52 Books, 52 Weeks: A Buyer’s Guide

After posting my final rankings of all of the books I’ve read in the past year, several readers wrote to me saying that several of the books looked interesting, but they weren’t sure which one was right for them. I offered a few ideas, but then I realized that one final concluding post that summarized the best picks for people in different financial situations might be worthwhile.

I tried to define several common financial situations that I see my readers in, and then tried to define the best personal finance book for that situation. Not only might this be useful for you to find a book to read, but it might be useful for you when picking out a book for someone else to read, either as a gift or as a book suggestion. Hopefully, it might point you or someone you care about down a financially healthy road for the future.

If you’re drowning in debt…
The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey

total money makeoverThe advice offered in this book isn’t particularly unique – in fact, you’ll often find something like it in many personal finance books. What makes The Total Money Makeover really stand out from the crowd, particularly for people in a deep debt situation, is the passion and fire that Ramsey brings to the table.

Ramsey doesn’t just bring a financial plan to the table and expect you to follow it. He breaks it down to the point where anyone can take that first step, and with the fire of a preacher at a Pentecostal revival, he demands that you get up out of that chair and take that first step. His tone is fervent and strong and urgent, just the right mix needed for a book aimed at people who have dug themselves into a deep financial pit.

If you want to know more about The Total Money Makeover, read my lengthy review of it or check out what Amazon has to say about it.

If your finances are in order and you’re just beginning to invest…
The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing by Taylor Larimore, Mel Lindauer, Michael LeBoeuf, and John C. Bogle

bogleThere are a mountain of investing books out there, but very few present an organized, in-depth, well-explained philosophy of conservative investing, and none that I have read do it better than The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing. It presents a cohesive philosophy of investing that spreads from the very basics of how to manage your finances and your life to the intricacies of how exactly to invest in stocks, bonds, and other commodities.

Very few books period lay out such a complete vision as this one, and almost none are written to be accessible to the beginning investor. This book does not throw you into the deep end of the swimming pool, nor does it present a risky philosophy in any way. It’s basically the perfect way for someone to get their feet wet in investing, figuring out their risk tolerance and learning along the way. Nor does it require a lot of research – most of the answers you need will come from this book and the suggested online resources. In short, this is the strongest book for beginning investors I’ve yet read.

If you want to know more about The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing, read my lengthy review of it or check out what Amazon has to say about it.

If you’re dissatisfied with your job or looking at a career change…
What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles

parachuteThere are a lot of job hunting books out there, but most of them just focus on how to package yourself to get a job and how to find a job you want. While that information is useful, it doesn’t really address deeper questions, like what exactly should you be doing with your professional life.

What Color Is Your Parachute? starts off as one of those ordinary job hunting books, but it goes that extra step. Through a series of really insightful self-analysis techniques, the book guides you to where you really should be with your professional life, indicating the professional choices that really fulfill you by maximizing your talents and your passion. It’s incredibly readable and the exercises are quite slick – in fact, reading it again recently and trying the exercises pointed me in the direction of being a writer.

If you want to know more about What Color Is Your Parachute?, read my lengthy review of it or check out what Amazon has to say about it.

If you’re incredibly busy and don’t have time to worry about personal finance…
Smart and Simple Financial Strategies for Busy People by Jane Bryant Quinn

jbqThere are a lot of young professionals out there who are quite cavalier with their money. They work hard and they play hard, not worrying too much about getting their financial houses straight. Most of the time, these people are bright enough to figure out that they’re making mistakes if life slaps them hard, but for the most part they don’t really have time to obsess over money management.

That description just about perfectly matches me two or three years ago. Fortunately, life did slap me pretty hard on the face and woke me up, but for others, a sound dollop of financial advice that can be applied very quickly and efficiently to ensure a good financial future might be in order. Those are exactly the people that Quinn is speaking to here, and the advice is really spot-on: automate everything you can, give yourself a cushion, and plan for your future.

If you want to know more about Smart and Simple Financial Strategies for Busy People, read my lengthy review of it or check out what Amazon has to say about it.

If you don’t know how to talk to your significant other or your parents about money…
It Pays to Talk by Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz and Charles Schwab

talkA good number of personal finance books touch on issues of how to talk about finances with the people closest to you, but it’s really not an easy thing to do, especially for someone like me who is a bit of an introvert and has a hard time just sitting down and opening up with people. It Pays to Talk is the one book that really changed that.

