A life-changing holiday gift: Personal finance books.

thSome people are into experiences rather than gifts. Physical presents take up space and need to be dusted, whereas a massage or a theater ticket is a one-and-done event.

I suggest that a personal finance book is both a gift and an experience. Sure, it takes up a little space – but it can lead to life-altering changes and literal enrichment. And if you get the Kindle or PDF version, it doesn’t take up any room in your domicile.

When you give the gift of personal finance, you’re giving people tools that can get them out of current money troubles and/or help them build the lives they want. Doesn’t that beat the heck out of a scented candle or a cheese log?


Since there are as many kinds of PF books as there are money situations, I’m listing a variety of options – starting, obviously, with my own.

Your Playbook For Tough Times: Living Large On Small Change, For The Short Term Or The Long Haul” is aimed at three groups of people: those who are already in financial difficulty (including the paycheck-to-paycheck crowd), those who are seeing tough times on the horizon (e.g., a whole lotta layoffs at the workplace) and those who want to live lean to realize a dream (entrepreneurship, full-time parenthood, early retirement, et al.). The tips are practical and field-tested (often by me), and their effectiveness is confirmed by Amazon users as well as reviews on sites like Wise Bread and The Simple Dollar.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about my daughter! Specifically, let’s talk about “Frugality For Depressives: Money-Saving Tips For Those Who Find Life A Little Harder,” by Abigail Perry. Although depressives are noted in the title, it’s actually a book that applies to any type of chronic illness or condition. Typical frugal hacks don’t always work for those whose lives aren’t typical. Incidentally, one of the Amazon reviews notes that “even non-depressives will find it useful.” Maybe the overwhelmed millennial or recently divorced person in your life could use Abby’s “frugal workarounds” too.




PF holiday gifts for the financially challenged

Deal With Your Debt: Free Yourself From What You Owe,” by Liz Weston. This book would be a real lifeline to any indebted relatives or friends. Weston’s advice is practical and achievable. She offers empathy to those who are terrified and tough love to anyone who thinks it’s OK to let debt build and build.

The Debt Escape Plan: How to Free Yourself From Credit Card Balances, Boost Your Credit Score and Live Debt-Free,” by Beverly Harzog. Your debt won’t go away. It’s up to you to do something about it. As its subtitle suggests, this book teaches smarter ways of handling money after debts have been retired. Also from Harzog, also recommended: “Confessions of a Credit Junkie: Everything You Need to Know to Avoid the Mistakes I Made.” Check out her website, BeverlyHarzog.com, to learn more about the right ways to use plastic and to read unbiased reviews of credit card offers (Harzog has no affiliate relationship with issuers).

The Recovering Spender: How to Live a Happy, Fulfilled, Debt-Free Life” by Lauren Greutman. The artist formerly known as I Am That Lady writes about her descent into debt and the ways she and her husband climbed back out. In other words, this isn’t some theoretical economist in an ivory tower looking down her nose at anyone who carries a balance. You won’t be lectured to, but rather encouraged and helped. Note: This is a faith-based book, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But it might be just the thing for someone (or a whole lot of someones) on your list.



For those who want to do better

The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy,” by Liz Weston. The New York Times calls this book “wonderful” for a reason: Weston understands how hard some people were hit by the recession. Rather than repeat the same old bromides, the author is realistic about how things have changed and offers advice that fits.




Smart Mom, Rich Mom: How To Build Wealth While Raising A Family,” Kimberly Palmer. This combination empowerment manifesto and wake-up call is based on Palmer’s own research (she’s a former senior money editor at US News & World Report) and talks with moms all over the country. As a working mother with two kids, Palmer skips the fringe ideas and focuses instead on do-able, sustainable strategies.

Live Your Life For 1/2 The Price,” by Mary Hunt. The queen mother of frugal living, Hunt sums up her approach quite simply: “It’s the money you don’t spend that ultimately gives you the freedom to live the life you love.” The author of a couple of dozen books and two websites (DebtProofLiving.com, EverydayCheapskate.com), she helps readers take control of their cash, avoid fees, pay a fair price and even pay off their mortgages early.



For those looking ahead

The Five Years Before You Retire: Retirement Planning When You Need It the Most,” by Emily Guy Birken. Think you’ve got enough for your golden years? You might be surprised – and finding that your funds are lacking is not the kind of surprise you want in your 60s. Birken walks you through decisions you need to make in your last few years of full earnings.

The Smart Woman’s Guide to Retirement: How to Save For Your Future Today,” by Mary Hunt. When I gave this book away, some of the comments were a little disheartening (e.g., “I’m in my 40s and haven’t saved a dime”). Whether you’re just starting out or halfway through your working years, you need to put together a plan. Hunt shows you how. Remember: Women tend to outlive men, and more women are opting not to marry or are winding up divorced (whether they want to be or not). Prepare to take care of yourself.


What To Do When I Get Stupid: A Radically Safe Approach to a Difficult Financial Era,” by Lewis Mandell. While you’d like to think you’ll always be able to handle your own funds, the fact is that financial abilities peak at age 53 and are likely to decline after that. Since making the wrong decisions and/or being defrauded are both real possibilities, the author shows how to make sure we have enough money to see us through.


Frugality primers

The Coupon Mom’s Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half: The Strategic Shopping Method Proven to Slash Food and Drugstore Costs,” by Stephanie Nelson. Want to get food and other necessities for a lot less, or even for free? Nelson has plans for novices and coupon hounds alike, and even for those who want to save money but are short on time/inclination. (Her website, CouponMom.com, provides weekly coupon-sale matchups for hundreds of supermarkets, drugstores and dollar stores across the country. Recent deals have included laundry soap for 3 cents a jug, toilet paper for 10 cents a package, and free name-brand cold medicines, dog treats and analgesics.)

Clark Howard’s Living Large in Lean Times: 250+ Ways to Buy Smarter, Spend Smarter and Save Money,” by Clark Howard. The nationally syndicated radio host has frugal hacks for beginning, intermediate and veteran deal hounds. Howard is a populist who gets it – he knows how everyday people live and is determined to help them get the most bang for the buck.



Hard Core Poor: A Book On Serious Thrift,” by Kelly Sangree. Just what it sounds like: A primer on how pinching pennies can keep you in the ballgame when times are tight. Seasoned frugalists might find a lot of this material to be pretty obvious. But if someone you know is new to saving money, this book could be a big help.

Keep in mind that not everyone will appreciate this kind of gift. Some might take umbrage, feeling they’re being judged or that they’re doing it wrong. At some point, however, recipients might start reading – the first step to changing their own lives.

You might even be thanked later on. But of course, that’s not why you gave a book or books. The point is to help, to encourage or to inspire. You might even change –or save – someone’s life. Whether or not you ever find out is beside the point.

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  1. Susan in AK

    Thank you for sharing this helpful list.

  2. Greatly appreciate this list. And yes, I have given financial books to those who have requested them. Truly a valuable gift.

  3. I prefer the “classics”:

    The Millionaire Next Door
    The Richest Man in Babylon
    Your Money or Your Life

  4. Tina in NJ

    Alas, my son refuses to read. Anything. He expects his parents (actually, his father) to answer all his PF questions. I bought him a PF book a few years ago and he asked me why I wasted my money. I guess he thinks he can game the system or something.

    • Donna Freedman

      Maybe he’ll grow out of it and pick up a book. Could always try some tough love: Ask his dad to reply to all questions with, “You’re a big boy — go look it up. Didn’t your mom give you a book that would answer those questions?”

  5. There are some terrific books on this list, and some new titles I haven’t read yet and can’t wait to pick up. Thanks Donna!

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