The Best Personal Finance Books of 2020

On the bookshelf right next to where I do most of my financial writing, you’ll find an array of personal finance books. Some of them have been there for years — they are the essential personal finance books I recommend to everyone, full of timeless advice. Many others are more recent, as I try to keep up with the latest personal finance and investment writing. 

Each year, there are always a few gems that stand out among the personal finance books published — and if you’re looking for the best personal finance books of 2020, we’ve got you covered. 

In this article

    The 10 best personal finance books of 2020

    • “The Psychology of Money” – Morgan Housel
    • “Die With Zero” – Bill Perkins
    • “Work Your Money, Not Your Life” – Roger Ma
    • “How I Invest My Money” – Joshua Brown, Brian Portnoy and Carl Richards
    • “Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence” – Carol Pittner and Doug Norman
    • “Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing” – Jacob Goldstein
    • “Money Hacks” – Lisa Rowan
    • “The Founding Fortunes” – Tom Shachtman
    • “First-Class Passengers on a Sinking Ship” – Richard Lachmann
    • “Money: A User’s Guide” – Laura Whateley

    “The Psychology of Money”

    This book is actually a big collection of short chapters on various ways in which our psychology affects our financial habits. The core theme Morgan Housel creates is that most of personal finance is actually governed by our choices and mental state and not by spreadsheets. Housel argues across the chapters that doing well with money has a little to do with how smart you are and a lot to do with how you behave, and that good financial behavior is hard to teach, even to brilliant people.

    For example, one of the earlier chapters focuses on the idea of “enough.” Housel’s main point in the chapter is that it’s very hard for most people to ever reach a sense of having “enough” unless they’re consciously focused on it, and that’s because the goalposts are so easy to move. You might have a nice car, but it’s so easy to want a nicer car, for example. The best solution is to have intention about it by recognizing that you’re getting progressively less and less value out of more and more things.

    “Die With Zero”

    Bill Perkins is best known as a hedge fund manager and poker player. In this wonderful, thoughtful book, Perkins focuses on the idea that your lifetime of financial planning should be oriented toward maximizing the number of quality experiences you have, and that you should aim to die with no money in the bank because that money represents energy and effort you invested so that you could have those rich, deep experiences. His argument is that those experiences pay a “memory dividend,” such that they bring back warm feelings throughout your life, and that the types of experiences that make sense for each of us changes throughout our lives.

    [ More: What Happens If You Live to 100? ]

    Perkins not only makes a powerful argument for this approach in a personal and relatable fashion, he delves into how to implement it. In short, he argues for maximizing one’s personal wealth between the ages of 40 and 60, at which point you should start spending your wealth. 

    He makes the most powerful argument for annuities I’ve read, which is that you should buy an annuity near your financial peak so that you always have a financial baseline for the rest of your life that’s guaranteed and can then freely spend the rest of your money without worrying about how you’ll survive old age. This risk of running out of money in old age is known as longevity risk, and Perkins addresses it thoughtfully here.

    “Work Your Money, Not Your Life”

    The big takeaway from one of the best financial books of 2020 is that stress, particularly from work-life balance, goads us into spending money to solve problems that aren’t really solved by spending money. That spending becomes a temporary feel-good, but it doesn’t bring a lasting solution to our stress. The stress is really caused by a gap between the life we’re living and the life we want to live.

    Roger Ma’s approach is that finding a better work-life balance and finding a job that doesn’t stress you out puts you in a situation where you feel much less need to spend money to alleviate the stresses in your life. This gives you a baseline upon which to build a strong financial future for yourself and your family, opening up even more opportunities as you go. He starts this approach in a very practical way, focusing on specific work, money and personal stressors before pivoting toward cutting the spending that was being used to make those stressors less painful.

    “How I Invest My Money”

    Joshua Brown, Brian Portnoy and Carl Richards serve more as editors for this book because “How I Invest My Money” is made up of 25 short essays written by a wide variety of financial writers and advisors on how they each actually invest their money. 

    These essays end up covering a wide variety of lifestyles, goals and investment strategies. For example, one of the essays in the book by Housel discusses how he invests in low-cost index funds, simply because it’s the most efficient way to match the overall stock market at a low cost and with minimal effort. In another chapter, by Portnoy, he discusses a bucket strategy where he has different investments aimed at different timeframes and with different risk levels. He holds cash, but he also buys rental properties and even has some angel investments.

    [ See: 12 Things You Need to Know Before Investing in Stocks ]

    This diversity of perspectives, divided up into short readable chapters, makes it easy to find out about different investment strategies and the reasoning behind them quickly, giving you the freedom to then dig deeper into ones that make sense for you and your life.

    “Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence”

    As a parent of three, books about how to raise your children to be financially savvy are of particular interest, and this was the clear-cut winner among financial books for parents in 2020. 

