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looking for good personal finance books

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What do you look for in a personal finance book?

There’s been a discussion on Christian personal finance books on The Simple Dollar.

As a matter of interest, Trent, who writes the Simple Dollar ,happens to be a Christian, if pushed I’d guess he was a liberal to conservative Christian. Of course, since that’s fairly mainstream American (especially in Iowa) as far as I’m concerned it’s the fringes that are having the polite and well-mannered interesting discussion on that particular post And the fringes are me (the atheist), glblguy and mbhunter (born again Christians - I think, and great bloggers).

is there something wrong with Christian personal finance books?

The issue at hand was why I don’t like Christian personal finance books, and my original statement is that I would like them a lot better if they didn’t:

1 assume that I was a Christian

2 assume that Christianity was self-evident

Actually, I think this about all religions (because I am a non-believer) and all media. I think it’s interesting that none of the Christian personal finance bloggers write stuff that I despise. None of them assume that the casual passer by on their blog *is* Christian - although they may state that only Christians are likely to be interested in a specific post - and as a result, they don’t generally assume that Christianity is self-evident. Once you’ve admitted that there are non-Christians, you have to admit that the whole thing doesn’t make sense to some people (even if you then think that they are misguided).

what makes a personal finance book good?

Now, broadening it out away from matters of religion, it got me thinking about what I look for in a personal finance book. I’ve found that where the worldview is completely at odds with mine, and it’s one that I can have problems respecting, I don’t find the book helpful. If it’s not helpful, then for me that defeats the object of a personal finance book. This rules out The Secret, amongst other contenders.

Another thing that I look for when I’m browsing in a bookshop are a good writing style. If it’s not easy to follow, then frankly I haven’t got the time. There are plenty of sources of information on personal finance that are a pleasure to read; I see no reason to waste my time on something filled with poor English.

At this point in my personal finance thinking, I don’t really need a book on the basics. I’m (strictly in a personal finance sense) well read enough that I know how to find any information that I’m looking for on the internet. What engages me more, is the sort of extended riff on a theme or idea. Books like Your Money or Your Life appeal because they are coherent, and different presentations on what money means in the personal context.

I also don’t need books primarily aimed at someone who is at a different life stage to me. Books of frugal money saving tips may be very useful, but if the majority of advice is aimed at people with spare time on their hands, or with children, then it’s not going to appeal to this family of one.

Overall I want a personal finance book that changes me - by altering my views, or perceptions or calling me to action. I don’t need my existing ideas confirmed unaltered - not that the book would be wrong, you understand, just that it would be waste of time reading it.

On the other hand I have to start from where I am, and so, to an extent, does the book. If it disagrees with my strongly held core personal finance assumptions then it had better have a stellar argument for that. If it disagrees with my strongly held core personal values of tolerance, fairness and equality, then it’s going to be kicked to the curb.

tell me about your favourite personal finance books

My requirements are vague and woolly - I know exactly what I’m looking for but struggle to describe it. What do you think about personal finance books? Where do they fit when there’s so much information readily available on the web, tv or radio? Do you have any suggested personal finance books that fit my requirements? Do you have any other books that maybe aren’t what I’m looking for, but could be just the thing for someone else? Let us all know in the comments.

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12 comments for “looking for good personal finance books”

  1. I am in the middle of reading “Rich Like Them” by Ryan D’Agostino.


    I never have read financial books before but am not religious as well and don’t think it has anything to do with finance either. I agree with your points on that. Check this out, it’s a different type of financial book because he goes directly to the source, (rich people) and asks them at their house. The books doesn’t give tips or advice but rather stories that you derive your own inspiration from.

    Posted by Craig | December 31, 2008, 7:27 pm
  2. I have not read it, but I have heard that Dave Ramsey’s total money makeover is a very good personal finance book.

    Posted by The Frugalist | January 1, 2009, 10:55 am
  3. Christianity is fine if you buy it. I don’t; consequently, I don’t buy books that recommend one base one’s financial plan on religious doctrine.

    I’m on the trail of The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, by Niall Ferguson. Understand PBS is supposed to air a documentary based on the book later this month.

    Posted by Funny about Money | January 1, 2009, 8:11 pm
  4. I can’t stand most Christian personal finance books either. Maybe Dave Ramsey because I somehow manage to block those parts out.

