Here are the 10+ best financial literacy books that can help you transform your financial life once and for all!
I get it; I totally get it. You are tired of asking for money advice from friends, parents, and strangers on the internet who are less than sympathetic, slightly rude, and they don’t even answer your question! #jerks
Even worse, your neighbor keeps bragging about their stock portfolio growth as you go out to get the mail. You absolutely don’t want to encourage that conversation to go any further (because he’s more than a little arrogant, and he yelled at your cat last year, and you haven’t forgiven him).
So how are you supposed to learn about how to handle your money? Easy, good old-fashioned books, and I’ve got you covered with a short review & recap of the best financial literacy books on the market today!
These are published professionals; many of the books are on The New York Times’ bestseller list! This isn’t advice from Uncle Edward, whom you think filed for bankruptcy (a few times); this is financial advice from bona fide experts!
No matter your financial situation, you will find the best financial literacy book to help you reach your financial goals!
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It’s interesting to note (and I want to be fully transparent) that none of these authors are CFP’s, a certified financial planner. David Back comes the closest as he was a Senior VP at Morgan Stanley (I guess that’s good enough huh). This proves that you don’t have to be a math whiz of financial genius, or have decades of specialized training to know how to manage your money properly.
Anyone can learn to be a better steward of their finances. They just need to learn from trusted sources (like the books mentioned here) and then act on that advice. That’s it. You don’t need a financial advisor, you don’t need a six-figure income to save. You just need a personal finance strategy and take action on it!
Smart Couples Finish Rich by David Bach
Date published: 2002 & 2018 update
Summary: Not only has Bach sold over 7 million books, but this one is on the New York Times bestseller list (along with his other works). He recently updated all of his books, so the information is fresh and relevant today (which is nice as not all books are anymore).
“In this book, we’re going to work on how the two of you, as a couple, can both talk and handle your money in a smart way… this book will show you how to get your financial goals and personal values in synch so you can work to make your dreams a reality. My goal in this book is to provide an action-oriented road map that will enable you to take control of your finances as a couple.”
I am a massive fan of this book, as it really focuses on that last point, your values. This book was the jumping point of my most popular post; Your Personal Core Values are the Key to Setting & Reaching Your Big Goals, which guides you to identify what is and is not important to you and focus your spending only on what you value.
Thoughts: I am a big fan of David Bach, as he is so personable, funny, and has the heart of someone who wants to take this money thing and make it as easy as possible for someone to follow. His advice isn’t extreme, he’s very middle of the road, and he just makes so much sense. You hear him, and you’re like, “of course, that’s it!” You won’t be disappointed in this book!
Best For: Someone who wants to work better as a team with their partner, obviously. They also don’t like extremes but want good plain common sense about personal finance as a whole. This book is about a couple’s whole financial picture, not just about one specific topic.
If you’re not interested in advice specific to being in a couple/family, then you should absolutely look at his other titles, start with The Automatic Millionaire.
Smart Money Smart Kids by Dave Ramsey & Rachel Cruze
Quick Summary: This book was co-written with Rachel Cruz, Dave’s daughter. She has since written two more books, so this was most likely her chance to dip her toes into the publishing world.
But who better to talk about kids & money than this duo. The pair trades off in each chapter, talking about the topic and their experiences in raising kids and being raised in a home where money is a consistent topic.
This book is geared to those that want to start a new family tradition – a tradition of money knowledge and positive money character traits. All to help kids be successful with managing their money.
Your children develop their money story at a very young age (their impressions start at around 5 yrs old), so it’s imperative to talk positively about money all the time as little ears are everywhere!
The book covers…
- Work (and work ethic)
- Spending money
- Saving money
- Gifting money
- Saving for college
- Generational wealth building
Thoughts: This is probably my new favorite of the Dave Ramsey books. The principles and concepts taught here are so important! We all know parenting doesn’t come with a manual, AND personal finance isn’t taught in schools, so this book is our best bet to build money-smart kids!
The tone and temperament of the book are more light-hearted than in his other ones (perhaps that’s Rachel’s influence). So there wasn’t a lot to cringe at.
Who This Book is Best For: Parents! Or anyone who is helping to raise a young child. But please, please, please don’t wait to start until your kids are grown. Start the messages when they are young. It doesn’t have to be heavy and serious sit-down lessons. They give plenty of ideas on how to do this and for all age groups.
Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin
Date published: 1992 & 2018
Summary: This cult classic changed people’s lives in the ’90s, and with the latest reboot, it gave another great resource to the financial independence (FI) community!