Instead of treating this challenge as just a small sidebar to personal finance, this book puts it front and center, providing tons of techniques for opening the doors of discussion about money with the people you care about the most. It was the advice in this book that finally convinced me to close my eyes, take a deep breath, and open up some doors of conversation that were a bit uncomfortable, but really needed to be opened.

If you want to know more about It Pays to Talk, read my lengthy review of it or check out what Amazon has to say about it.

If you’re an expectant parent or the parent of an infant or toddler-aged child…
Born to Buy by Juliet Schor

bornWhen we first discovered that my wife was pregnant with our first child, I threw myself into reading books of all kinds on parenting and other such topics. After the entire pregnancy, only two really stood out from the pack – Born to Buy and The Read-Aloud Handbook – and Born to Buy was the one that opened my eyes the most.

We live in a consumer culture, and to believe that such culture doesn’t begin targeting kids even in their infant stages is flat-out wrong. Schor’s book is extremely well researched and incredibly thorough, laying out the countless ways that marketing can affect our children almost as soon as they’re born. Even more importantly, the book offers a lot of suggestions on how to minimize the impact of all of this marketing on our children – and I’ve started applying almost all of it with my own children.

If you want to know more about Born to Buy, read my lengthy review of it or check out what Amazon has to say about it.

If you’re the parent of an older child (grade school age)…
The First National Bank of Dad by David Owen

bankAs my son has grown older, though, he has begun to interact with money, saving pocket change up so he can buy new toy cars at the store. This opens up a whole new can of worms: should we give him an allowance? Should that allowance be tied to chores around the house? How do I teach him to save some of his money, or to give some of that money to charity? How should we handle birthday money?

The First National Bank of Dad handles these questions in a frank and incredibly readable way and draws some interesting conclusions as well. The whole “bank of dad” concept is that he functions as a bank for his children, offering them very nice interest rates on the money they choose to save so that they can quickly learn about the benefits of saving, but the book goes much further than that, examining many specific issues that come up throughout childhood. I read this book twice and it’s about to become a permanent fixture on my bookshelf.

If you want to know more about The First National Bank of Dad, read my lengthy review of it or check out what Amazon has to say about it.

If you’re about to graduate college or have recently graduated…
Automatic Wealth for Grads by Michael Masterson

bankThis is actually a very good book for a very, very specific target audience. It’s utterly perfect for a recent college graduate just entering the workforce, as it covers workplace issues and basic personal finance for a person receiving a decent salary for the first time. In some ways, that’s the problem – it hits the target audience so well that most others that read it won’t get too much out of it.

This creates an interesting situation, where I strongly recommend the book to anyone who is within a few years of their college graduation but strongly do not recommend it to anyone else because the ideas will be somewhat confusing. In fact, this has pretty much become my default “college graduation” gift for college graduates that I know (often slipping a bit of cash inside the front cover). Why? The advice in here is really stuff that they’ll find useful and that they need to know to take those first steps into real adult life from the college background that has hopefully set them up for success.

If you want to know more about Automatic Wealth for Grads, read my lengthy review of it or check out what Amazon has to say about it.

If you are a teenager or early twentysomething completely lost when it comes to finances…
The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke by Suze Orman

bankIt is rather challenging to reach people under twenty five with personal finance issues because, frankly, a lot of them could care less. They’re far more interested in spending money, enjoying college, and doing all of the typical stuff that a college-age person does. Orman, for all of the criticism levied at her, does a very good job here of understanding the reality of this situation and instead of writing another rather dry personal finance book, she pretty much directly targets people in this stage of their lives.

What sets it apart? First, it doesn’t demand major changes of the reader. Orman knows, quite sensibly, that most people in that age range are inundated with marketing and choices and a very busy social lifestyle, and thus doesn’t demand that the person starts making huge financial changes when the reality is that most of them won’t. Second, Orman packs away any condescension in her tone for this book, realizing quite correctly that it’s largely a waste of time for an older adult to be condescending to a young adult about financial issues unless you’re begging for rejection. Third, most of the book is in a question-and-answer format that’s very easy to pick up and read bits and pieces of. This adds up to something that’s actually readable and palatable for a person just beginning to get glimpses of the financial realities of adulthood. I have a fifteen year old niece who has a pretty lucrative babysitting business, a level head, and a penchant for clothes – this is pretty much the only personal finance book I would suggest for her.

If you want to know more about The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke, read my lengthy review of it or check out what Amazon has to say about it.

