The gift of personal finance.

thGot a relative or friend who’s financially at sea? Or someone who’s just starting out and who could easily develop bad money habits?

Maybe that’s a middle-aged recent divorcee, a single-mom friend who’s got more month than money, or a slacker cousin who at 35 hasn’t done a thing about retirement.

Or perhaps you know young professionals who are racking up consumer debt, or parents-to-be wondering if one of them can stay home and not torpedo their financial and professional goals.

You might be able to help: This holiday season, give the gift of personal finance.

Such a gift should not be given to control or to shame, but because you genuinely want to help. Even a hint of scolding or condescension can cause the recipient to shut down.

Put another way: Imagine your dad sending you a PF title along with a chiding letter, “It’s high time you got smart about money, missy – it doesn’t grow on trees, you know.” Would you read the book or throw it across the room?

Frame your gift in a different context, such as:

  • “This book changed the way I think about money.” For example, you might explain how “Your Money: The Missing Manual” helped you learn to manage your finances or that “The Real Cost of Living” helped you see that it’s really OK to spend on yourself once the basics are covered.
  • “The author seems to speak directly to your generation.” Maybe the writer is a millennial who understands how it is and who offers realistic tips on living a full life despite the challenges faced by this group.
  • “I found a book that addresses your dream.” Suppose your daughter is an entrepreneur or your nephew wants to retire early. Give a relevant title along with a note that says, “I hope this helps you move toward your goal.”
  • “This title reminded me of the conversations we’ve been having.” Suppose you and your BFF are fearful about investing for the future? Buy two copies of Mary Hunt’s “The Smart Woman’s Guide to Planning for Retirement” and tell your pal, “Let’s both read this and support each other as we make smart financial choices in 2014.”

Some of the titles below are ones I’ve found helpful in the past and others are newer books that have recently come across my desk. While I’ve separated them into several categories, there’s likely to be overlap. For example, an at-home parent might be interested in saving money in the short term (e.g., through using coupons) but also in the long term (i.e., retirement).

Tighten that belt

The audience: Those who want/need to cut costs right freakin’ now.

The Coupon Mom’s Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half,” by Stephanie Nelson: The author runs the Coupon Mom blog, a free state-by-state coupon database and deals/coupon matching system. Her “strategic shopping” shows you how to combine the best sales with the best coupons, for three different kinds of shoppers: coupon newbies, those pressed for time and true deal hounds.

The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy,” by Liz Weston: The basics with heart, this book embraces a sustainable approach to personal finance – and she’s not afraid to look at the “everybody knows…” stuff, either, which is why The New York Times noted that the book had “enough counterintuitive ideas to keep even people who know a bit about personal finance reading further.” The review also called the book “wonderful.” I agree.

The $1,000 Challenge: How One Family Slashed Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese,” by Brian J. O’Connor: As funny as it is well-researched, this book speaks in particular to middle-class budgets that are getting squeezed tighter all the time. He walked the talk, trimming his own family’s budget fairly stringently but without serious pain.

Living Large in Lean Times: 250+ Ways to Buy Smarter, Spend Smarter and Save Money,” by Clark Howard: Host of an incredibly popular radio show, Howard doesn’t pinch pennies so much clutch them to his bosom. He knows an awful lot of ways to stretch the dollars you have. An excellent resource for those who really need to cut costs but don’t know quite where to start.

More Money, Please: The Financial Secrets You Never Learned in School,” by Scott Gamm: A straightforward, easy-to-understand look at the basics – budgeting, debt, banking, credit cards, college costs, investing for retirement, etc. Although the author’s prose seems aimed at fellow 20-somethings, the book’s lessons apply to any age and any stage.

When ramen and roommates aren’t enough

The audience: Recent graduates who are finding out that starter salary + student loans = oh crap.

10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget,” by the staff at Wise Bread: Those who read the Wise Bread website know that you can learn just about anything you need to know regarding saving money while living fully and happily. A whole bunch of those tips (just over 10,000 of them) are compiled in one manual that could be considered a bible of creative use of every dollar. While I’m recommending it in particular to those just starting out, there’s really something for everyone in this book, whether you’re a single world traveler or an at-home parent who needs to shepherd the dollars very carefully indeed.