The heart of this book focuses in as a personal development guide to help you figure out what you really want out of life while also training away the money-wasting habits that you’ve developed (and are consequently getting in the way of your “best life.” It’s framed around a nine-step program to help you transform your relationship with money, to know how much money is “enough” for you to have a life you love, now and in the future.” That’s the follower’s definition of financial freedom. You don’t need millions, you need just enough to make you happy, safe & secure.
“Make no mistake – it’s almost impossible to read this book thoroughly without also drastically improving your financial situation,” says Mr. Money Mustache in the book’s forward. He continues that “the unique power of the method comes from working on the root of the problem – your personal beliefs and habits – rather than just the symptom of your monthly bank and credit card statements.” Which is so true! Our bank account is just a symptom; it’s not the problem… we are the problem!
Thoughts: I wish I could say that this book was an easy read, but I can’t. I often found myself slogging through the pages. Maybe it hit a bit too close to home? Perhaps I saw things in my life that needed to change, but I wasn’t ready? Yet, so many excellent points helped drive the main point home, a point that I really connected with.
That being said, I absolutely recommend you read it if you want to do better with managing your money. You’ll have so many ah-ha moments, things that you can see so clearly now, something to change that you never even considered before.
Best For: Anyone who’s spending money, hoping to buy happiness but isn’t achieving that elusive state of being.
How many people have you seen who are more alive at the end of the workday than they were at the beginning? Do we come home from our ‘making a living’ activity full of more life? … Where’s all the life we supposedly made at work? For many of us, isn’t the truth of it closer to ‘making a dying?’Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin
Recovering Spender by Lauren Greutman
Date published: 2016
Summary: The first part of this book chronicles the author’s life, Lauren, and the other half is a guide for recovering spenders.
“There is so much information out there for people who love learning about everything financial, but what about the people like us? Where are the books for those who just can’t seem to get it together? I wrote this book for the not-so-savvy spenders. We’ve gone through life thinking that we suck at math and there is something wrong with us. The ironic thing is that we want to get better, but we just aren’t sure how to do it.”
After she details how her out-of-control spending got her and her husband in over $40,000 of debt and how her emotions ruled her wallet, she breaks down the 12 step process for how you too can break the spending cycle. She talks about setting boundaries, taking inventory of your purchases, decluttering your brain (and your finances), knowing your values, and of course, budgeting and saving.
At the end of each chapter, she gives action steps on what you need to do to progress through the steps successfully. (In the beginning, she ran how to get out of debt seminars in her community.) I love books that give homework as it helps you (the reader) make it personal and actionable!
Thoughts: This is probably one of the most raw and honest accounts of someone detailing how they buried themselves under a mountain of debt. She shared her lowest of lows, her faults, her failures, her blindness, and her immaturity regarding her wants, needs, and actions. You can’t help but be rooting for her as she starts to change it all around!
So if you’ve struggled with finance books in the past, and your struggle is debt, then this is the book that could help YOU change it all around!
Best For: As the author so aptly put it, “this book is for the person who doesn’t enjoy talking about money. They just want to get out of debt and stay out of debt once and for all… This book is not for the savvy spenders who have it all together financially, are masters of their credit cards, and have robust Roth IRAs and stock portfolios. I am writing this book for you – the American Spender.”
Know Yourself, Know Your Money by Rachel Cruze
Date published: 2020
Summary: Daughter of famed Dave Ramsey, Rachel Cruze is the “preventative medicine,” while Dave is the “emergency surgery.” This book aims at helping you understand yourself better, so you can handle your money better (before it’s too late).
Cruze says, “it’s all about self-discovery – learning what you believe about money and understanding why you do and don’t do certain things with it.”
The book devels into a few main categories…
- What you learned in childhood about money.
- Your fears about money & responses to financial situations.
- What motivates your money behaviors – spending, saving, and giving.
As with most Ramsey books, there are questions for reflection at the end of each chapter to help you frame your own life at the center of the chapter’s main point. This can be very helpful for those that like to learn but have a hard time with implementation.
The last two chapters focus on your situation and the process of change. “When you understand why you handle money the way that you do, you can build on your strengths and change bad habits for good.
Thoughts: This is a different kind of “financial freedom,” it’s freedom from the feelings and beliefs that have been holding you back for so long. The feeling that you think something is “wrong with you” for managing money the way that you have been.
Understanding your money story can be such a revelation for so many. Once you understand where their behaviors around money come from, they can be more objective, analyze, and change their behaviors if necessary.
This part of personal finance (understanding your money story) is easy to skip, and many think it silly or frivolous. But it can be that “one thing” that really turns it around for you.
