You’ve read several personal finance books over the last few years. You’ve gorged on personal finance websites. You’ve developed a plan to get yourself out of debt and largely executed it. You’re saving for retirement at a nice rate.
In short, you’ve largely got this “personal finance” thing figured out.
The thing is, once the core principles of personal finance are stuck in your head, continuing that journey of learning and improving becomes a bit more challenging. At its core, the tenets of how most people manage their personal finances are actually pretty easy; the trick is in implementing them in your actual life. Once you’ve got that… what else is there?
You can always keep digging into subgenres of personal finance. There’s always more to learn about investing, for example, and there are always new frugal strategies to try out.
Eventually, though, many people feel like they’ve learned “enough” about personal finance, yet they still yearn for something in their life that’s as exciting and interesting as the process of learning how to take control of their money.
For some people, it’s an intellectual itch. For others, it’s a desire to understand “why.” For yet others, it’s a desire to keep on improving their lives.
The nice thing about personal finance is that it does have a lot of overlap with a number of different areas that people can dive deep into, whether it’s for intellectual growth, personal growth, or even spiritual growth.
Here are seven areas that you might want to dive into if you find that personal finance itself is beginning to feel “mastered.” You’ll probably note that, in various ways, I dabble in all of these areas on The Simple Dollar, lacing them in with personal finance on a regular basis. That’s because these topics offer a lot of breathing room and area to constantly explore new angles on personal finance and on living itself. You’ll also note that these areas overlap with each other quite a bit, too.
Economics is the study of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. It’s a pretty broad area of study, but in general it breaks down into two areas.
Microeconomics borders right up against personal finance, because it’s the study of the economic behavior of individual agents – individual people and small groups and retailers – and how they consume and produce goods and services. You go to work to produce a good or a service (or assist in it somehow), for that you earn money, and then you use that money to buy goods and services.
Macroeconomics, on the other hand, is the broader study of economies. It looks at things like inflation, overall employment rates, economic growth, and so on, rather than looking at how individuals behave.
If you’re wanting to put your own personal financial behavior into a broader context of what other people do and how all of that behavior affects the world as a whole, economics is probably an area for you to explore.
If you’re looking for a single easily readable introduction to economics, I’d probably choose The Armchair Economist by Stephen Landsburg. It’s a great friendly introduction to microeconomics with enough material there to give you something to think about, but not much jargon.
If you want a book that also includes some talk about macroeconomics, too, I’d point to Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan. This really does balance both macroeconomics and microeconomics, but I’d describe it as a bit more complex than the first choice.
If you’d rather learn from video and audio sources than reading a book, the best introduction to economics that I’ve found for a general audience is Microeconomics and Macroeconomics, freely available from Khan Academy. These provide a great introductory series for learning about economics.
I like Wikipedia’s definition of personal development: “Personal development covers activities that improve awareness and identity, develop talents and potential, build human capital and facilitate employability, enhance the quality of life and contribute to the realization of dreams and aspirations.” That sums it up quite nicely.
In short, personal development is the process of making yourself into a better person so that you can better fulfill your potential, in whatever areas you see fit. I think of personal development in a very foundational way. What are my values and principles? How do I live by them on a daily basis? Do I live by them on a daily basis? What are my big goals and life ambitions? What am I doing to achieve those big goals and life ambitions? What do I need in my life to make those things possible?
There’s a tendency of this type of thinking to edge toward New Age type thinking and self help. I tend to see the dividing line differently. Self-help comes in when you feel you’re in a bad place and need to dig out of it. Personal development is when you’re in a good place and want to go further. It tends to overlap quite a lot with philosophy and often with career development, too.
One great introductory book for personal development is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, which argues that personal freedom and independence are a core component of a person’s place in the world and that those things come from keeping up your end of four basic social agreements. Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. Always do your best. If you do those four things in every situation, you’ll find that you’re much more able to build and maintain relationships with other people and you’re much more resilient to unfortunate events.
This next recommendation is actually more of a philosophical text, but it absolutely rocked my world in terms of how I think and react to things around me. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is all about stoicism, which is a personal philosophy of evaluating your emotional responses to things rather than just immediately acting on them. It was written by a Roman emperor as his personal journal, with the focus being on how he can handle all of the problems and challenges constantly given to him while maintaining respect and internal consistency, which we all strive for.
If you prefer to watch videos and listen for your learning, I suggest Gary Vaynerchuk’s YouTube channel. Vaynerchuk is a serial entrepreneur with a daily video blog that touches on a mix of entrepreneurial issues and personal development. A good example of his work is 6 Minutes for the Next 60 Years of Your Life; his channel is loaded with similar stuff.
Again, Wikipedia defines this well: “Psychology is the science of behavior and mind, including conscious and unconscious phenomena, as well as thought.” That really nails it.
