Despite growing up with an uncomplicated money story, I found personal finance and money intimidating topics until recently. In theory, I knew that I should spend less than what I earn, that I should always “pay myself first” and save a percentage of my income, and that I should start saving for retirement as soon as I started earning money. But what about unexpected expenses? When is paying more upfront for a product going to save me more money in the long run? When is a career change worth the temporary drop in income, and how can I tell the good financial advice from the bad?
Few of us are taught these things in school, but we were expected to know the answers as soon as we graduated college. I was fortunate to have grown up with parents who weren’t afraid to talk about money, but I still found it daunting to navigate topics like investing and taxes. How do I educate myself when I didn’t even understand what any of the acronyms were in financial magazines?
Eventually, I did what every self-improvement addict would do: I committed to reading at least one money-related book a month. Along the way, I’ve created a money system that allows me to meet my money goals without thinking too much about it (like automatically saving 20% of my income). I also started to see money as a topic I enjoyed learning more about rather than fearing it. I still have a lot to learn about money, investing, and personal finance, but these books helped me get started.
Worth It: Your Life, Your Money, Your Terms by Amanda Steinberg
Growing up, many of the money messages directed at women focused on limiting their spending rather than building wealth (something men are taught from an early age). Amanda Steinberg’s book focuses on the latter and is one of the financial books I’ve read that don’t provide a prescriptive strategy but instead gives various frameworks for money and investing depending on your goals, personalities, and tolerance for risks.
One of the things that has frustrated me about “mainstream” personal finance advice is the assumption that everyone has a steady, reliable paycheck. It often doesn’t take into account people with entrepreneurial ambitions, or people whose incomes fluctuate unpredictably on a regular basis. Steinberg also talked about building a business as a form of investment (something that has been unexpectedly absent from many finance books, particularly targeted at women).
Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By And Get Your Financial Life Together by Erin Lowry
Millennials face a lot of stereotypes when it comes to money—like spending too much on lattes rather than saving for retirement. Often, the criticism doesn’t mention the stark economic realities that millennials face (compared to those of previous generations), nor does it address systemic inequalities that lead to the racial wealth gap.
While Lowry’s book doesn’t get too deep on these issues, it does explain basic financial concepts in a clear and smart way, without any hint of condescension. She also acknowledges that money is not a one-size-fits-all topic, and at the beginning of the book, she gives suggestions on chapters that readers should study or skip depending on their financial realities. This book (along with the follow-up Broke Millennial Takes On Investing: A Beginner’s Guide To Leveling Up Your Money) is a great starting point for anyone who may find financial concepts intimidating but is interested in learning more.
The Little Book Of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way To Guarantee Your Fair Share Of Stock Market Returns by John Bogle
Mainstream personal advice suggests that investing is the best way to grow your wealth, but it can be difficult to know how to begin. I was in this position for a long time, convinced that outside of an individual retirement account, investing was a complicated activity.
This book by the late Vanguard Group’s founder changed that perception. I realized that the reason why I thought the way I did was because it’s in the financial industry’s interests to keep its customers uninformed. Banks often sneak in hidden fees that are easy to miss (such as a penalty for not maintaining a certain amount in a checking account), and financial advisers sometimes make money through commissions from the products they sell, so it’s often not in their interests to give their client an accurate overview of those products.
Invested: How I Learned To Master My Mind, My Fears, And My Money To Achieve Financial Freedom And Live A More Authentic Life (With A Little Help From Warren Buffet, Charlie Munger, And My Dad) by Danielle Town
This book caught my attention because of Town’s personal story. A former lawyer, Town is the daughter of an investor who pushed her to start investing from an early age. For a long time, she ignored that advice until she was forced to confront the reality that not investing her money would mean being tied to a job (and in her case—a stressful job) for longer than she would like. She ended up dedicating a year to learn about investing, and, in the process, ended up writing this book and started a successful podcast with her father, InvestED: The Rule #1 Investing Podcast.
I identified a lot with Town’s journey—as a former lawyer whose dad constantly preached the importance of investing early, only to ignore his advice for many years because I was terrified. Town’s book helped me kick-start creating my own personal finance and investing education practice and also taught me about my own relationship with money and emotions.
You Are A Badass At Making Money by Jen Sincero
I was initially skeptical about this book. Due to its cheesy title, I assumed that it would be full of new age, affirmation-heavy content. However, I’d seen many personal finance writers recommend it, so I decided to give it a try. I wasn’t wrong on the affirmation front.
I was wrong, however, about how much actionable advice Sincero provided. The exercises that she recommended helped me understand my relationship with money at a deeper level and forced me to confront how that relationship may be holding me back. While you won’t find budgeting or investing strategy here, you’ll probably find helpful tips for creating money systems (and goals) that are suited to your reality.