Cruze emphasizes; are you committed to your finances, or are you just involved? Are you a participant or a spectator? Are you the bacon or the eggs? You can read the book to figure that last one out!
Best For: People that want to change their money habits but are frustrated that they can’t gain traction or that they’ll keep going back to bad habits.
You are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero
Date Published: 2017
Summary: If, after reading Know Yourself, Know Your Money, you want to continue delving into your money mindset (because it’s truly a fascinating topic that impacts us so much more than we realize), then Sincero’s book should be next on your reading list!
The author gives a narrative of her struggles with how she viewed money (and the people that had a lot of it), and consequently, she was dead broke. Yet, she managed to turn it all around, and now she wants to tell you how she did it (and if she could do it, then anyone can do it) and guide you through the process.
Each chapter delves more into the specifics of our subconscious, our money story, and overall our stubborn, stupid selves. At the end of each chapter, she gives “to get rich” action items for you to do, usually in the form of self-reflection. You need to actively choose your new belief system and financial path.
Thoughts: Overall, the book is a quick and entertaining read while still delivering the hard truths we probably never realized before. If you dislike how some authors droll on and on about their research, then rest assured, you’ll find none of that here. Sincero jumps right into the topics without you even realizing it, with humor that gives us a sense of camaraderie and “OMG, that’s me!” Don’t let the fool you into thinking the topics are trivial or the lessons only vaguely applicable. We can all find a few our own issues in her narrative if we’re brave enough to see it.
Best For: Someone who wants to learn how to get rid of her money roadblocks, but all the other financial literacy books bore her to tears.
Honorable Mention: Secrets of Six-Figure Women by Barbara Stanny
This book was published in 2004, and it kind of reads that way too. You know, it’s not old enough to be considered gospel information but too old to be considered current. YET, that doesn’t mean you can’t learning something from it.
“My express purpose in writing this book is to identify the secrets of six-figure women and come up with some straightforward strategies for applying those secrets to our own situations. It offers insight, hope, and guidance to any of you who aspire to earn more… This book is meant to persuade you to stop settling for less and start opting for more.”
Author, Stanny uncovered eight secrets of successful six-figure women, and just as important, the nine distinct character traits of underearners, which explains why they remain underpaid. So if you’re on the latter list, no worries, you can absolutely change your future!
The Total Money Makeove by Dave Ramsey
Published: 2003; with the latest content update in 2013.
Notes: As of August 2017, over five million copies have been sold, and the book has been on The Wall Street Journal’s bestsellers list for over 500 weeks.
This book gives some commentary on Dave’s path, and the emotion & feelings of what being out of control with your money feels like. Yes, the book goes through his baby step program but as a narrative. As the book says, “it weaving inspiration and information together in a step by step plan.”
Ramsey walks you through the baby steps and gets detailed on things like having an emergency fund, saving for retirement, dumping your debts (consumer debt and student loan debt). He talks about cash flow planning and general tips to increase your financial security. It’s information that everyone needs to know (and act on), in fact, this is a great book for EVERYONE to read!
This book has some templates and forms at the back of the book to get started with the math piece (i.e., budgeting, debt repayment plan, etc.).
It seems that this is content that we’ve heard before, but with a “slightly” different spin. Dave himself distinguishes this book from his first, Financial Peace, by saying that this book is more of an action plan, a process book, while Financial Peace is more of a concept book.
I like thatDave Ramsey doesn’t sugarcoat things, and he doesn’t cut you any slack. He’s abrupt, slightly rude, but it’s with a purpose to get you to drop your BS and come to terms with your financial reality. Yes, he could be more PC, more understanding, but that’s just not him.
I was disappointed with some of his tactical advice, as it hasn’t kept up with the times. These days people don’t write checks and mail things anymore; they pay online. So some process pieces are out of date and need to be tweaked.
Who This Book is Best For: This book is best for people who know they need to make a change, but they’re not quite sure what kind of change. Or for the person that needs convincing that the system works. There are many personal story contributions from people who have gone through the program and seen success, which can help reassure you.
This is the companion workbook to the processes taught in The Total Money Makeover book. Some of the informational content is the same. Still, it gives lots of additional pages for you to not only work through the math portion of your finances, but it goes into helping you identify the mental hurdles you may be facing.
If you’re interested in learning more about money from Dave Ramsey, then be sure to check out, Which Dave Ramsey Book is Right For Me?