    Despite my being a Christian, almost all “Christian” books annoy the heck out of me. I think it’s because I grew up in the conservative side of Christianity…and there’s a language and set of assumptions that goes along with that which I’ve found falls to pieces when truly challenged. I don’t think the faith needs to fall to pieces, but all the framework that’s built around it…there’s so much that’s never said because everyone speaks in a jargon. So people tell you that you have to work on your “relationship with Jesus” but when it comes to getting concrete, specific, describing how that looks in everyday life, they’re lost. I’ve seen pastors be unable to answer the questions of small children because they keep falling into jargon. I can speak the language, but I also know that it’s very superficial…I even knew that when I was sold on that version of Chty.

    Can you tell I find this frustrating? ;) Anyway, most Christian PF books have way too much of that jargon thrown in for me to feel comfortable. It’s not normally important to the text but maybe it helps the author justify it as “Christian.” And that itself annoys me.

    Whereas Christian PF bloggers don’t generally feel that they need to prove their faith to their audience or publisher.

    Um, books, books. Right. One that I still love is “You Don’t Have to Be Rich” by Jean Chatzky. First, she talks about values and getting what you want out of life…and how that doesn’t have to be money. But she also shows steps to get out of debt and build wealth without earning 6 figures and shows how it’s not what you earn that determines your wealth, but how you spend it. It’s got practical advice on debt, investing, whatnot, but what I like best is the inspirational aspect.

    Posted by Mrs. Micah | January 2, 2009, 2:47 am
  5. I read that whole thread and I’m still waiting for someone to actually name a good christian personal finance book. I’ve read Ramsey, which I’m sure is okay is way too basic for me, and a book called Does Your Bag Have Holes (which I won on a blog) which was absolute garbage. This discussion without actual titles is useless!

    As an aside, I grew up in (what was then) a catholic country, in a catholic family, going to catholic schools, have attending mass a zillion times and am still nominally catholic - and I can’t remember a single incidence of personal finance coming up! These american protestant churches where you do your socializing, studying, entertaining, get book and film recommendations and can learn all your life skills are bizarre and fascinating to me.

    Posted by guinness416 | January 2, 2009, 4:54 am
  6. @Mrs. Micah:
    Whilst I’m not fluent in the jargon, I can understand it well enough to see when it’s actually words that mean nothing. Read one too many bad books of any type and the stock phrases may as well highlight themselves.

    I too find that particular brand of Christianity fascinating. But I’d like it to stay 1000 miles away on the other side of the Atlantic.

    Posted by plonkee | January 2, 2009, 1:18 pm
  7. Thanks for the positive mention Plonkee! I enjoyed the discussion over at Trent’s blog.

    You’re correct in saying that I’m a born-again Christian. Looking back, many Christian ideas were foolish and unbelievable before I was born again. I used to not tithe, but now it wouldn’t occur to me not to tithe. (That’s one example.) So, I can understand how a non-believer would view this, and other, Christian personal finance practices, because I at one point viewed them as essentially a non-believer. At the same time, there are numerous solid personal finance practices that are in the Bible and do make good sense even to non-believers.

    But like Mrs. Micah, I take a long time to get to my book list. ;) I enjoy books that encourage starting a business as a way to financial independence (perhaps because I’ve been an employee for so long) like Michael Masterson’s works, and others because they provide contrarian opinions, like John Pugsley’s Alpha Strategy and Peter Schiff’s latest. With so many people pushing “max out your retirement accounts, buy and hold stocks for the long haul,” I’m becoming suspicious. :)

    Posted by mbhunter | January 3, 2009, 7:38 am
  8. @mbhunter:
    Anyone who can appreciate a non-believer’s perspective is fine with me :) .

    I’m often of the opinion that if you do what everyone else is doing, you’re not going to make too much money. It’s just a pity that I prefer being employed to starting my own business.

    Posted by plonkee | January 3, 2009, 11:53 am
  9. I’m currently reading Swensen’s Unconventional Success.

    It’s no Christian, or anything else. It’s just pure numbers, and very convincing.

    Only really about investment though (my main area of interest). No comment on credit cards, consumer debt etc.

    Posted by Monevator | January 14, 2009, 2:41 pm

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