, consider The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber. This book covers work, allowances, consumerism, charity, gratitude, and more. It's a terrific guide to instilling financial wisdom in our youth.
  • For folks you suspect might be interested in financial independence and/or early retirement, I think Work Less, Live More by Bob Clyatt is a great bet [my review]. It's not as intense as some other FIRE books can be, yet it offers plenty of sensible advice. If “intense” is actually appropriate, then consider Jacob Lund Fisker's excellent and hard-core Early Retirement Extreme. (But I'd only suggest that if the person you're giving it to has expressed an interest in early retirement and/or has an analytical mind.)

Just typing this list, I'm filled with trepidation. Giving gifts that attempt to teach an overt lesson is…well, risky. It's not the best approach. Instead, I think it's often better to come at things sideways. In the case of helping somebody get better with money, I might pass along a book that's more subtle, something tangentially related to the subject.

Books Obliquely Related to Money

For instance, I'm a huge fan of all of the following — and none of them come across as “preachy” (especially if you include a personalized note that explains how the book changed your life).

  • The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey has helped millions of people achieve happier, more productive lives. When I first read this, I thought it was pop psychology at its worst. How wrong I was. The older I get, the more I realize this book is filled with solid advice. Mr. Money Mustache and I have had a couple of conversations about how the ideas in this book are important to building a mental framework that leads to financial success.
  • The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck is another massive bestseller that can lead to improved psychological and emotional stability. The first section on discipline is especially powerful. Peck says that we can achieve mental and spiritual health by using four tools to cope with the challenges we face: delayed gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to truth, and balance. (When I pulled The Road Less Traveled from my bookshelf to write this blurb, I realized I'm in a place in my life where I ought to re-read it. That's what I'll do this afternoon.)
  • The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz is another million-copy bestseller that Mr. Money Mustache and I both admire. [Here's his review.] This book was written in 1959, and it feels like it. (Sometimes it seems like something out of Mad Men!) But once you get past the funny phrases and outdated anecdotes, The Magic of Thinking Big is dense with practical ideas for making your life (and the world) a better place. Topics covered include how to cure yourself of excusitis (“the failure disease”), how to build confidence and destroy fear, how to make your attitudes your allies, how to get into the action habit, and how to use goals to help you grow.
  • A modern companion to these three classics might be Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. When I first found this book a year ago, I re-read it four times in a single week. It's that good. Duckworth's thesis is that while talent and skill do matter, grit — the combination of passion, patience, and perseverance — matters more. Grit has fewer practical action steps than the other books on this list, but it's a modern book in a modern style that might be more accessible to many people.

Finally, another way to impart financial wisdom is through biographies. For example, I enjoyed The Snowball by Alice Schroeder, which is a thick and thorough look at the life of Warren Buffett. Schroeder shows how Buffett's path to wealth started from a young age, when he'd go door to door selling chewing gum and soda pop to people in his neighborhood. This money “became the first few snowflakes in a snowball of money to come,” she writes. Then she chronicles the next seventy years as he becomes one of the richest men on Earth.

How do you feel about giving money books as gifts? Have you done this in the past? If so, which book did you give and how was it received? Has somebody given you a personal finance book before? How did it make you feel? Did you learn from it? If you wanted to give a gift that would help a friend or family member improve their circumstances, what would you give?

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Accidental Fire
Accidental Fire
2 years ago

I agree, givig a book like that is not-so-passive aggressive. You’re kinda saying “you suck at money, and it’s my job to teach you, but I don’t even want to do that so read this”.

I like The Magic of Thinking Big. It’s so awsome, in it’s 1950’s style. To me that’s a book that anyne can read and get something useful out of.

Brian @ singledadmoney
Brian @ singledadmoney
2 years ago

Great recommendations. I agree on being open-minded about The Total Money Makeover. It’s a great book for folks starting out and dealing with debt. There’s a couple books listed I want to look at and I’ll read your reviews. Thanks

WantNotToWantNot
WantNotToWantNot
2 years ago

I had some relatives who were way too spendy for their own good, and the only way they could envision getting out of their situation was by winning the Lottery–they were in that kind of magical denial. On the way to visit them, at the airport I picked up a paperback copy of “The Millionaire Next Door” to re-read on the plane (a book that argues against status spending and reveals that the rich are rich because they practice frugality—yep!). I “happened” to leave the book behind in the guest room, knowing that the title would entice them. And….amazingly, it… Read more »

dh
dh
2 years ago

My first recommendation is always The Power of Now. Or even better than that, though not a book, is this audio teaching by Barry Long:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrxRgpsrpGg

Moola-wise, Your Money or Your Life is great, particularly the new edition, which now promotes broad index funds. The conclusive teaching of almost all the personal finance texts and blogs is to work, save, live debt-free, and invest in a broad index fund like VTSMX. Once this has been understood, there is really no need for endless reading. Although I’m still gonna read GRS — because it’s fun!

