When it comes to managing money, many of us are self-taught.
That’s because in the U.S., just 21 states require that high school students pass a personal finance course to graduate, according to a 2020 survey by the Council for Economic Education. In years past, personal finance curriculum was even less formalized across the country, so it’s no wonder adults today turn to online resources and books to learn more about banking, mortgages, investing, retirement planning and beyond.
Some personal finance books target a specific audience — whether it be people nearing retirement, millennials, women or low-income families — so weeding out the advice that does not apply to your situation is one of the challenges in pursuing broad money management advice from a book rather than a professional. But a personal finance book can offer fundamental knowledge and expert insights with an incredibly high return on investment, and many of these books are available for free through local library services.
Here are a few of the best personal finance books available today:
— “Your Money or Your Life” by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez.
— “The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing” by Taylor Larimore, Mel Lindauer and Michael LeBoeuf.
— “The Millionaire Next Door” by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko.
— “Financial Freedom” by Grant Sabatier.
— “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey.
— “The Psychology of Money” by Morgan Housel.
— “Raising Financially Fit Kids” by Joline Godfrey.
— “The Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham.
— “Smart Women Love Money” by Alice Finn.
“Your Money or Your Life” by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez
Best for: Everyone.
This book was first published in 1992, but the principles unearthed in it hold true.
“It helps readers determine what money means to them, how much is enough, and how to reach financial independence while conserving earth’s resources,” Carol Gosho, a certified financial planner and principal and founder of Gosho Financial Group in California, wrote in an email. “The book’s philosophy confirmed my conclusion that it is not our patriotic duty to consume and spend beyond our means but rather learn how to generate enough passive income to live the life we choose.”
“Your Money or Your Life” has since been revised and updated, and it’s applauded for covering both long-standing and modern approaches to money management. It can also provide a bit of wisdom for a wide range of readers, covering issues such as getting out of debt, saving strategies and basic investment strategies to go the distance.
[Read: 15 Creative Ways to Save Money.]
“The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing” by Taylor Larimore, Mel Lindauer and Michael LeBoeuf
Best for: Beginner investors.
“The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing” is a great first investing book.
Created by followers of John C. Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group and advocate for the index mutual fund, this book outlines the Bogleheads’ style of investing in a way that’s clear and easy to understand.
The book is a product of a movement away from attempts to time the market and instead toward a slow and steady investment strategy that relies on a few simple principles, including keeping investing expenses low. More insights from like-minded investors can be found on the Bogleheads community forum.
“Financial Freedom” by Grant Sabatier
Best for: Millennials.
Called the “millennial millionaire,” Grant Sabatier shares his strategies for going from 24 years old and broke to having a net worth of more than $1.25 million in just five years in his book, “Financial Freedom.”
Becoming financially free might mean having the freedom to quit a hated job or travel the world, and this book provides a step-by-step guide to achieving those goals, whatever they may be. The process will likely involve some creativity and outside-the-box thinking, but his advice is also practical and manageable. He covers topics like side hustles, employer negotiations and investment strategy, with the ultimate goal of creating more time to do what you love.
“The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey
Best for: Borrowers.
Applauded for its tough approach to money management, “The Total Money Makeover” can truly make a difference in the lives of those struggling with debt and credit cards.
Dave Ramsey says families should start with seven steps, including: Save $1,000 in an emergency fund, pay off all debt (except mortgage) using a debt “snowball” strategy and save three to six months of expenses in a fully funded emergency fund.
[Read: What Debt to Pay Off First?]
“The Millionaire Next Door” by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko
Best for: Everyone.
This book can be incredibly eye-opening, particularly for younger individuals and families just starting out.
Combining data and expert insights, “The Millionaire Next Door” uncovers the truth of what a millionaire really looks like — and it may not be what you’d expect.
The ideas covered in this book are simple but powerful: “Spend less than what you make. Save money every month. If you spend less, your income need will be less and therefore your taxes will be lower,” Lawrence Pon, a tax specialist and certified financial planner in California, who lists the book as one of his favorites, wrote in an email. “For example, if you buy a less expensive house, it will cost less to maintain and your property taxes will be lower.”
“The Psychology of Money” by Morgan Housel
Best for: Overspenders.
A financial plan is worthless without proper execution. But sticking to a budget and making smart financial decisions habitually can be a challenge.
“The Psychology of Money” uncovers the real ways people make decisions about money and helps readers make sense of their own behaviors when it comes to finances.
“Raising Financially Fit Kids” by Joline Godfrey
Best for: Parents.
Parents can play a role in helping children establish positive money habits early and understand the complexities of money management as they grow. “Raising Financially Fit Kids” covers the ways financial education can help children achieve their dreams and become more confident, as well as concepts like financial sustainability and charitable giving.
This book aligns the five developmental stages — children, tweens, middle schoolers, high schoolers and 20-somethings — with financial education benchmarks, so its principles can be useful for parents of children at different ages.
“The Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham
Best for: Intermediate to advanced investors.
Ready to level up your portfolio management? “The Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham describes in detail his philosophy of value investing, in which investors choose stocks that appear to be trading for less than their intrinsic value.
Considered the stock market bible since it was first published in 1949, the book has since been revised with insights for modern investors.
“Smart Women Love Money” by Alice Finn
Best for: Beginner investors.
Women don’t tend to invest as frequently as men, and “Smart Women Love Money” by Alice Finn isolates and attacks barriers standing in their way.
Finn’s book provides an overview of the challenges and unique financial circumstances women experience before turning to five steps to successful investing for women. These include investing in stocks for the long run, allocating assets and rebalancing a portfolio regularly.
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Update 07/08/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.