Four Essential Personal Finance Books That Will Change Your Thinking

This article first appeared at U.S. News and World Report Money.

Most of the personal finance information that we hear and see is delivered in bite-sized nuggets, often in the form of investment recommendations and short cautionary tales.

Because it’s all delivered in such little pieces, it’s hard to step back and get the big picture of how spending, life goals, parenting, and investing all overlap in our lives. It’s not all about earning as much as you can to just save it and spend it according to some recipe.

Here are four books that are invaluable reads for reconsidering your entire life, not just your financial life, and how to actually transform those life decisions into sensible money choices.

Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin, Joe Dominguez, and Monique Tilford isn’t your typical personal finance book. Rather than dropping financial advice, the book encourages people to re-think their money choices from the ground up by focusing instead on what the reader wants from their life.

The book’s main focus is assessing your place in the world and what you actually want to do with your life, and by using that as the lead, it encourages readers to think about their money choices in a completely different way. In fact, the connection between the abstract (living the life that you want) and the concrete (figuring out exactly what that costs) is the core of the genius behind this book, and it’s why it is the only personal finance book I’ll universally recommend to any reader.

Born to Buy by Juliet Schor is an essential personal finance read for parents. The focus of this book is on how marketers specifically target children and turn them into consumers who want endless amounts of toys and other things, and how that marketing sticks with children into adulthood.

This book will shock you as to the pervasive depth of that marketing and how powerful it is on the cognitive development of children and how they will develop as consumers. If you are a parent, you owe it to yourself to read this book, as it will be an incredibly powerful aid in raising your children to be much more thoughtful about their spending decisions.

The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing by Taylor Larimore, Mel Lindauer, and Michael LeBoeuf is the only investing guide I’ve read that explains an investing philosophy in detail, outlining the ideas behind it and why it makes sense, while also showing you exactly how to implement that philosophy in every aspect of life.

Most investing books either assume that you have already figured out either the why or the how and focus on showing you the other half of the equation. Here, the authors outline a “why,” then show you “how” to do it. It’s that pairing that makes this book so powerful, because it takes more abstract investing concepts and transforms them into real steps that anyone can take.

The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko will open your eyes because it completely recasts the idea of what it means to be wealthy in our society through actual research data.

It turns out that the person driving the expensive car is actually far less likely to be a millionaire than the family living quietly in a modest home. Why? Most people who actually become millionaires are very careful with their money, pass along those values to their children, and largely maintain social circles that share those values. If you’re dreaming of wealth, this book does a great job of showing you the reality of what wealth actually means in modern America, and it looks a lot more like Warren Buffett’s modest house in Omaha than Jay Gatsby’s mansions.

Each of these four books will breathe new life into your thinking about your life and your finances.

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