The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley & William Danko
Date published: 1996
Summary: The whole point of this book is to challenge what American’s consider “rich” to be. Because maybe, we have it all wrong…
It’s “designed to enlighten those that are confused or misinformed about what it means to be rich. Most Americans have no idea about the true inner workings of a wealthy household. The advertising agency & Hollywood have done a wonderful job conditioning us to believe that wealth and hyperconsumption go hand in hand.”
The book takes you through the Seven Factors, that is, the seven common denominators among those who successfully build wealth. And it’s not what you think. He shares stories from all of the interviews that he’s done over his research, talking to those in retirement and those that just work for fun. They share the same common thread of making mindful financial decisions (both large and small) and having a financial plan in place. Slow and steady wins the race.
The authors have done decades of work, hundreds of interviews, thousands of hours of analyzing reports, data points, and cross-examining of all of it. This was the pinnacle of their life’s work with the thoroughness and detail of their findings.
Now armed with what it takes, you – the reader, can be a millionaire too!
Thoughts: Honestly, this was a fascinating book! I wish there would be an updated version with current data points on wages, percentiles, etc. This book was written before the dot-com era and social media, so I’m curious what that would do to the numbers.
Yet, knowing what the original intent and message of the book were and knowing that people’s behaviors don’t change all that much in 25 years, I don’t know that the typical millionaire would change all that much. But the current climate of online entrepreneurs must have had an impact.
Best For: If you “think” you’re doing all the right things to get rich, and you’re not making progress, then you need to read this book! This book is best for those that question the image of what it means to be wealthy. This book lays it all out, and you won’t be disappointed!
I Will Teach You to be Rich by Ramit Sethi
Date published: 2019 (2nd edition)
Summary: The book is the author’s six-week program to help you get your financial life together. “I do things differently than typical “money experts. I won’t lecture you about cutting back on lattes (buy as many as you want). I won’t try and convince you to keep a budget (I have a better method).”
In the six-week program, you’ll learn about…
- Understanding credit and setting up your credit cards
- Setting up your banking
- 401k & investment accounts
- Make your money go where you want it to go
- Automate your infrastructure
- Get the most from investing
“I believe in small steps… I Will Teach You to be Rich is about taking first steps.” Too many books try to cover everything about money, leaving you holding a book that you “should” read but don’t because it’s overwhelming. I want you to know enough to get started… getting started is more important than becoming an expert. Once your money system is good enough – or 85% of the way there – you can get on with your life and do things you really want to do.”
Thoughts: This is honestly one of the most entertaining personal finance books that I have ever read. While still delivering great advice on financial planning in an actionable way! Ramit is hilarious, and he doesn’t sugarcoat anything, and he says it in a way that won’t make you feel bad about your past. He wants you to dig through any old excuses you have, shed the victim mentality, and take charge of your life.
One of the things that I love is that he gives you scripts to talk with customer service reps and getting what you want from them. For example, he tells you what to say when calling your credit card company and asking for a better APR, or calling your bank and asking them to waive fees.
He also talks about his favorite banks and credit card companies to work with and their best accounts. This is extremely helpful for someone who just wants to get going with it. He also goes into why investing in the stock market is necessary for every single person (hint – you’re losing money keeping everything in a savings account). And yes, investing in a mutual fund or index funds counts.
If you put his plan into action, your financial future is secured!
Best For: Somone who just wants to get the job done (optimize their finances) and get it done now, without all the “feeling” conversations. Also, this book is great for anyone that is bored by traditional finance books (Ramit is hilarious!) or gets overwhelmed easily.
Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill
Date published: 1937
Summary: This financial book came long before optimizing your money was a thing. It’s quintessentially a money mindset guide, focusing on examples of famous people who have changed their destiny by the power of their mind, wits & will.
“It’s not a novel. It’s a textbook on individual achievement that came directly from the experiences of hundreds of America’s most successful men… A real student will not merely read this book; he will absorb its contents and make them his own.”
The author starts by mentioning a money-making secret that was passed to him by Andrew Carnegie. The secret magic formula which gave him his vast fortune. This apparent secret was confirmed by more than 500 wealthy men whom he analyzed. Carnegie wanted this secret shared with everyone so that all may Think and Grow Rich.
Yet, it can only be absorbed by those who are ready for it. Are you ready to be a financial success?
Thoughts: I was a little hesitant to read this book, as it was written so long ago, I wasn’t sure that it had anything new in it, something I hadn’t read before.
I was right; it wasn’t new. The power of harnessing your money mindset has long been on my radar and held with respect. Yet, it was written in such a way that made me excited about the topic again. It renewed my enthusiasm and reinforced my belief in the concept.