If you’re trying to stretch a family’s budget…
America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money by Steve and Annette Economides

cheapOne of the most interesting transformations that happens when you move from being single to being married, then to being a family, is the radical changes that happen to your financial situation. You find that you still spend hand over fist, but that the stuff you spend on tends to change drastically and quite often there are no training wheels, as I discovered when I had my first child. America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money is the perfect book for that adjustment when you realize that your old habits are no longer cutting it.

This book is almost a beginner’s guide to frugality, walking through applying basic frugality techniques to many different avenues of life without abandoning a quality lifestyle. Because of that approach, the information in this book is both palatable and useful to any family situation, and it can be particularly helpful in those situations where the budget may be a bit on the tight side.

If you want to know more about America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money, read my lengthy review of it or check out what Amazon has to say about it.

If you need to stretch a family budget even more…
The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Daczyzyn

tightIf you’ve mastered basic frugality but are still mining for additional ways to save money, The Complete Tightwad Gazette is the mother lode. It’s almost 1,000 pages full of short articles on specific frugality topics, ranging from the highly useful to the extreme.

What sets this book apart is the ability to pick up and go at any moment. You can literally flip it open to any page and start reading, because a new article starts on nearly every page. Because of that, it’s a great way to burn a few minutes learning about frugal issues. The fact that Amy Daczyzyn is a very good writer, with a very down-to-earth and breezy tone, makes this book even more of a treat. In fact, it’s good enough that I’ve witnessed this book as a bathroom reader in multiple houses – so take that for what you will.

If you want to know more about The Complete Tightwad Gazette, read my lengthy review of it or check out what Amazon has to say about it.

If you have money and want easy recipes that work for exactly how to invest…
The Lazy Person’s Guide to Investing by Paul Farrelll

lazyThe Lazy Person’s Guide to Investing is basically just a collection of individual portfolios of mutual funds that different people have constructed, which sounds incredibly boring at first glance. Two things keep it from being boring, though: Farrell has a great tone as a writer, full of humor and self-deprecation, and the explanations of the portfolios are interesting and make a great deal of sense.

If you have some money to invest and just want a recipe for how to invest it and then just sit back and not worry about it, this is the book to read. You’ll come to find very quickly that building an investment portfolio that you don’t have to think about is actually quite easy and isn’t laden with fees as it would be if you headed down to your local brokerage. Farrell largely sticks to low-cost index funds for his investments, making choices to ensure that your money is in diverse places.

If you want to know more about The Lazy Person’s Guide to Investing, read my lengthy review of it or check out what Amazon has to say about it.

Hopefully, these options will point you towards a personal finance book appropriate for you to curl up with this winter!

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  1. Very helpful list!

    I’ve read about half so far and recently purchased What Color is Your Parachute for the upcoming book club. I’m looking forward to reading that and eventually all of these books. Well, not the books for teens or parents…yet. :)

  2. J-Rock says:

    Trent,

    I love the site. It’s on my regular to read list because I know your topics will at least give me something to think about.

    I would like to comment on the amount of shilling that goes on though.

    I understand this is a supplemental side business and you’d like to make enough to quit your regular job, work from home, or what have you, but I find it ironic that on a site devoted to frugality and the evils of over consumerism, you link yorur readers to affiliated links at any opportunity.

    Again, I understand why this is done. I guess I’d just like it to be more up front and honest. I mean “See what Amazon has to say about it (link)”? Do we care what Amazon thinks, or is this an opportunity for me to spend money I may not need to?

    I really started thinking about it with your entry on U2’s the Joshua Tree. Why not just post your love for the album? Or a link to it’s wikipedia entry, if information is really what you’re imparting.

    Again, I really dig the site, but in the future are we going to see Trent’s top 10 movies or 5 books I read in December, etc. simply to link us to Amazon?

    Keep up the ‘good’ work!

  3. I know some people are not too fond of her, but I love Suze Orman…I like her kind hearted but tough approach to helping simple folks with their personal finance issues.
    -R

  4. !wanda says:

    Dude, your criticism is only remotely valid if Trent gets money from Amazon for linking there. Also, Amazon has user reviews, so linking to Amazon provides more information than Wikipedia does for books or music.

  5. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I link to Amazon because I use it for purchasing decisions. I usually find that one place that collects 200-300 reviews on an item usually gives me an idea of whether that item is right for me. I often link to Wikipedia for factual items, but when a book or a CD is mentioned, I’d rather read an actual review of it instead of someone’s factual statements about it.

