As a college student, you have much to learn and decide. Unfortunately, personal finance is not the mandatory subject they teach at school. “Unfortunately?!” I can hear you exclaim in disbelief. “I don’t need another subject I have to write my paper on this semester, thank you very much!”
I know it feels like fewer things to study is always a good thing when you are overwhelmed. However, money isn’t something you can just opt out of. It’s a thing everyone learns eventually. Most people, however, learn about it from trial and error – and some errors become quite costly. For example, many realize in their thirties that their student debt could be avoided, zero credit history doesn’t equal a good credit score, and your early twenties is the optimal time to start investing.
So today, I’m here to offer you a better way to learn about these crucial things: reading an entertaining book with practical advice and relatable stories to illustrate a point. I have gathered a list of suggestions you can browse when you have time. No pressure. You don’t have to write an essay or do a quiz afterward. However, it is advisable to pick up some tips and implement them little by little. In the words of Ramit Sethi, entrepreneur, bestselling author, and personal finances adviser: “Getting started is more important than becoming an expert.”
1. Why Didn’t They Teach Me This in School? by Cary Siegel
Anyone who starts independent life with bills and taxes asks the titular question. Why indeed? However, instead of lamenting the shortcomings of our education system, let’s try to catch up on the basics of personal money management with 99 principles offered by a retired business executive to his five children. This book should set you up on a long and successful finance journey. It is concise and easily understood.
It isn’t perfect. Although it offers a lot of common-sense wisdom in general, some hacks and tips are a bit dated, for example, “marrying rich” (ahem). The most controversial tidbit of advice is skipping on the last month’s rent and just using your security deposit towards it. Don’t do that, kids. This can get you into trouble and is illegal anyway in many states. Otherwise, a solid and accessible book for beginners.
2. Your Money Life: Your 20s by Peter Dunn
This title is pretty straightforward, and the book does deliver. It targets college students, young adults, or anyone with minimal financial knowledge starting life in the “real world.” It covers all the basic budgeting strategies: which amount should go monthly to groceries, housing bills, and transport, and teaches you to cut expenses while still living the way you like.
It also dives into the more profound questions. For example, explains the significance of credit score, gives a roadmap to paying off a student loan, and shows how to assess your house ownership preparedness. The style is clear and conversational, with a bit of humor and a lot of sound advice. This is the perfect newbie guide – not terribly detailed, but essential for basic money management.
3. Broke Millennial Takes on Investing by Erin Lowry
Described by the author as a beginner’s guide to leveling up your money, this book is indeed aimed at complete novices. It explains basic investment concepts and outlines financial theories in the best way possible: through common sense and personal stories. The book’s conversational tone and humor make it easy to read – not a Harlequin novel, perhaps, but definitely gripping enough to continue.
Most importantly, Lowry explains why it is essential to start early. However, she doesn’t do it from a place of privilege as many renowned financial gurus do. Her experience is relatable. She knows too well that maximizing your savings while paying down your debt is a balancing act – and this book’s goal is to make it easier for you.
4. Your Money or Your Life by Vicky Robin and Joe Dominguez
Subtitled “Nine steps to transforming your relationship with money and achieving financial independence,” this book dishes out exactly that. It is a highly acclaimed guide for young adults on building healthy financial habits and avoiding debt. Finance nerds and celebrities describe this book as “life-changing,” “seminal,” and “the most inspiring out of dozens” other books they have read.
The key to this book’s lingering success and relevance lies in common-sense wisdom and a holistic ecological approach to personal finances. It teaches you to avoid waste rather than strict budgeting and, overall, is more about core values and financial philosophy than about hacks and tricks.
5. Get Good with Money by Tiffany Aliche
The book advertises 10 simple steps to becoming financially whole, but make no mistake: it doesn’t promise you an easy get-rich-quick solution. Instead, it shows you the way out of the personal financial crisis by careful saving and investing. Aliche hit rock bottom in her late twenties as the world spiraled into a financial crisis. She moved back into her parents’ place with a hefty debt and less cash than she had as a teenager. So her starting point can’t be any better than yours.