Budget Bytes: Over 100 Easy, Delicious Recipes to Slash Your Grocery Bill in Half,” by Beth Moncel: She started cooking because, like so many other new grads, she was broke. Then she started a blog, Budget Bytes, that took off. Now she’s collected a bunch of simple-to-fix recipes that boost your budget without stinting on flavor or variety. Remember, the food section of your budget tends to have the most wiggle room.

How I Make Money Blogging: The Beginner’s Guide to Building a Money-Making Blog,” by Crystal Stemberger. Few people will get rich this way, but it is possible to make a side income. Put another way: If you’ve wanted to start a blog because you need a place for your voice to go, why not make some money doing it? Stemberger’s e-book lays it all out for you. Note: If you order, use the code thankyou10 to get a $10 discount.

How to Be Richer, Smarter and Better-Looking Than Your Parents,” by Zac Bissonnette: Good for high-school seniors (as a preventive measure) or for any young person who’s flailing around right now, unable to find himself, a passion or even 40 hours of work per week. Bissonnette was 23 when this (his second book!) was published and he can speak peer-to-peer without apologizing/enabling. “There’s no secret to avoiding these (money) problems. It’s just that sometimes the stuff you have to do kind of sucks,” he told me. (You know, that whole “being responsible with such funds as you do have” sort of thing.)

No Time to Wander: The Financial Compass for Young Americans,” by Paul Nourigat: The author is a financial planner who speaks both to college grads and those who took alternate routes. Nourigat points out that stereotypes about entitlement and slackerhood are often just that: stereotypes that overlook the “nasty economic climate” into which these people have come of age. “Like all generations before them, young Americans striving for financial independence want two things: opportunity and a guide,” he said in press materials for the book. To that end he demystifies financial principles and offers practical advice on how to get find those opportunities and use them to top advantage.

Getting over it

The audience: Those who have goofed.

Confessions of a Credit Junkie: Everything You Need to Know to Avoid the Mistakes I Made,” by Beverly Harzog: Author of two other books and a credit blog, Harzog is candid about her own mistakes so that readers can learn from them. She devotes time to fixing problems as well as avoiding them, however, so this book can be as helpful to those who want to mend their ways as well as a cautionary tale to those just starting to build credit.

Deal With Your Debt: Free Yourself From What You Owe,” by Liz Weston: The most widely read personal finance writer on the Internet, Weston tells you how to assess what you owe and deal with it in the smartest – i.e., sustainable – way. For example, some people are so fixated on paying off debt that they neglect other areas of their financial lives.

Soldier of Finance: Take Charge of Your Money and Invest in Your Future,” by Jeff Rose: A certified financial planner and Iraq veteran, Rose compares money principles to the handbook issued to all U.S. Army recruits. With military briskness (but also a sense of humor) Rose takes PF newbies through basic training, to the financial trenches and out the other side to “order and prosperity.” The author blogs at Good Financial Cents and is known in the PF blogosphere as the guy who gets a whole bunch of us to do the same thing at the same time, e.g., the Roth IRA Movement or the Life Insurance Movement.

Don’t see anything you like? Hit the bookstore and find something that speaks to the folks you love. Even they’d have preferred a certificate for a massage, at least they won’t be getting a fruitcake.

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  1. Thanks for including my book on your list. 🙂

  2. Thanks for including How I Make Money Blogging in such a great list of resources!

  3. Thank you–I’m excited to read these titles. My old standbys are getting a bit worn…holiday reading for the frugal-minded!

  4. Thanks for the recs. I’ll check out most of those books from library. I might buy if I like them enough. BTW, are those Amazon links affiliate links? I like supporting my favorite bloggers 🙂

    • Donna Freedman

      Yep, they’re affiliate links. Since I rarely make any money from the Amazon widget — people come here to read, apparently, rather than to buy — it would be twinkly and wonderful if anyone actually acted on those links.
      Definitely start at the library though. 😉

  5. Hi Donna. Thanks for the recommended titles! I’m considering giving my niece (a recent graduate) the book, “No Time to Wander: The Financial Compass for Young Americans.”

  6. Donna, thanks for including my book on your list. I love the way you’ve categorized the list. It’s given me gift ideas!


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