The 9 Best Personal Finance Books of 2020

It's time to start managing your money better

Image shows a man sitting at a desk drinking a cup of coffee with a stack of books next to him. The books are called
Image by Alex Dos Diaz © The Balance 2019

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Some people manage their money like they were born with calculators in their hands. Others…not so much. Maybe they fall prey to their own instincts to spend more than they should. Maybe math just isn’t their strong suit or they find it unbearably tedious to keep track of pennies and dimes, let alone dollars.

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Just look at the statistics. The American Psychological Association does a survey every year in an attempt to pin down where folks think they stand financially. The most recent survey indicated that a walloping 70 percent of us believe we’re on shaky financial ground. Even more — 75 percent — are of the firm belief that we’d be a whole lot happier if we just had more money.

So what can you do to get a grip on your finances and make your money grow? Learn. Educate yourself. That’s how Elon Musk and Warren Buffett started out, and they haven’t stopped reading now that they’re at the top of their respective games. These books should give you a great start.

The Best Overall: Rich Dad Poor Dad

Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! is something of a memoir with lessons attached. It celebrated its 20th birthday in 2017 with an updated edition, and author Robert Kiyosaki has a lot to celebrate. This is this one of the bestselling personal finance books ever.

Kiyosaki walks readers through some childhood reminiscences, a contrast between his own not-very-wealthy father and the dad of his friend who happened to be one of the richest residents of Hawaii. The comparison shines a spotlight not just on how to best manage your money or lack of it, but also on helping your kids to do so as well. According to Kiyosaki, not all debt is bad, and you can work your way toward wealth even if you don’t enjoy a staggering income. It’s all about how you handle the money you do have and figuring out ways to lead you away from that paltry paycheck.

This updated edition of Rich Dad Poor Dad is particularly enjoyable and insightful as it compares life 20 years ago against what it is today.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: You Are a Badass at Making Money

You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth is from Jen Sincero, author of the No. 1 New York Times bestseller You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. Published in 2017, this second Badass book takes more of a financial angle than the first one did.

Prepare to chuckle and roll your eyes. This book is candid and funny, and if you’re like many of us, you’ll recognize yourself and your own habits in its pages. It’s based on Sincero’s personal experiences as she emerged from her salad days to living very, very well. You Are a Badass #2 is designed to help you nix the financial habits that hold you back and introduce some simple, easily understandable concepts into your life that will help you improve the way you handle your money.

New York Magazine says it’s “a cheerful manifesto on removing obstacles between yourself and the income of your dreams.” Who says good money management has to be tedious? 

The Best Book About How to Get Rich: The Automatic Millionaire

OK, you don’t want to sit down with something that’s minutely detailed and overwhelming. We get that. The beauty of David Bach’s The Automatic Millionaire: A Powerful One-Step Plan to Live and Finish Rich is that it delivers exactly what it promises: a one-step plan.

The book almost reads like fiction at first with a success story about a couple who earn a modest income but nonetheless owns two mortgage-free homes and they can look forward to some really significant retirement savings, too. From there, Bach explains a simple one-step process that will put you in this couple’s shoes—and it doesn’t involve budgeting, gritting your teeth or earning six figures a year, either.

You can trust Bach because this isn’t his first rodeo. He’s previously published three other bestsellers. The Automatic Millionaire spent 31 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List when it was published in 2004 and it’s sold more than 1.5 million copies. Recently updated, it’s still immensely popular.

The Best Book About Wellbeing: AgeProof

Chatzky and Roizen aren’t simply financial gurus. Their combined expertise lies in the correlation between your bank account and the state of your health. Chatzky is the financial expert for NBC’s TODAY Show, and Dr. Roizen is the Chief Wellness Officer at the Cleveland Clinic.

Their suggestion in AgeProof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip is that you should safeguard your finances in much the same way you stay healthy, and if you do both concurrently, your golden years really will be golden. Just as you don’t want to consume more calories than you burn off, you don’t want to spend more money than you earn. That’s a widely accepted maxim, but Chatzky and Roizen don’t preach. Rather, they offer tips and techniques for modifying your behavior so you can achieve both.

