“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?