Michael Robertson
Michael Robertson
2 years ago

Welcome back home J.D. I wrote for you years ago as my family and I were leaving to go sailing, having sold everything and upended our conventional lives. We’re still out here (currently in Fiji) and we’ll be wrapping up next year in Australia, selling the boat and returning to convention–sort of. As a result of this life change, I’ve embarked an entirely different, less lucrative, and more fulfilling career. All is good. All the best to you, I look forward to following along.

Anders
Anders
2 years ago

Hey J.D.! It’s cool to see you back to GRS, I don’t think I’ve said congratz, or good job or what else could be in order here. But it’s nice to see you here. 🙂 It’s an interesting topic with book gifts and like you and others write here, it’s difficult. It’s like you try to impose your ideas on people who might not want them. I gave my sister a book about investing and general thinking about saving. She actually wants to get her money in order. But she still didn’t read it. I mean, she appreciated the gift… Read more »

Ron Cameron
Ron Cameron
2 years ago

Thanks for the diverse book list! I’ve read a few of them and I agree – some people might take it poorly if they received them as gifts. The way I present it is “Laurel and I just read this looking for new ideas and we thought you might be interested. It’s not perfect but it -is- pretty eye opening. If you don’t like it just pass it along to someone who might!” Your Money or Your Life is pretty harmless, and ERE is entertaining at a minimum. But they both make you “question reality”, and that’s important when you’re… Read more »

Steve Juetten, CFP®
Steve Juetten, CFP®
2 years ago

A book about money is a touchy subject and I like the way Ron Cameron frames it. Nicely done. For many of my clients, in addition to “Your Money or Your Life” we recommend “The Soul of Money” by Lynne Twist and for many women, we recommend any book by Barbara Stanny, for example, “Overcoming Under Earning.”

SG
SG
2 years ago

I think the biggest thing with buying/recommending a book is to pick one that either you really like/believe in or one you think the recipient will. If you find a money book that you just really like and it speaks to you, then you can carry off “I love this book and want everyone to read it!” rather than “You totally need to learn something from this.” I’ve done that with financial or political books without offense because it isn’t about sending a message to the other person as much as sharing a piece of yourself, even if they don’t… Read more »

wm
wm
2 years ago

Early Bird – the Power of Investing Young review:

If there is a young person in your life about whom you care deeply and wish them a comfortable financial future, it is vitally important to help them understand the benefits of investing while young. Maya’s book is a great way of conveying that info and helping them get started while they still have plenty of time for their investment snowballs to gain speed so they can enjoy the full benefits of compound interest.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1973235439

Steven
Steven
2 years ago

A wonderful, comprehensive list JD! Thank you! I thoroughly agree that “Your money or your life” is a life-changing read! Seriously! I was deep in debt, and spending WAY beyond my means when I picked up that book. I’m now just over 3 years on from that point, and my habits and mentality towards spending could not be more different! Whereas in the past I would drive, or take a taxi, these days I’ll walk as I’m too tight (cheap) to use the BUS! Ha! Please keep on inspiring us JD. Yours, Steven.

tracy
tracy
2 years ago

We loved to give The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens: 8 Steps to Having More Money Than Your Parents Ever Dreamed of and sticking a $20 bill as a bookmark on the page where they have the compound interest chart as a high school graduation gift. But it is 15+ years old now and we haven’t found a decent replacement that has that right amount of cheekiness and good sense for an 18 year old and won’t offend the parents. I keep looking though…

Gary Keyes
Gary Keyes
1 year ago

What about your manual? Some links may be a little outdated, but all the concepts remain rock solid. Gave a copy to both my kids when they moved out of the house.

Grokking Money
Grokking Money
1 year ago

If I see that my friend is not yet ready to begin their money make over journey or whatever you want to call it, I would just begin with sharing my mistakes and just share my own learning in the process. It has often helped me gauge their interest and also from how they respond know if they want to hear about it or not. Once I see any reciprocation of interest, then and only then I start sharing about concrete steps. An important thing to realize is that not everyone is at the same starting point on this journey.… Read more »

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