It makes sense—all the money in the world won’t make you happy if you can’t get out of bed, and money-related stress can hurt your health. Released in 2017, AgeProof is a relatively quick, easy, enjoyable read. Amazon calls it one of the best books of 2017.

The Best Book About Retiring Young: How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free

On the flip side, How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free: Retirement Wisdom That You Won't Get from Your Financial Advisor isn’t as much about taming your finances in preparation for retirement as it is about retiring well on what you have managed to save.

Interestingly, it doesn’t promote working longer and harder to achieve that. The “happy, wild and free” part of the title is not to be overlooked, and Zelinski doesn’t think you need $1 million-plus in savings to accomplish it. These are the best years of your life, and Zelinski imparts a few lessons about how to enjoy them on the money you have, sooner rather than later.

The National Post said that most books about retirement “view the finish line as the last day of employment. That's where Zelinski's begins." Judged by reader response, his advice is well taken.  

The Best Book About Beating Debt: The Total Money Makeover

There’s everyone else…and then there’s Dave Ramsey. When Ramsey talks about money and finances, people sit up and listen, and with good cause. The Dave Ramsey Show garners more than 8 million listeners a week on 550 radio stations. He’s written five New York Times bestsellers, including The Total Money Makeover. This edition, The Total Money Makeover Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness, includes some new “Dave Rants” that tackle budget-busters like marital difficulties and how to foot the bill when your genius offspring begins eyeing an Ivy League college.

This is no get-rich-quick scheme—Ramsey’s books never are. The book provides a solid foundation for saving, enough so that the next life emergency can’t derail you and you can put your feet up in comfort when you retire. Ramsey’s credo has always involved paying off your debt so you can get there, and he tells you how.

Publisher’s Weekly says Ramsey “provides the brutally direct truth about the hard work it takes to become free of debt, and his directness is a great part of the book's charm.” 

The Best Book for 20-Somethings: Why Didn’t They Teach Me This in School

Author Cary Siegel first got the idea for Why Didn’t They Teach Me This in School: 99 Personal Money Management Principles to Live By when he realized how inadequately schools had taught his own kids about handling money. This book brings young people up to speed, but don’t overlook it if your twenties are now in the rearview mirror; You’re never too old to master these 99 principles.

Sure, 99 sounds like a lot, but Siegel has encapsulated them into eight broad lessons. They’re about learning to manage your money so it doesn’t manage you. And the book is particularly digestible with less than 200 succinct, let’s-get-to-the-point-here pages.

Siegel has an MBA from the University of Chicago, but his book isn’t highbrow and lofty. It’s about basics, couched in terms that even your high schooler can easily grasp. They apparently work well because the author retired at age 45. 

The Best Book About Age-Old Principles: The Richest Man in Babylon

Another oldie but goodie, The Richest Man in Babylon reads like a work of fiction, but make no mistake. It’s one of the more educational books out there when it comes to personal finance.

Clason’s contribution to our list is a unique collection of stories about financial successes and failures dating back to ancient Babylon. The premise is that if these principles worked for our fore-fore-fore-fathers, they’ll work for us, too. Most of them are familiar: Save, don’t spend. Give, but give cautiously. They’re imparted in such a way that taking them in is actually fun. They cover both personal finance and business considerations and conundrums.

The Richest Man in Babylon was originally a collection of pamphlets given out to consumers by insurance companies, banks, and the like many years ago. They were first published in book form in 1926. Revised in 2010, this new edition is a quick, 92-page read. Setting personal financial rules doesn’t get any easier than that. 

The Best Book About Living on a Budget: Your Money or Your Life

The authors of Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence dare to express the idea that cheap is better and living frugally will actually make you happier.

Think about it: You have a choice between two jobs. One pays really well. The other doesn’t. But the well-paying job involves something—maybe coworkers or the nature of your duties—that will make you really, really dread the sound of your alarm clock in the morning. Which job do you accept? Robin and Dominguez think it’s a no-brainer. Earning money should not mean misery. Go with the one that makes you happiest and trim your budget accordingly, and Your Money or Your Life will tell you how.

Millennial Money has called it “the best book on money period.” The Los Angeles Times says it’s “the new morality of personal money management.” It’s not so much about learning to budget as it is about living within your means by changing your habits ​and enjoying life every step of the way.


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