The chapters are a little long-winded, with lots of examples, which could have been trimmed. But the info is well worth it; just make sure you’re ready for the length.
Best For: This book is best for the person that struggles with believing in the power of your money mindset. As you can’t deny the success that these people had in their day. That’s one of the gems of this book; we know they made it big in a lasting way. They weren’t just a one-time wonder, touting their advice like a prophet would. These are stories from rock-solid businessmen, and if they believe in the power of the mind, then maybe you should too!
Choose FI by Chris Mamula, Brad Barrett, and Jonathan Mendonsa
Date published: 2019
Summary: This is a different sort of personal finance book in many ways. Firstly, it’s written by three people – the primary author Mamula and then two experts in this specific field – Brad Barrett and Jonathan Mendonsa. The author took a concept popularized by the Choose FI podcast; hosted by Barrett & Mendonsa and compiled their episode content (with 325+ episodes) into a Financial Independence how to guide book.
This book is also different because the concepts here are absolutely outside of the standard financial advice box. Which is hard to wrap your head around it first, but once you “get it,” it can profoundly change your life by speeding up your path to financial freedom.
The author says, “this is the book that could have saved me six, if not seven, figures in financial mistakes and years of angst and unhappiness that I experienced because I was pursuing the wrong things.”
“FI is about having the freedom and flexibility to design your life in alignment with your values. Building wealth that enables FI is simple, but it’s not easy.”
The book gives the principles and guidance on the three main areas of FI…
- Spending less
- Earning more
- Investing better
Each chapter gives advice and features snippets of interviews with others on their path to FI and FIRE (financial independence retire early) from the podcast. At the end of each chapter, the author gives action steps to start you thinking and planning your own financial journey.
Thoughts: Hands down, this is a book that everyone should read once they are out of debt and financially stable. The underlying concept of being a valueist is something that I wholeheartedly support and strive for! ChooseFI defines being a valueist as “In terms of financial independence, a valueist is someone who spends money on experiences or things that they truly place value on.” I wish everyone took the time to analyze and define what they value.
For example, I value experiences over things, and I also appreciate family fun time. So My husband and I choose to splurge on vacations while parring down everyday purchases. We both drive old, dinged-up cars with well over 100,000 miles on them and don’t have any plans to buy new cars anytime soon.
Lending Tree states that “The average monthly car payment in the U.S. is $563 for new vehicles, $397 for used vehicles, and $450 for leased vehicles.” So instead of paying that money out every month x 2 cars, we drive old cars and dump all of that into our vacation fund.
So what do you truly value? Do you know your personal core values? If you’re not familiar with the term, I want you to know that defining your values can wildly change your life for the better. Because you are living your life in alignment with what you hold to be most important.
Best For: This book is best for the person who isn’t happy living the quintessential picket fence American Dream. They know there is a better way than waiting until they retire at age 65 to finally live! This is the book that can show you the way to living your life, not chained to your 9-5 job. And yes, retirement can be reached at 50, or even 40 if you work hard – because waiting until 65 isn’t for you!
Your perfect financial literacy book reading list
So now that you know each of these books, maybe you want to dive right in and read them all? Don’t! That would be too overwhelming! But you can and should strategically stack a few titles together to make the most of the information.
Even though quite a few books repeat information, we need to hear things multiple times for it to really sink in. So many times, I have read something and have it go right over my head. Then a few months later, I hear that advice a second or even a third time, and it finally hits me!
Reading list for those who want to get out of debt:
- The Recovering Spender (if applicable)
- Your Money or Your Life
- The Total Money Makeover
Reading list for those with a family:
- Know Yourself, Know Your Money
- Smart Couples Finish Rich
- Smart Money, Smart Kids
Reading list for those that are ready to optimize:
- I Will Teach You to be Rich
- The Simple Path to Wealth
Reading list for those that think money is fascinating:
- The Millionaire Nextdoor
- Think and Grow Rich
- Your Money or Your Life
If you can only stand to read one book, then…
- If you’re in debt, read The Total Money Makeover
- If you want a good general financial plan, read Smart Couples Finish Rich
- If you need to be entertained to actually finish a finance book, read I Will Teach You to be Rich
At the end of the day
All personal finance books are great reads, as they have so much to offer you! They offer education, and armed with that; you can literally change your life! (Not all books can promise that.) But if you’re looking for the best of the best financial literacy books, then look no further than the titles on this list.
Depending on your focus, you can find a finance book that will significantly impact the rest of your life! So it’s up to you… Do you want to spend an hour on Netflix watching old reruns that you’ve seen a million times? Or do you want to live the life of your dreams?