The only thing she had more than you was the experience with bad decisions and their consequences – and she drew some great lessons from it to share with you.
6. You Only Live Once by Jason Vitug
Dubbed the roadmap to financial wellness and purposeful life, this book is similar to the previous entry on this list. Jason Vitug, a financial expert, shows readers how financial mindfulness is crucial for your overall health and well-being. It encourages you to look at how you perceive and use money and take control of it.
However, the book also offers plenty of practical advice. It teaches you how to budget, prioritize spending, pay off your loans, save efficiently, set short-term and long-term goals, and align your lifestyle with your budget to achieve the life you want.
7. The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko
Moving up into more ambitious territory, this book teaches young people the principles of accumulating wealth. The authors are educators who studied rich people and identified seven common traits they most consistently possessed. Even though The Millionaire Next Door was written in the 1990s and all the sums given as examples need converting to get the idea of how much that is today, most concepts and principles still hold true in the 2020s.
The book is an exciting insight into wealth building. However, one shouldn’t read it as a manual. Otherwise, you are in for a disappointment since the biggest secret to having a lot of money is… (drumroll, please) not spending it. Still, taken with a grain of salt, it’s a good book about the importance of frugality and resistance to a high-consumption culture that hasn’t changed much over the last three decades.
8. I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
Subtitled as “No guilt. No excuses. No BS. Just a 6-week program that works,” this book is as snappy as you would never expect a guide to personal finances to be. It is a gift to this world because it is entertaining, AND it works. The book addresses college students, focusing on paying off credit card debt, managing student loans, and even negotiating your way out of late fees.
However, it doesn’t stop there. It encourages you to take control of your financial life, set goals, invest, talk about money with your partner, and of course, save. Yet not the usual boring way, aka don’t go out with friends, grow your own coffee, and better still, substitute it with tap water. The key is conscious spending on things that make you happy and cutting down on something you don’t really need. It’s a slight shift in the mindset that makes a massive difference down the road. Sethi’s book is inspiring, motivating, detailed, and helpful.
9. The One-Page Financial Plan by Carl Richards
If the words “financial plan” stress you out and you hate books on finance, you should definitely try this one. The author is a financial adviser and a columnist for The New York Times, using his experience to present finances in a practical, accessible way. It is an excellent guide for beginners and anyone feeling intimidated by money issues and agonizing over important life choices.
Richards explains investing, goal-setting, and planning in a friendly and reassuring way. More importantly, he frees you from the paralyzing fear of doing the “wrong thing” by admitting to some embarrassing financial mistakes of his own. Richards explains that bad money calls are inevitable when you have to make decisions about the future with limited information available. Therefore, you must not be afraid of them – just make adjustments along the way.
10. The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel
We are used to thinking of money as a dry and unyielding domain of math and cold logic, but in 19 short stories, Housel shows us that it isn’t so. He exposes bias, preconceived notions, pride, fear, greed, and social comparisons that often rule our financial decisions – even if we think we base them on data and formulas.
Yet don’t let the word “psychology” in the title scare you off. This is a light reading about quirks of human behavior with money as an overarching theme. Not everything in here is groundbreaking. Some insights are pretty trite, but The Psychology of Money is still a useful cautionary tale with some valuable tips.
11. Napkin Finance by Tina Hay
This book can be described as Money 101, but it isn’t anything like your usual course book. It is fun, quirky, witty, and covers everything from differences between economic systems to compound interest. This is a perfect starting point to learn finance basics and make better decisions. Tina Hay explains important and complicated things with simplicity, good humor, and doodles, so visual learners, in particular, should check this book out.
That said, Napkin Finance has its limitations. It’s introductory and only gives you a foundation. You will still have to read in-depth literature and seek guidance in other specialized sources, so don’t take the “Build your wealth in 30 seconds or less” tagline literally. However, as your first book on personal finance, it’s perfect.
Okay, this should suffice for starters. I deliberately focused on books for complete newbies, so if you always thought that money matters are too boring or scary, I urge you to pick up one or two books from this list and shatter this stereotype. Begin your personal finance journey today and remember the words of Tony Robbins: “You either master money, or, on some level, money masters you!”