Revising My “Essential Bookshelf”

In 2009, I made a list of eleven essential books that profoundly helped my career, my finances, and my personal life. These eleven books were ones that I turned to time and time again for advice and ideas.

Recently, several readers have asked me whether these books have stayed around and remained the same over the past four years, so I spent some time looking through my career, personal finance, and personal growth books to figure out which ones I actually referred to over and over again.

This was actually a very useful process, because I wound up collecting a box of books and donating them to the local library. The books that stayed on my bookshelf numbered six, and there was only partial overlap with the books from the 2009 list.

Here they are. These are the six most powerful books I’ve read on careers, personal finance, and personal growth. These books changed my life and they continue to be powerful references for me.

That’s not to say that there aren’t other great books out there. There are many, many worthwhile books on personal finance, careers, and personal growth out there. Many of those books have taught me powerful lessons. The books listed here are merely the ones I find myself referring to over and over and over again.

Getting Things DoneGetting Things Done remains on my list because it’s just such a powerful book for teaching you how to manage the multitude of tasks that a person has to deal with.

Time management has become even more important for me now that we have a third child and that our two oldest children have reached the age where they’re involved in a multitude of activities. I have dance classes, taekwondo practices, and soccer practices to remember on top of all of the thousands of other things that I’m responsible for both professionally and personally on a daily basis.

Without a clear system to keep track of the tasks, I would get overwhelmed. Sometimes, I still get overwhelmed. There is no better book I’ve found than Getting Things Done for keeping all of those day-to-day tasks straight.

ymoylYour Money or Your Life had a life-changing impact on me in 2006 when I was rebooting my financial situation. More than any other book, it really showed me the power and the financial value of divorcing myself from the things that were less important in my life.

I find almost every page in this book to be deeply inspirational. I can just flip it open to a random page and start reading and I’ll find something that reminds me clearly of why I’m on the financial path that I’m on. Sometimes, I’ll find direct, useful advice as well.

This book is a constant reminder and motivator for my frugal financial path. That path has led me from the brink of bankruptcy to debt freedom and some degree of financial security, and it’s only getting brighter from here. Your Money or Your Life was (and is) my fundamental guidebook.

raising financially fit kidsRaising Financially Fit Kids is a powerful handbook for teaching your children how to interact in a sensible and responsible way with money. It’s been right on pace with every step in the growth of my children.

Right now, I’m actually using advice from three separate chapters in this book, as the advice targets specific ages very well and my children have noticeable maturity gaps between each of them. My oldest is starting to see the benefits of basic investing, my middle child is challenged by the prospect of saving her money for later, and my youngest is just beginning the first steps of understanding what money is all about.

So far, this book has been perfectly on pace with all of those changes, offering sound and intelligent advice for each twist and turn. Just like there are many more chapters of life for my children to go through before they leave home, there are many more chapters of this book waiting to help me guide them to a better understanding of their finances.

Complete!The Complete Tightwad Gazette is getting dated, but I’ve yet to find a more thorough single guide to frugality than this one. It’s basically a thousand pages of a frugality blog.

Whenever I feel ready to try on a new frugal idea, I don’t usually turn to the internet first. Instead, I pick up this book and open it to a random page. If I do that five times or so, I almost always have discovered a new idea or two that will click perfectly with my own life or my family’s life.

I have yet to see a more useful compendium of frugal ideas in print – nothing even comes close to the thoroughness of The Complete Tightwad Gazette. That’s why, even though some of the ideas are showing their age, I still happily keep this book on my shelf and refer to it quite regularly.

investor's manifestoThe Investor’s Manfesto has quietly become my “go-to” guide for thoughts on investing, replacing other books that I’ve looked at over the years. The author, William Bernstein, just has a brilliant touch for explaining how investments work and the logic behind them, culminating in very sensible advice for almost every financial situation.

Thanks to the Reader Mailbag, and thanks to a wide range of friends who now view me as some kind of “financial expert,” I find myself constantly facing a wide variety of financial situations and investment needs, and I rarely have the answer for them right off the tip of my tongue. Even when I do, I want to make sure that the core ideas behind it are accurate.

Lately, my first response to these kinds of investment questions is to just turn to The Investor’s Manfesto and look for an answer. Bernstein lays it all out quite clearly, from the core principles to how it actually applies to one’s life. Almost always, I come away feeling confident that there’s a solid and clear solution to any investment conundrum.

making it all workMaking It All Work takes the day-to-day task management brilliance and expands the scale, tying those day-to-day tasks to the larger scale of your life. Sure, you’re doing countless things each day, but what do those things build toward? What do they mean? How are they in line with what you really value in life?

Over the last few years, my thinking has really evolved in this direction. How do the things I do each day connect to the big things I want out of life? How am I moving, each and every day, toward the big things that I dream about?

Making It All Work is an absolute home run when it comes to these topics. I find myself picking this book up at least once a week and digging deep into the ideas presented here. Every time, I walk away with some powerful food for thought in terms of building the life that I want, connecting the daily things to the big dreams.

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