When I mention psychology as an area to potentially explore, I’m not so much referring to it as a practice for trying to analyze the psychological problems of others, but for understanding how your own mind works and, to a lesser extent, the minds of those you interact with the most. I’m far more interested in normal behavior and how to get around it so that I can achieve personal goals, like having a better grip on my spending or losing weight or being an effective leader or an effective writer or an effective parent.
Our minds make decisions. A better understanding of our minds leads to better decisions for us. A better understanding of the minds of others helps us to make better decisions regarding others.
One excellent psychology book for people who want to delve into psychology from this perspective is Mindset by Carol Dweck. Dr. Dweck delves deeply into the difference between “fixed mindsets” and “growth mindsets,” or, as I like to think of them, scarcity and abundance mindsets. A fixed mindset believes that their talents and abilities are fixed traits, and challenges that can be solved with your current talents and abilities are ones that should be tackled and ones outside of that should be avoided. A growth mindset believes that skills and abilities can be nurtured and grown, values that growth process, and is willing to take on bigger challenges. Success in most areas of life is achieved much easier by applying a growth mindset to the situation, but in many areas of life, we choose instead to adopt a fixed mindset. This book really differentiates the two, shows how people often hold a mix of those viewpoints, and gives strategies for adopting growth mindsets in more areas and encouraging growth mindsets in others.
Another wonderful book on the basics of personal psychology is The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman, which argues that directly seeking happiness is almost always a losing effort and that the feeling of happiness is a natural occurrence as a side effect of success and good behavior in other areas of life. If you try to be happy, you’ll never reach it; if you find success at something entirely different, though, you’ll feel happiness. Burkeman digs deep into that psychological phenomenon and how you can utilize it in your own life.
If you want a nice broad overview of psychology and prefer watching videos and listening instead of reading, check out Crash Course in Psychology, which is a great video series that covers the basics of psychology in a really nice cohesive series. While it does delve into clinical psychology issues, much of the material really relates to our everyday thinking processes, which is quite valuable.
Again, Wikipedia provides a great basic definition: “Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.” Philosophy can be abstract, such as trying to figure out what is real and what isn’t or what it means to truly “know” something, or it can be more practical, asking questions like what the best way to live is.
I find both avenues very interesting and both are good parallels to personal finance. Understanding some of the big “whys” of the world often helps refine a lot of your internal perspectives and helps you define your internal values and principles, and the more practical elements of philosophy tend toward some degree of personal development, which I discussed earlier as an interesting area in its own right. Both avenues provide a lot of tools for thinking through challenging problems in life.
Honestly, philosophy (in a broad sense) is probably my favorite subject for reading these days. I find myself very attracted to books on philosophy and associated fields and sub-fields. I’ve jokingly suggested to my wife that this is something of a midlife crisis as I’m trying to figure out why I’m here and what the best life is.
One great introduction to philosophy actually comes in the form of a novel, Sophie’s World by Jostein Gardner. It tells the story of a teenage girl and an old philosopher who find themselves trapped in some sort of game or experiment by a person who seems to have Godlike powers. The philosopher’s responses to everything and the way he explains things to Sophie without the plot just falling apart makes the book quite enjoyable while still passing along a lot of good ideas and questions about philosophy.
If you want a more general introduction and something a little more challenging and brain-itching, try The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell. Russell is what I call a “tight” writer – he doesn’t waste many words, which means that his writing can sometimes feel dense. However, most of the time, his books are short and to the point, as this one is. This is basically Russell’s “introduction to philosophy,” where he focuses on a lot of the big questions that philosophy tries to address (what is life? what is a good life? how can a person know anything? what is real?) and covers some of the better answers to those questions and some of the tools for figuring out your own answers. This is the book that really got me started on reading philosophy.
If you prefer to watch and listen to learn, try Crash Course in Philosophy, a series of excellent videos that provides a nice summary of the various big philosophical questions and many of the common answers to them. This series largely walks through those questions in historical order, starting with the earliest questions and answers that people developed and moving up to the modern day. The videos are really entertaining – the Crash Course series always are.
Another great way to dip your toes in philosophy in a truly fun way is by watching the sitcom The Good Place. The series focuses on a woman, played by Kristen Bell, who dies and is sent to a heaven-like place called “The Good Place.” The only catch is that she firmly believes she wasn’t a good person on Earth and feels as though she must act like a good person in order to not get thrown out. The sitcom digs surprisingly deep into a lot of philosophical subjects; I am normally extremely picky about sitcoms, but I really enjoyed this one and there’s actually some great food for thought in it.
Another great area to expand into once you feel like you have personal finance under control is simply building up a strong set of personal skills that can handle lots of common life problems and challenges. Simply knowing how to navigate daily life better is valuable, and there are many, many areas to dig into and many skills you can learn.
Here are a few of my favorite examples.
