Over the last two years, I’ve reviewed almost 100 personal finance books on The Simple Dollar and read many more (most of which were so redundant, factually incorrect, or poorly written as to not be worth my time to review). After all of those books, I still find that Your Money or Your Life is the most powerful and influential book I’ve read on personal finance management. It just clicks for me in a way that no other personal finance book ever has.
But it probably won’t click for you.
The actual personal finance advice in Your Money or Your Life is pretty standard. It lives by the “spend less than you earn” mantra that almost every other personal finance book also prescribes. It encourages you to eliminate debt, offers specific tips on spending less, and pushes the reader to set goals, keep track of progress, and work towards one’s dreams.
Your Money or Your Life spoke to me specifically because of … well, me. I have a community-oriented view of things and I value my family deeply. I’m socially liberal — actually, libertarian may be a better description — in that I feel that if someone’s behavior isn’t interfering with anyone else’s life, they should be left alone to their own choices. Yet, at the same time, I feel a heavy responsibility for stewardship of the resources we all share – I’m a big believer in conservation and environmentalism. I’m introspective, and I realize that most of the personal finance answers that really matter come from inside. I’m also seeking the big answers about my life – what am I here for? What is my purpose? I don’t learn particularly well from the examples of others, but I find them interesting to read and a compelling supplement to the stuff I learn.
Those attributes don’t apply to everyone – in fact, I’d say that as a whole, they apply only to a minority of people. If you’re in that group of people, Your Money or Your Life will almost assuredly click for you. If not, reading it will either prove boring, argumentative, or a waste of your time.
In short, there is no “perfect” personal finance book for everyone (other than my own upcoming one, of course … (I’m kidding)). In fact, I often find that the more general the audience is for a particular book, the worse it is because it fails to truly connect with anyone.
Here’s a list of fifteen of the most intriguing personal finance books I’ve reviewed on The Simple Dollar, along with links to my review of them. For each one, I’ve tried to describe the type of person that, from my perspective, would really click with that book.
Please Send Money This book is for you if you’re either in high school, in college, or very freshly out of college. For the most part, your money has been managed by your parents up until now and you’ve just started to dabble by getting a checking account and a credit card. You might have a small amount of credit card debt, but mostly you’re just unfamiliar with the basics of managing your own money.
You’re So Money This book is for you if you’re a young professional, likely female, with expensive tastes and a reasonably low income, but a career track to earning a lot more later on. You’re in pretty good control of your personal life, but your money life is creaky, with some significant student loan debt and credit card debt built up. If you’ve ever thought about buying a Jimmy Choo handbag, this book’s probably the right one for you.
The Total Money Makeover This book is for you if you are a Christian who values straight, blunt talk without pulling any punches. You’ve got some significant debt and you want a straight shooter who’s direct, clear, and concise about the steps you need to take to turn that ship around.
The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing This book is for you if you’re a fact-oriented person who already has solid control over their debt but is trying to figure out what the next step in their financial journey is. You know there are a ton of investing options out there, but the sheer quantity of information seems enormous – you want to dig in, but you need a place to start. If you’re fact-oriented and you like having not just step-by-step instructions on what to do but a strong explanation of the ideas behind it, you’ll find a lot to like here.
The Soul of Money This book is for you if you have a very strong charitable consciousness. You tend to give a lot to charities, but sometimes you have difficulty keeping your own finances straight, and you wonder whether all the money you give is really doing the maximum of what it could be doing.
Automatic Wealth for Grads You’re a recent college graduate – likely a business major – and your primary focus is to build the foundations of a professionally successful life when you’re young. You’re working for another company, but intend to, at some point, start your own business. You likely have a personal mentor or someone you’ve looked up to who was a community pillar and you hope to reach that same place someday.
It Pays to Talk This book is for you if you actually already know how to manage your money, but you have a very difficult time talking to your loved ones about your shared financial needs. You want to talk to your parents about their planning, but you don’t know where to start, and you may be facing a similar situation with siblings or perhaps with your own spouse.
The Complete Tightwad Gazette This book is for you if you find great value in saving money rather than spending it. You’re naturally always looking out for ways to trim a few cents here and there and you’ve found a lot of good ways to do it, but you regularly find new and interesting ideas for shaving more money – and you can’t wait to try them.
The First National Bank of Dad This book is for you if you’re a parent who has children that seem to be showing signs of not having any grasp of money – and you dread the idea of them going through the nightmares of debt that you went through. You want to teach them about money, but you’ve tried a few things and nothing’s really worked that well – plus, you’re always tempted to give them extra things because they’re such great kids.
Smart and Simple Financial Strategies for Busy People This book is for you if you’re a professional in your late twenties to middle age and your schedule is simply packed extremely tightly with a burgeoning career, family and (likely) parenting responsibilities, community responsibilities, and countless other things. You’re falling behind financially not because you don’t know how to manage money, but because it feels basically impossible to carve out time for the money management you “need” to do. So you use your credit card, keep the balance low, and figure you’ll do it later.
The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches This book is for you if you like to laugh but really don’t like to read big, boring books. Your financial situation isn’t devastating, but you can tell your family spends a bit more than they should and you’d like some little places to cut back and get things under control before they get crazy. You prefer books like Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader, where you can learn a few facts and get a laugh or two in a few minutes, put the book down, and move on with life.
Ordinary People, Extraordinary Wealth This book is for you if you prefer reading stories about others. The lessons that you’ve learned from life have mostly come from watching others and learning from their mistakes. You like reading fiction and biographies because the stories of others help clue you in to your own best choices.
Start Late, Finish Rich This book is for you if you’re nearing retirement age and you’ve suddenly had a huge epiphany that you’re not ready for it. You attended a retirement seminar or two or read some articles online, took a serious look at your situation, and are sick to your stomach – are you going to have to work until you’re 80?
You’re Broke Because You Want to Be This book is for you if you thrive with no-holds-barred blunt talk. You likely perform at your best under the pushing and prodding of an intense coach – you thrived in sports competitions, prefer using a personal trainer, and learn best from teachers that pushed you hard. In short, you do best with a coach that doesn’t coddle you, but shoves you a bit.
Make Money, Not Excuses This book is for you if Sex in the City is your kind of escapist fantasy. You like being an independent and headstrong woman, but you also have a very strong taste for fashion and shopping and girly things. You believe that a lot of generic women stereotypes apply to you – but not all of them, as some of them are just false.
None of these fifteen books really set my world on fire. I learned a thing or two from each of them, and some of them spoke more to me (The First National Bank of Dad) than others (Make Money, Not Excuses), but none came close to the impact of Your Money or Your Life.
In a nutshell, you’re better off looking for that one book that really clicks for you than just reading whatever one is convenient. For me, for example, I’m not sure Make Money, Not Excuses would have really been an epiphany for me, nor would a very generalized book like Two for the Money. I got far more out of the first chapter of Your Money or Your Life than I did out of many of these other books, and thus it would have been well worth my time to try to find a book that clicked for me than to just read one of those other ones.
I hope you find the book that clicks for you. If you have found that book that clicked for you, please share it in the comments.