Staying out of debt, saving money, building a nest egg — all these things sound easy, but they’re not so easy to put into practice. Last year, Americans held a record-high $13 trillion in debt, according to the New York Fed.
So where do our good intentions go off the rails? And how can you stop those bad habits from wreaking havoc on your finances? MONEY asked experts in consumer credit, debt, and financial literacy to tell us the worst money habits they see people practice, and what books offer real and achievable strategies for breaking those habits and getting your bank account, 401(k), and credit card bills to a better place.
Here are the best books full of tips for how to save money, get out of debt, and reach all your financial goals.
The Debt Escape Plan: How to Free Yourself From Credit Card Balances, Boost Your Credit Score, and Live Debt-Free by Beverly Herzog
“I have been a credit counselor for 17 years,” says Becky House, education and communications director at credit-counseling service American Financial Solutions. “In that time, one of the biggest mistakes I see people make is trying to get out of debt by borrowing money.”
It’s a strategy that can easily backfire. “They are simply shifting the debt and in many cases, increasing their debt,” says House. She recommends The Debt Escape Plan because it walks you through all your options for escaping those debt traps, and shows readers how to apply some behavioral insights regarding their relationship with money so you don’t fall back into those bad habits again.
“People have to find a solution that works for them and is realistic,” House says. “This book will help them understand their debts, money behaviors and find solutions to get out of debt.”
The Automatic Millionaire, Expanded and Updated: A Powerful One-Step Plan to Live and Finish Rich by David Bach
“Most people get into financial problems because they don’t budget, spend too much, and subsequently fall into debt,” says Jonathan Clarke, an associate professor at the Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech.
The Automatic Millionaire teaches you how to master your household spending and budget regardless of how much money you make, according to Clarke. “One big takeaway from this book is to always pay yourself first,” he says.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not by Robert Kiyosaki
One of the most eye-opening things about Rich Dad, Poor Dad is that Robert Kiyosaki is willing to question the idea that your home is an asset, according to Jason Dorsey, president of research and consulting firm The Center for Generational Kinetics.
“Rich Dad, Poor Dad challenges many of the traditional concepts about money, wealth, and how to create wealth that are taught in colleges or passed down from parents to child,” he says.
Kiyosaki’s financial wisdom will help you “rethink your views of money to create the financial outcomes that you want,” Dorsey says. And he’s hardly the only fan of Kiyosaki’s book: Among many others, NFL star Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks has touted the lessons of Rich Dad, Poor Dad in a MONEY interview this year.
The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope In a World of Uncertainty by Rachel Schneider and Jonathan Morduch
Jason Gross, CEO of Petal, a new credit card aimed at people trying to build their credit, says that the biggest money pitfall that can sink your budget is the failure to plan for unexpected expenses or income interruption.
Gross likes The Financial Diaries because “the book recommends that people set emergency fund goals and save three months’ income as an emergency fund for larger emergencies,” he says. Most people only save about a month’s worth of expenses, Gross says, which simply isn’t enough to cover a big financial emergency such as a job loss.
Three months of savings gives you more of a cushion so you can avoid debt, he says. Why three months? “The reason is that this is typically the time it takes for someone who loses their job to find new employment,” Gross says.
Suddenly Single Women’s Guide to Finances: From Struggling to Secure Single, at Any Age by Mira Reverente and Tracy Marcynzsyn
Too many people, especially women, can wind up in dire financial straits because they let someone else take the wheel and steer their financial future, says Bruce McClary, a former counselor for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling who is now that organization’s spokesman and certified financial educator.
McClary suggests Suddenly Single as a great resource to help you step out on your own, financially. “The book takes readers on a journey of financial independence from a place where they may have been dependent on someone else to handle financial matters,” McClary says. “The book’s advice is thoughtful and comes from an author who has experienced some of the challenges firsthand,” he adds, giving the insights particular relevance.
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