Which money books are worth the money?

February 6 2010 by Ellen Roseman

I love checking out personal finance books and I’m glad to see a big choice of publications for Canadian readers. There are still too many American financial authors populating the bookstore shelves.

As soon as you see terms like 401(k), Roth IRAs and tax-free municipal bonds, put down the book. It’s probably irrelevant to you.

So, what’s new? The big hit is Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s Debt-Free Forever, which is in the top 10 bestsellers at Amazon.ca. As the host of Til Debt Do Us Part, a long-running reality TV show, she’s known for her blunt way of scolding the clueless couples she tries to reform.

She writes the same way she talks — plain, direct, colloquial, often personal. And while her advice is nothing you haven’t heard before — liive within your means, cut spending, avoid debt and repay what you owe — she has lots of practical suggestions and tips for staying solvent.

In Chapter 6, Make More Money, Gail reveals a truth many can’t face. If you’re not making ends meet and you’ve trimmed your expenses to the bone, you have to “bust your butt” and earn more. Whether you get a better job, a second job or a third job, you’ve got to do whatever it takes, she says. It’ll seem like a life of hell for a while, but you’ll get used to it and it won’t be forever.

On her TV show, I remember her ordering a stay-at-home mother to find work cleaning apartments in her building. Tough talk, but some people need a shake-up.

Another new book appealing to an audience of overspenders is The Smart Cookies guide for couples. But it’s blander, reflecting the fact it has six authors. The new Chatelaine guide is aimed at women only.

Last book I want to mention is Rob Carrick’s guide to the good, bad and awful in Canadian investments. It’s a series of lists, easy to scan and dip into, but does require some background knowledge. It’s for do-it-yourself investors and those frustrated with their investment advisers.

Since I do lots of teaching, I’m often asked about books to read. Often I come up short and recommend websites instead, like the redesigned Get Smarter about Money. I wish I could find a single investment book that covered all these topics in such a simple Q&A style.

If you don’t want to buy any books before sampling the advice, check out Gail’s website and the Gail Clubs popping up in many cities. And check out Rob Carrick’s book excerpt, Six Crummy Mutual Funds and his annual online broker rankings.

4 comments

  1. Financial Coach

    Feb 8 2010

    There are way too many books out there all pretty much saying the same thing. In terms of finance and common sense personal finance, I recommend Think and Grow Rich, Wealthy Barber, The Richest Man in Babylon and Money 101: every Canadian’s Guide to Personal Finance. If people don’t get the basics of personal finance from reading these straighforward books, than there is no hope.

  2. Steve Garganis

    Feb 8 2010

    Great advice Ellen.. like someone once said, ‘when pointing a finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at you’. In other words, we all need to take a little more responsibility.

    Personal finance courses should be mandatory at the high school level onwards… develop good finance habits early.

    But for those that find themselves in situations beyond their control, seek professional advice.. but please, be careful.. there are hundreds of unqualified people masquerading as Credit Repair experts…

    Here’s some free advice… never enter into a consumer proposal for bankruptcy…this is worse than going bankrupt and it hurts your credit for many years, where as filing for bankruptcy gives you a clean slate.. a new start..you can reestablish credit in less than 2 years… possible topic for Ellen to cover in the future…

  3. Lior

    Feb 9 2010

    I recommended some books on my blog the other day but my overall favourites are:

    1) Unconventional Success – David Swensen
    Swensen is the Chief Investment Officer of Yale University’s endowment fund. He currently has some $23 billion under management and is widely regarded as one of the best money managers in the business. The book provides a through study of asset allocation and how to build a high quality, low cost indexed portfolio.

    2) A Random Walk Down Wall Street – Burton Malkiel
    A primer on personal investing and stock analysis, this book is an absolute classic!

    3) The Intelligent Investor – Benjamin Graham
    The so-called bible of value investing, Warren Buffett called it the best book ever written on investing.

    4) All About Index Funds – Richard Ferri
    An intermediary study of index funds and ETFs, their history, the way they’re structured, and the future. It also provides a comprehensive review of most indexes and a wealth of other resources.

    5) Common Sense on Mutual Funds – John Bogle
    The founder of Vanguard provides a fantastic primer on mutual funds, asset allocation, asset classes and portfolio strategies. Even though the title denotes an emphasis on mutual funds, it truly is one of the best all-around books about personal investing.

    6) Smoke and Mirrors – David Trahair
    Very helpful advice for Canadians about taxes, RRSPs, personal investing and insurance. A short and entertaining read.

  4. Rui Chen

    Feb 9 2010

    A Random Walk Down Wall Street, by Burton Malkiel. The latest version: The Random Walk Guide to Investing is more recommended for new investors.

    Luxury Fever: money and happiness in an era of excess , by Robert H.Frank.

    *Always check library first before buying any books.