Money 101: 11 Personal Finance Reads To Change Your Life

In finance, there’s a canon that everyone on Wall Street has read: Benjamin Graham, Adam Smith, and Robert Schiller. But no canon exists for personal finance. In fact, most personal finance books are a frustrating waste of time and money. From Suze Orman’s factually incorrect information to Jim Cramer’s super-caffeinated hysteria, it’s a sad field that puts consumers who take such advice, likely already vulnerable if seeking help, at risk. But, despite all the garbage, there are some stellar resources and I am going to direct you to them.

Do not pay for personal finance writing. This is because buying books won’t help you get out of debt, and because there is far more BS in personal finance books than on personal finance blogs. Most blog authors started out as hobbyists passionate about passing on the tough lessons they learned from surviving financial trauma. Plus, they are accessible via email, post comments and Twitter. Personal finance “gurus” are really profit-oriented entertainers of the masses. Cramer has admitted as much. So stick to blogs. Personal finance blogging has grown up and there are some truly excellent options. Find your favorites, read them everyday and get to know the authors — they can act as de-facto financial coaches. Here are my favorites in descending order:

  • Man Vs. Debt: Adam Baker is fantastic. His site has a sleek, simple design that is easy to navigate. He is a great writer (gasp!). He publishes all his spending, keeps a tally of his possessions, and generally leads the war against mindless consumerism.
  • U.S. News and World Report’s Alpha Consumer: This is Kim Palmer’s blog, a slightly feminist take on personal finance with relevant lady tips (annual cost of birth control, for example).
  • The Simple Dollar: Trent’s site offers a holistic view of financial stability and a free ebook. His “financial rules” are unusual and valuable. I like his emphasis on doing what you love as the key to wealth.
  • Frugal Dad: This guy is often very dorky but lays out instructions clearly. Like The Simple Dollar, he also offers an ebook. Frugaldad’s “kids” section makes the site. It is extraordinarily touching, personal, and useful, with posts like “How to insulate your children from financial fears.” And I don’t even have kids!
  • Youngmoney: This blog is always insightful and full of useful articles.
  • 20SomethingFinance, Moolanomy and GenXFinance remind me a lot of each other, but are full of smart advice.
  • Wisebread: This blog is quickly becoming the cool-kid of personal finance, with solid content.

If you still want to read books after those excellent blog recommendations, borrow these from the library:

  • Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. This is the only personal finance book I recommend. It is the book most likely to shake you out of financial denial. Ramsey breaks down debt recovery into a plan based around measurable improvements, which is important for permanently changing your habits. I also love his “debt is a predator chasing you” analogy, which haunted me for months after I read it when I shopped. Everyone struggling with debt and credit could benefit from this book.
  • The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing by Larimore, Lindauer, LaBoeuf and Bogle. This is the primer of primers on basic investing from the founder of Vanguard, a respected mutual fund company. It offers low risk, sound, unexciting tips and explanation — just the way finance should be. Begin your finance education here.

These resources will help you learn about stabilizing your finances, reducing debt, saving money, generating more income, and basic investing. They are the starting point for your transformation into becoming your own financial manager.

Photo: iStockphoto

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