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Money impacts so many aspects of our lives, yet so few people feel in control of their financial future. According to Capital One and Decision Lab’s Mind Over Money study, 77% of study participants reported feeling anxious about their financial situation. Of these, 58% of respondents felt that finances were controlling their lives.
The fact that more than three-quarters of the over 1,000 individuals involved in the study felt anxious or out-of-control about their finances does not bode well for our financial future as a country.
The following resources can help you to take control of your finances and put you on the right side of future money study statistics.
An introduction to personal finance
Eight years ago, I was one of the people feeling anxious and not in control. I was living paycheck to paycheck. Although I was paying my bills monthly and making regular debt payments, I had no vision for my financial future. For Christmas 2015, my Mom gave me one of the best gifts of my life. She signed me up to attend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and it opened my eyes to all the ways I was mistreating my finances.
Once I started learning in class about how I could take control and improve my financial health, I was hooked. couldn’t get enough of personal finance. I sought out books, podcasts, and blogs that would help me along the way.
Learning new concepts and implementing them in my own life, then sharing those insights with others is my passion. Now that I’m debt free with years of financial management under my belt, I’m sharing the personal finance books and podcasts that helped me along the way in hopes that they may help some of you do the same.
The big ideas from industry experts
Much like other areas of wellness, there are many commonalities across the informational sources I’ve found. You can think of these as the “diet and exercise” tips of the personal finance world.
- Spend less than you earn – This one should be a no-brainer, but based on the amount of credit card debt in our country, it’s not. The average American household had almost $8,000 in revolving credit card debt as of March 2023, according to a NerdWallet survey. Revolving debt means that people are carrying a balance month to month, and generally, that kind of debt is the most stressful. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that participants in the NerdWallet study reported feeling anxious and overwhelmed by their debt. If you consistently spend more than you earn, it’s likely that money is going to end up sitting on a credit card for months or years. One way to combat this is to figure out where your money is going. Since you can’t change what you don’t track, writing down your expenses for a week or more could give you considerable insight into where you may be overspending.
- There are two ways to get more money: spend less or earn more (and only one of those is exponential) – Clipping coupons and using online rebate sites can be a fun challenge, but even all the small savings in the world can’t help if your income is low. There will always be a limit to how much money you can cut from your spending. There will never be a limit to how much you can earn. Increasing what you bring in could mean seeking a raise or promotion at your current employer or branching out to do a side hustle or part-time job. Whatever you choose to do, remember that earning more will always be the fastest path to your financial freedom.
- Everyone needs an emergency fund – The emergency fund is what enables you to be successful at any debt repayment strategy. If you’re already out of debt, the emergency fund is a useful tool to cover unexpected expenses instead of savings and other investments. It’s not a matter of if something will come up, but when! Even setting aside a few hundred dollars as a buffer can enable you to cover a minor emergency without needing to go further into debt.
- High-interest debt must go first (followed closely by other liabilities) – If you have debt, the rule of thumb is to pay off high-interest debt first. An agreed-upon range for high-interest debt is an interest rate of over 7-9% (although in an inflationary economy, that might look more like 10%). High-interest debt is often from credit cards, which average an interest rate of around 20%. It took me a little over three years to pay off around $25,000 in debt between student loans, auto loans, and credit cards. I used Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball approach to attack my smallest debt first, then roll the payments into my next debt. While it took what felt like forever, I can tell you the satisfaction of being debt-free is worth the time it takes!
- Pay yourself first – Many people assume they will be able to save what’s left over at the end of the month. I used to be one of those people until I realized that most months, I was spending nearly every dollar I had. The game-changer for me was to pay myself first by taking my monthly savings off the top of my paycheck. I paid myself through a separate direct deposit instead of waiting to see what scraps were in my account at the end of the month. By setting up a separate deposit, I didn’t feel the impact of saving as much because it was happening automagically. (Yes, that’s a real made-up word and one of my favorites, which is a combination of automatically and magically).
Books that introduce you to the fundamentals
- Total Money Makeover* – Dave Ramsey was my introduction to the personal finance space, so it’s only right he holds the first spot on my list. This was the first book I read that inspired me to start on a path of getting my financial life together. Dave is famous for his “baby steps” approach, where he outlines seven steps for people to follow to reach financial freedom. Dave’s plan starts with creating a 1,000 emergency fund. The emergency fund is one of the most critical pieces to any financial picture, as I mentioned above. This book is fantastic for anyone just starting with personal finance. It provides a simple and straightforward path for getting yourself out of debt and into the life you want to lead.
- The Latte Factor* – This book is David Bach’s first parable. It’s great for someone who wants to learn about money management but isn’t into reading non-fiction. The story follows a young woman living in New York City as she embarks on a journey to understand how her daily latte habit is affecting her long-term financial picture. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea of skipping your daily latte if that brings you massive joy, this book has a lot of valuable lessons about compound interest and general financial decision-making.
- Broke Millennial* – Erin Lowry tackles personal finance with a millennial mindset that is super relatable. She uses personal stories to cover money mindset and practical savings tips as well as uncomfortable financial situations. For example, how to ask to split the bill when you’re out with your girlfriends who are on the third bottle of wine, but you’re not drinking and only had a salad. We’ve all been there. Erin has another book out, Broke Millennial Takes on Investing*, and a blog that’s also worth checking out!
- I Will Teach You To Be Rich* – This book by one of my financial favorites, Ramit Sethi, reads as if your best friend was talking to you about your finances. Ramit has a candid approach. He is very “tell it how it is” with regard to financial moves you should or should not be making. This book dives deep into what types of accounts you should have, which banks you should or shouldn’t use, and how to invest your money. In my opinion, this is not a beginner’s guide. I would recommend it to people that have basic financial concepts under their belt.
Podcasts that help you learn while having fun
- Afford Anything – Paula Pant is a straight shooter who is extremely intelligent and well-spoken. Every other week she answers questions from the Afford Anything community. The weeks in between host guests with exciting money stories. I love listening to the question-and-answer episodes because Paula offers her callers a framework for thinking through their problems. She doesn’t merely hand out solutions. Paula is also extremely experienced in the realm of real estate investing. There are a ton of good episodes that answer only real estate questions. Her blog is an excellent resource, too!
Episode to check out: One of my favorite Ask Paula question and answer shows
- Stacking Benjamins – This podcast is great for people who want to learn about finance under the guise of a variety show. I find myself laughing out loud at this show pretty much every episode. There is a ton of banter and joking sprinkled with legit advice and financial product reviews. The hosts are both former financial advisors and know their stuff. This three times per week show has a roundtable of awesome guests every Friday, which includes Paula Pant from Afford Anything most weeks.
Episode to check out: Another great Friday roundtable with a preview of a cool new financial app called Peak Money
- Bigger Pockets – This podcast has several spin-offs, including real estate, money, and business. My favorite is Bigger Pockets Money, as Scott and Mindy interview entertaining guests with great stories. They’ve had Paula Pant, Ramit Sethi, and Erin Lowry as guests! The Bigger Pockets website is flush with information. It’s an especially great resource if you want to know more about real estate investing.
Episode to check out: An episode dedicated to buying your first house which walks through the buying process and what you need to know as a first time home buyer
I hope you’ve found at least one resource above that can help you on your journey to a better financial future. Leave me a comment and let me know about other books and podcasts that have influenced your financial journey.
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Disclaimer: The above is my own opinion and is for informational and educational purposes only. The views expressed above are completely my own and are not intended to be a substitute for investment or financial advice from an actual professional human. While I might have some great ideas, seek a duly licensed professional for any financial or investment advice.