    Carol Pittner and Doug Norman move beyond simply teaching your child basic financial lessons and move into how to set them up intellectually and financially to have financial independence from you early on, then financial independence from work as early as possible in their lives.

    The core idea behind the book is that the best thing you can give your children for their future is choices, and the best way to maximize your child’s opportunities is to minimize their financial burden going forward but also provide them with a deep understanding of what they need to do to stay that way and quickly reach their own financial independence. The book progresses step-by-step, from choosing to have children all the way through being the parents of independent adults, with actionable advice at each step on how to make your children as financially independent as possible.

    “Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing”

    This is definitely more of a “big picture” book, as it steps back and looks at what exactly money is. All of us know, in an abstract way, that money is a medium of exchange between different types of goods and services, but what does that really mean? The topic itself might seem deep and philosophical, but Jacob Goldstein approaches it in a very lively way that makes it wonderful to read while also embedding some practical ideas in the pages.

    A great example of this is Goldstein’s discussion of banks. He points out the necessity of institutions that safely hold our money and institutions that loan out money, but goes into the dangers and risks of having institutions that do both. How do we know our money is safe? He talks about practical solutions, like making sure your bank is FDIC-insured, as well as looking ahead at how banks might change in the future to alleviate these kinds of risks.

    “Money Hacks: 275+ Ways to Decrease Spending, Increase Savings, and Make Your Money Work for You!”

    A book full of quick-hit finance tips. Lisa Rowan’s book features hundreds of small ways you can cut back on your spending, build savings and earn money. The advice is easy to implement and actionable. You’ll also find pretty modern solutions for saving money that address the way social media and technology may influence your finances decisions. Some of her hacks involve more ongoing habit changes, others are a one-time trick to potentially earn money — like checking your state’s unclaimed funds site

    [ Read: How to Choose a Budgeting System That’s Right for You ]

    Committing to a new budget or trying to overhaul habits can be daunting, but Rowan’s hacks break it down into little things you can change in your everyday life. The money hacks are specific too, like using a basket instead of a shopping cart or reusing your aluminum foil. This book is perfect for an easy read that you can pick up whenever you need a new way to save.

    “The Founding Fortunes: How the Wealthy Paid for and Profited from America’s Revolution”

    This book is ideal for history and political buffs. Written by historian Tom Shachtman, the book is about how the United States was founded on the fortunes of the founding fathers and fellow patriots. Shachtman defines an ideal — individual economic patriotism — as a “willingness to forego one’s own material gain to support the people’s common cause.” During this time, many of the wealthy sought to obtain equal opportunity for their poor countrymen. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition to the way our politicians and the country’s wealthiest operate today. 

    The Founding Fortunes” goes beyond what most people know about the beginning of our country and features other wealthy contributors who lost their fortune or made a profit off of the revolution. Ideals about taxes on the wealthy, national debt and American manufacturing are shockingly relevant to our economic issues today. Shachtman explores the early economic structure and how capitalism began, in a much different spirit than we experience today.

    “First-Class Passengers on a Sinking Ship: Elite Politics and the Decline of Great Powers”

    Are you interested in where the U.S. is going from here? So was Richard Lachmann. His book, “First-Class Passengers on a Sinking Ship: Elite Politics and the Decline of Great Powers” uses his sociological expertise to explore why the U.S. will never again regain its powerhouse status. And it’s not all because of the pandemic. So why is it, that a country with such an unprecedented edge in spending and technology, is on the decline?

    Lachmann looks to the history of other countries to explain how they too fell from grace. But it’s not just all about what happened long ago, Lachmann bridges the gap between historical sociology with what’s happening right now, showing its relevance and importance in the moves we make. As it turns out, all good things do eventually come to an end — including the unquestioned dominance of the United States.

    “Money: A User’s Guide”

    One bad money move can wreak havoc on your confidence and invite in lasting panic around everything financial. Laura Whateley is an award-winning journalist and author of “Money: A User’s Guide” –– a book written to combat the feelings of insecurity around money. 

    [ Next: 7 Ways to Avoid and Minimize Debt in an Emergency ]

    The book is broken into three sections. The first focuses on the how-tos of it all –– how to buy a home, how to budget and how to maximize your savings. The second covers money and emotion, while the third dives into what exactly ethical finance is. You won’t find complex jargon that will leave you scratching your head, Whateley’s complete understanding of the topic allows her to help readers make informed decisions about their finances and achieve the goals they set for themselves. 

    We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

    Trent Hamm

    Founder & Columnist

    Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

    Reviewed by

    • Courtney Mihocik
      Courtney Mihocik
      Loans Editor

      Courtney Mihocik is an editor at The Simple Dollar who specializes in personal loans, student loans, auto loans, and debt consolidation loans. She is a former writer and contributing editor to Interest.com, PersonalLoans.org, and elsewhere.