Cooking is a valuable skill for almost anyone to have. Not only does preparing your own food save a lot of money, it also gives you a ton of lifestyle flexibility. Plus, it’s something that almost every home is equipped for, at least to some degree. How to Cook Anything by Mark Bittman is probably my favorite introduction to how to cook, something that many cookbooks completely miss out on. This starts with really simple stuff like boiling water and making very basic scrambled eggs (crack eggs, mix them up, put some butter in a skillet, turn heat to medium, let butter melt, spread it around skillet, add mixed eggs, keep stirring and scraping them until they form curds, eat), and builds from there.
Another great personal skill to build, especially for introverts like myself, is simply being social and having good conversations. My go-to book for this is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, which is a classic in this genre. The book feels very… mechanical… at times, but the thing to remember is that it’s written making very few assumptions about a person’s social skills or natural extrovertedness. It works incredibly well as a step-by-step instruction manual on how to be friendly and approachable in social situations, which doesn’t come naturally to everyone.
Personal organization is another great skill that people can build. Simply knowing how to organize one’s belongings in a sensible way can make a tremendous difference. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo is a very strong book in this regard, as it offers a clear recipe for going through your possessions and organizing them in sensible ways, no matter whether you live in a huge house or a tiny apartment.
If you learn how to perform basic maintenance on your automobile – things like changing wiper blades and changing the oil – you can save yourself a lot of money at the shop, plus you can do it at your own convenience at home and, honestly, do a more thorough job that will help your car last much longer. The best introductory car maintenance book I’ve seen is the Idiot’s Guide to Auto Repair and Maintenance by Dave Stribling, which is wonderfully written and includes lots of photographs. You can obviously supplement this material with videos and other online materials for your specific model, but this will cover the basics really, really well.
Those are just four examples; there are many more, and each one can provide a nice rabbit hole of learning and growth.
Transferable skills are somewhere in the middle between personal and professional skills. They are skills that will definitely help you in the workplace no matter what your job is, but they’re also skills that can pop up in other areas of your life as well. Obviously, transferable skills have a lot of overlap with personal skills, but they tend to go beyond them as they tend to be skills you can use regularly in your professional field.
Leadership is one of the most valuable skills to have, no matter what kind of organization you’re involved with. Wherever people meet, leadership skills are useful. My favorite book on general leadership is On Becoming a Leader by Warren Dennis, which lays out many of the skills one needs to be an effective leader, along with how to build them in yourself and actually put them to work. The most valuable lesson? A good leader puts everyone else first and exists mostly to resolve conflicts and provide direction.
Another invaluable transferable skill is understanding other’s emotions and, to an extent, your own emotions. This is called emotional intelligence, and it’s covered extremely well in the book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. Delving into this skill will cause you to spend a lot of time evaluating how you handle the emotions that bubble inside of you and considering the emotions that others put on display. Understanding this makes it easier to build strong relationships with people in your life. Some people naturally have a pretty high emotional intelligence; for those that don’t, this is a great skill to practice.
Time management is another incredibly valuable transferable skill, one that, for me, bleeds into my personal life, too. The book that changed the game for me in terms of time management was Getting Things Done by David Allen, which showed me a completely different approach to managing my time. Basically, Allen’s approach is to get it out of your head – don’t ever try to remember things you have to do. Instead, get it all out into a trusted system, and then trust that system and just do what it says to do. The book describes a fairly complex system for doing this, but it comes in pieces that you can easily pull out to fit your own needs.
Transferable skills like these can transform your professional life, but they can really impact your personal life, too.
Professional Specialized Skills
Of course, the next step is to focus on skills that are almost purely professional in nature. This involves increasing the skills that are your specialty or building out those skills into similar areas so that you’re employable in a more diverse set of situations.
It’s hard to give examples because it depends so much on the field you’re in. Different fields have different types of expertise and different ways you can build your skill set.
Regardless of your field, however, you’ll never go wrong reading new books related to your field. Keep an eye out for books that touch upon your field of expertise and read them. If your field is highly technical, technical manuals are useful, as are books that can help you translate the technical talk into something relatable to the layperson.
At the same time, publications related to your field are always worth reading. It is never a bad idea to stay up to date on journal articles and publications related to your field of expertise, because it constantly gives you a leg up on what’s coming down the pipe.
If reading books and long articles isn’t your thing, try to keep an eye on well regarded podcasts, blogs, and social media accounts related to your field, as they’ll keep you up to date on the latest changes in a succinct way that, in the case of podcasts, you can easily absorb during your commute.
Often, these books and articles and other materials will point you straight toward skills that you should be building for your specific career. Do so. The time invested in building useful resume-worthy skills is time that’s really going to help your career.
Personal finance is a foundation of so many things that we want to do in life, but once we have that foundation in place, it’s time to build from there and see what’s next. These seven areas provide a lot of space to grow, helping you figure out how to make yourself better and how to understand your place in the world better. You’ll be able to interact with others better, have a better grip on your career, and have a wide array of useful skills in all areas of life.
Personal finance is just the beginning. Good luck!