    Furthermore, I write about frugality. I’ve written about going to the library and hitting used book stores and using PaperBackSwap so often that readers have asked me to shut up about it. If I were trying to be a book shill, that would be rather counterintuitive.

    Let’s take it another step. I write very long book recaps so that my readers who are busy and who are poor DON’T have to buy the book or even read it if they don’t wish. Again, if I were book shilling, I’d immediately shelf that practice.

    If you click on that link to Amazon, I make nothing. If you decide to go ahead and buy that book at amazon after clicking through (meaning you actually put it in your cart, then check it out), I make a few pennies, far less than pretty much anything else I do on this site.

    If I wanted to make money from book affiliate links, I certainly would NOT be linking there – I’d be linking to other booksellers that actually pay something for a link. I’d also write the majority of the stuff I write here quite a bit differently – I wouldn’t give explicit reasons not to buy books (like I do in basically every single book review). I link because I think it’s a good resource, probably the best one for getting a ton of views at once on a topic. If you don’t think so, don’t click the link – I don’t really care, it’s up to you.

  6. grant says:

    J-Rock, interesting thought. I don’t even pay attention to amazon links in blog posts anymore. I would assume that most readers don’t. If you understand why it’s done then great, leave it at that and don’t call him out.

    The reason for my comment in the first place….I always buy “The Richest Man in Babylon” Wikipedia for J-Rock for college graduates. Almost everyone I’ve done that for has sought me out to thank me, in the most sincere way.

  7. Elaine says:

    A lot of these sound really interesting to me.

    I assume most of them are written with an American audience in mind? It’s not that hard to pick out general good advice from the specifics, or mentally translate “401(k)” to “RRSP” (Canadian equivalent) for example, but sometimes it gets a little tiring.

  8. Heidi says:

    Great list, Trent! As someone who is getting my financial house in order, I really appreciate your reviews and buy/don’t buy recommendations.

  9. J-Rock says:

    Good points all around.

    Guess I’m a bit more cynical and view good and negative exposure as ‘good’ press for a seller.

    I don’t follow the amazon links, but I know it’s hard for people to drop old habits. I just hope folks aren’t spending all their cash being pointed to financial books, in the hopes that that’ll over come their financial woes.

    Anyway, your readership seems to be more educated than that.

    Again, I honestly like the topics and discussion here.

    Thanks!

  10. Jill says:

    Trent,
    This is a great post. I really liked Suze Orman’s book even though many people dislike her as you said. For me, the book really spoke, but I’m in that target audience. I’m going to check out that Automatic Wealth for Grads though – even though I graduated a few years ago it sounds as if I might still get something out of it. Amazon or Half.com should make recommendations like yours part of their “people who bought this also bought” idea.

  11. Imelda says:

    Great list! I’m going to check out the Bogle Heads’ Guide to Investing. (tho I’ll probably read your review first)

    I’m glad you recommended Suze Orman for young folks. But I object to saying it’s for “early twentysomethings completely lost when it comes to finances”!!! I certainly don’t consider myself completely lost, and I find it to be a great resource. Personally, I think it’d be a much better graduation present than Automatic Wealth for Grads, which I thought was just so much fluff.

  12. ZenniHill says:

    I appreciate the Amazon links. I, also, use them to make decisions by reading the reviews about the book, then if it is a book I’m interested in purchasing I can make up my own mind how & where I want to purchase it. Also, I use Amazon reviews to make decisions on actually lots of different items. I know Amazon will usually have plenty of information I am looking for.

  13. db says:

    I just hope this is the end of the “52 books in 52 weeks” posts — Trent, you’re rehashing the same thing over and over.

  14. miguel says:

    Trent this is a great post. I make it a point to always be reading a PF book.

    I sometimes find it hard to choose my next PF book, as a lot of them are aimed at people swimming in debt or people that are swimming in money — I don’t match either.

    Thanks for pointing me to the next few books I’ll be reading.

  15. Spasmolytic says:

    You forgot a category of people — those of us who have just woken up to personal finance in their late 30s or early 40s, and who need to think abou retirement — fast. If you could recommend a book for us (me), I would appreciate it.

  16. margaret says:

    I agree with spasmolytic. Which book is that? Also, with the current shift in the economy are any of the ideas in the above books still relevant? Esp now that our banking and investing structures are changing? Where can we get sound, current information about investing in this economy?

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