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According to the 2020 TIAA Institute-GFLEC Personal Finance Index, financial literacy in the United States is improving, albeit slowly and modestly. Adults surveyed this year answered just 52% of questions correctly, but that number has been climbing by about 1% per year, from 2017 to 2020. If you’re like most Americans, you didn’t learn much about financial management from your parents or your school, which is precisely why seeking out such trusted educational resources as personal finance books is so vital.
Our selections aim to provide you with the knowledge you need to feel empowered to take control of your finances and join the ranks of those who are turning over a new leaf by educating themselves about money. A good personal finance book is one that offers valuable information on how to manage spending, savings, debt, and investments. These picks of the best finance books do all that in a package that’s also entertaining, upbeat, and accessible.
Best Overall: The Wealth Choice
Equal parts inspirational and informational, Dennis Kimbro’s book “The Wealth Choice: Success Secrets of Black Millionaires” is an outstanding read for anyone interested in wealth accrual. Dr. Kimbro, a college professor, motivational speaker, and writer for the Napoleon Hill Foundation, effortlessly pairs years of in-depth research with engaging success stories in this 2013 publication. The page-turning narrative style combined with his financial savvy and general life wisdom are sure to make it a personal finance read that will have mass appeal for years to come.
Not only does the book come highly recommended by the Investopedia Financial Review Board, but the research contained in “The Wealth Choice” is top-notch. Over the course of seven years, Kimbro and his colleagues conducted an in-depth study of 1,000 Black millionaires to get to the heart of how and why some people are able to build significant wealth, even when they come from humble beginnings. Throughout his conversations with Black millionaires that are detailed in the book, Kimbro shows readers how they can implement the techniques of the affluent to help themselves achieve financial success.
Best Introduction to Investing: Investing 101
There aren’t many investing books that are attractive enough to live on your coffee table, but “Investing 101” by Michele Cagan is one of them. Between the covers of this book, readers will find a well-written soup to nuts introduction to investing. Part manual and part textbook, this book, and the entire 101 series, won’t give you advice on how to beat the market, but it will provide you with a working knowledge of how different financial vehicles work, the differences between various types of investments, and how to build a well-rounded portfolio for long-term growth.
Cagan, a certified public accountant (CPA), excels at providing readers simple yet comprehensive definitions of complex financial vehicles and concepts. “Investing 101” is the perfect book for anyone who wants to learn more about the world of investing, as well as for those looking for a go-to resource on investing to consult from time to time. Cagan’s straightforward approach and lack of editorializing are what make this book a great introduction to investing.
Best Introduction to Budgeting: Easy Money
Written by Gail Vaz-Oxlade, from the Canadian personal finance TV show “Til Debt Do Us Part,” “Easy Money” is a great read. Vaz-Oxlade’s shoot-from-the-hip writing style and years as a personal finance educator shine through in this short guide that directs readers on exactly how to budget and what to include in a budget.
The best things about the April 2020 title “Easy Money” are the timelessness of the advice and the accessibility of the budgeting method. While other budgeting books insist on endless tracking and optimization, Vaz-Oxlade’s well-honed budgeting system requires no apps, no software, and no math or tech skills. It is equally applicable to the high earner and the low earner, and despite a few references to Canadian-specific investment vehicles, it can be applied to budgets anywhere. Vaz-Oxlade’s budgeting method is all about assessing current spending, course correcting, and then maintaining control through budgeting and prioritization. Even the most budget-phobic reader will walk away from “Easy Money” feeling ready to take on their finances.
Best for Behavioral Economics: Dollars and Sense
The idea that our spending decisions are all about logic and education has long been debunked. We now know that our money decisions are often based on emotions and subconscious desires. In Dan Ariely and Jeff Kreisler’s book “Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter,” readers are treated to the inner workings of the human mind when it comes to dealing with money. Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, and comedian Kreisler are a great pair who have created an engaging read, which seamlessly combines scientific evidence with entertaining real-world examples.
This is the perfect read if you’re interested in things like how the sunk cost fallacy causes people to overspend, why we overvalue what we have, how our surroundings and state of mind impact our willingness to spend money, and ultimately, why so many of us lose control over our spending. Unlike many behavioral economics and pop psychology books, “Dollars and Sense” not only outlines the problematic way humans approach money by default, but also provides real actionable advice to help all of us overcome our irrational money habits.
Best for Credit Repair: Perfect Credit
Lynnette Khalfani-Cox has 15 money management books under her belt, but “Perfect Credit,” first published in 2010, is one of the best books on credit ratings because it’s a clear, actionable guide to improving credit, step-by-step. Additionally, according to a 2019 Experian report, about a third of Americans have subprime credit; the need for a book that addresses improving credit scores is clear.
Despite the often fraught topic, “Perfect Credit” manages to be entertaining, approachable, and upbeat. Khalfani-Cox’s voice makes the readers feel like they’re getting trustworthy advice from their best friend who just so happens to be a former Wall Street Journal reporter. The book also covers important and often overlooked topics like how to negotiate with creditors and how to control excess spending to prevent credit overuse in the future.
Best for Managing Student Loans: Debt Free Degree
“Debt Free Degree” is ideal for parents who not only want to help their children avoid mountains of debt, but also want to know how they can best prepare their kids for college, what courses their kids should take in high school, and the best way to choose a school and a major. In the national bestseller, author Anthony ONeal details exactly how to go about getting a college degree that is paid for in cash.
While most news headlines focus on the inevitability of being saddled with student loans, ONeal offers an alternative, can-do approach to getting a great deal on higher education. “Debt Free Degree” is an enjoyable read too, thanks to ONeal’s anecdotes gleaned from his time working as an on-air radio personality and public speaker. It is important to note that this book is geared heavily toward parents whose children are not in college yet.
Best for Managing Money: Your Money or Your Life
The latest incarnation of Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez’s “Your Money or Your Life” was updated in 2018, but the key message is the same as the 1992 bestselling original: money alone does not buy happiness. Far from resting on its laurels, this personal finance go-to is still the best book for learning the blueprint to building wealth and a healthy relationship with money—plus, it comes recommended by the Investopedia Financial Review Board.
The nine steps outlined in the book are the brainchild of Dominguez, a self-made millionaire who got his first job to support his family at just 7 years old. Robin’s ability to translate Dominguez’s steps to wealth into digestible directions that not only tell the reader how to deal with money, but how to relate to and think about money and priorities, sets this guide apart from other similar titles. “Your Money or Your Life” will not only show you the right steps to take in your pursuit of financial independence, but it will do so in a way that changes your very relationship to money, consumerism, gratitude, and the concept of “enough.”
All the books on our list are worthy of a read, but if you’re shopping for someone else or simply unsure of which title best suits your needs, we recommend either “The Wealth Choice” or “Your Money or Your Life." Both books offer broad appeal and perspective-shifting insight into money management and life.
Why Trust Investopedia?
The author of this article, a Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) enthusiast and professional writer with a degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing, began assembling this list by establishing categories based on the varied needs of our diverse body of readers. Drawing on over a decade of experience reading personal finance books, including several on this list, a sub-list of potential winners was crafted.
Next, we asked for input from the Investopedia Financial Review Board for recommendations. Then, we looked at books that fit into those categories that had also been featured on bestseller lists, were written by outstanding personal finance experts, and had stellar online reviews. From there, we applied the same type of assessment that would be applied to any other book: We considered the usability of the advice contained in the books as well as the entertainment value and writing style.
Duke FUQUA School of Business. "Dan Ariely."
Experian. "Fewer Americans Have a Subprime Credit Score."
The Wall Street Journal. "Best Selling Books Week Ended October 12."