I am a big connoisseur of personal-finance books, simple living books, mindful minimalism books, and career books. I read several a year, but these ten titles have really made a huge impact on me, my thought processes, and my personal values. Some brought me new values to live by, others inspired me to take action, and others validated my own life choices while urging me to keep pushing the envelope of Cheap Yuppie Mom-dum. In various ways, these books taught me how to take control of my money, instead of letting it take control of me. Sometimes the books weren’t necessarily about money directly, but rather about teaching skills and self-reliance that made it possible for me to live with less, and to do more things on my own without having to pay for others to do it for me. (Or enabled me to Do More With Less). One of these books is actually a religious book (Buddhism), which taught me the power of mindfulness, and how I could use mindfulness to make better decisions around my finances.
Still others helped me harness an idea I learned as a kid watching my mother struggle in two unhappy marriages where she relied on an abusive husband for financial reasons; I always told myself I’d never let that happen to me, but it wasn’t until I was almost 30 that I finally put all of those ideas and lessons into practice. I discovered after my long Why Debt Sucks saga that getting a good education and a good job (neither of which my mom had) wasn’t necessarily a ticket to financial freedom—-but frugality was.
I cannot stress that last point enough. Frugality is the surest pathway to freedom. Having your money work for you instead of the other way around gives you the freedom to leave jobs you hate, to travel, and to take care of your family in times of hardship (job loss, illness, death). Stuff is not freedom, cars are not freedom, being beautiful is not freedom. But a healthy savings account and the knowledge that your bills are paid with money to spare sure is a nice way to fall asleep at night (no Ambien or red wine required). If you struggle with finances, home economics (an important frugal skill rarely taught nowadays), or both, these books will help you change your thinking.
In no particular order, they are:
- YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE. This is probably the best book on personal finance I have ever read. It crystallizes into brutally honest terms just what poor money management costs you—-it can cost your dignity, your relationships, your health and even your life when poorly managed. This book also taught me that how much money you make is far less important than how much money you spend.
- MEET THE FRUGALWOODS. I consider myself frugal but the author of this book (and the fabulous blog Frugalwoods) showed me that I am but a mere amateur at frugal living. The Frugalwoods family of four, which retired to a Vermont homestead in their early 30s after saving almost every penny they made for the first 10 years of their careers, will truly inspire you!
- THE YEAR OF LESS. I have read dozens of books on minimalism and downsizing as a path to frugality, but this book by Cait Flanders truly stands apart. Unlike the books that tell you to throw stuff out, Cait digs deep into the emotional baggage of stuff and how it impacted her life at a deep level.
- THE FOXFIRE BOOK: Hog Dressing, Log Cabin Building, Mountain Crafts and Foods, Planting by the Signs, Snake Lore, Hunting Tales, Faith Healing, Moonshining, and Other Affairs of Plain Living. I first read this book as a third grader staying at my grandparents’ house for the summer. My grandparents grew up dirt-poor in rural Appalachia and brought their down-home ways with them to the big city when they got factory jobs in the industrial Midwest; yet they stayed in touch with their mountain self-reliance and taught me a lot. They owned the entire Foxfire series, which can teach you everything from home canning to hog butchering to growing medicinal herbs.
- THE MILLIONAIRE NEXT DOOR. This book illustrates the fact that most actual millionaires do not live lavish lifestyles—quite the opposite, actually. (Being rich isn’t whether you have a fancy house, car, or boat—it’s how much money you have in the bank.)
- MILLIONAIRE WOMEN NEXT DOOR. A woman-focused sequel to the first book, this one peeks inside the heads of successful female entrepreneurs and super-savers who self-made themselves into frugal millionaires. Most of them are also very generous in terms of charitable giving, too—more than their male counterparts. Truly inspiring.
- I WILL TEACH YOU TO BE RICH. This book is hilarious, and turns some conventional frugality advice on its head. (like the difference between being frugal and being cheap—they’re not the same, according to this author). It uses humor as a teaching tool, which I like.
- HOW TO SEW A BUTTON: AND OTHER NIFTY THINGS YOUR GRANDMOTHER KNEW. I am a big fan of home economics and developing dying arts/skills like home sewing, meal planning, more efficient ways to clean, and whatnot. I learned many of these things from my grandparents, and I want to teach these skills to my kids. This book had a lot of familiar info to me, but also some new nuggets that I hadn’t known before, like how to shine shoes, how to develop perfect posture, how to host elaborate dinner parties, and even how to waltz.
- HOME ECONOMICS: VINTAGE ADVICE AND PRACTICAL SCIENCE FOR THE 21ST CENTURY HOUSEHOLD. Another great home economics book, this one actually has a bunch of excerpts from actual Home Economics manuals used by housewives from the 1890s through the 1950s. I read it in a single sitting and learned about everything from home tailoring/home dry cleaning (yes, you can do your own) to upholstering your own furniture to planning meals up to a year in advance.
- WOMEN & MONEY: OWNING THE POWER TO CONTROL YOUR DESTINY. I’m usually not a Suze Orman fan (she has a slight odor of snake oil a lot of the time), but I did like this book in that it puts a lot of complex financial information into simple terms that are meaningful to women in particular. My mom never had any personal freedom and just bounced around from one bad marriage to another to keep a roof over her head, and I always vowed I’d never let that happen to me. Books like this keep my financial talons sharp and help me go toe to toe with my husband (a banker and financial analyst) on financial matters as an equal.
- Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. You’re probably wondering what a Zen Buddhism book has to do with personal finance. My answer: Everything. (That’s a Zen Koan. Look up what that means, and then you’ll understand why I listed it there.) More to come on Money Mindfulness in future posts.
Happy reading, folks! I remain your Cheap Yuppie Mom.