Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Teach Your Children

Start ‘Em Young

There are really only three things that can be done with money, and all three are important. If you teach your children nothing else about money, teach them this:

Money is to spend, save, and give away.

My daughter Noelle is four years old. She understands that money can be exchanged for goods and services that she likes, such as carousel rides and popcorn. Demonstrating her basic understanding, she sometimes calls money “carousel cash.” She has a piggy bank, and she likes to dump out the money and play with it. We discuss what it is worth, stack it up, and put it back when we are done. She knows that we save some of it to spend “later.” She knows that we give some away. At Sunday service, we always let her put the envelope in the basket, and explain that we are giving the church some money so they can take care of the building and help people. She looks forward to this ritual. In these simple ways, she is learning to spend, save, and give away.

Money Found!

A few months ago, the family went out to eat at a local restaurant. While we were there, Noelle looked out the window and down at the ground and spotted a twenty dollar bill. “Daddy - twenty!” she said. Daddy knew it was a windy day, so he ran outside as fast as he could to try to grab that twenty. In spite of the windy day, the money did not blow away, and I was able to retrieve it. I took it back inside and handed it to Noelle. She spotted it, so it was hers. In that moment, she effectively doubled her piggy bank’s net worth.
Noelle at age 2,  spending some Carousel Cash
A few days later I asked Noelle what she would like to do with her found money. She replied that she wanted to, “Put it in the basket” at church. I thought to myself, “My kid is a better person than I am.” I wanted her to keep it. I wouldn’t give away 50% of my net worth. However, I did not try to discourage her. She had made her choice.
Being only four years old, she might not have fully understood all the implications of her decision. Still, it was heartwarming to see her choose to give the money away when she fully understood that she could just as easily have kept it or used it to buy a new toy.
The story of Noelle’s largesse spread through the family, and her generosity was rewarded. Her proud Grandpa Dave sent her a crisp new twenty dollar bill to replace the one she had given away.  That money is safely in the piggy bank.
The problem is that Noelle now thinks that if she spends all of her money, she can find some more on the ground. I explained to her that finding money on the ground is unusual, but she insists that she will look “very closely” using a “loupe.” (A loupe is a kind of magnifying glass used by jewelers, printers, dentists and collectors, among others, in case you didn’t know.) 

As Time Goes On

As time goes on, these basic lessons will lead to larger lessons. By the time Noelle is high school age, I hope I have imparted all the essentials: Work hard. Avoid debt. Save up for a car. Save for college, and then attend one that you can afford without going deeply into debt. Be suspicious of borrowing, and be aware of how much more you will have to work to pay the interest. Give generously – not only to help others, but as a sign that you trust in both God and your own ability to provide for your needs and wants. Finally, always set aside some money just for fun. 

Even Little Kids Should Have Their Own Money

A few weeks ago the family was shopping at Target. As is our habit, we let Noelle choose a toy to ride around in the cart with her while we shop. Usually, at the end of the trip we put the toy back on the shelf and say goodbye. This ritual has been working well for years. Not this time.
Noelle was holding a toy she wanted to keep, a plush, pink dinosaur. Noelle asked for the toy. We said, “No.” She did not handle this disappointment gracefully.  She had a full blown, kicking, screaming, carry-me-out-of-the-store-over-the-shoulder-while-horrified-strangers-look-on tantrum. Noelle is typically very well behaved, and this behavior is not something her mother and I have had to handle very often, and never in public. 
In our family, there is a zero-tolerance policy for tantrums. We do not reward tantrums – never. Ever. Period. Kids learn fast, and rewarding just one tantrum invites years of the same. Often, when Noelle begins to throw a tantrum we say to her, “Has this ever worked before?” This is usually enough to short-circuit the impending drama. But this time, for the first time, we wanted to give in. It is hard to explain, but this time something was different. Noelle’s cry was not a whiny, spoiled, bratty kid cry, it was a kind of mourning. She was truly sad, heart aching. Somehow, she had bonded with this toy. Lest you think I am exaggerating, she had already named it “Comfort.” She was afraid that if she put it back on the shelf, someone else would “steal it.” In her heart, it was fate, hers, meant to be. To her, someone else buying it was unthinkable.
* Sigh * 

What’s a parent to do? Our zero-tolerance policy would not allow us to buy this toy. But leaving the store without it seemed, under the circumstances, needlessly harsh. Then we remembered; she has her own money.
I said, “Noelle, Mommy and Daddy can’t buy this toy for you because of the scene you made in the store. We just can’t – but you can buy it. Would you like to use some of your own money to buy it?” 

“Yes,” sniffled Noelle. 

I continued, “If you spend your money now, you will have less for other things later. Is that OK with you?” 

“Yes,” answered Noelle. “Let’s go home and get my piggy bank.”
* Phew *
To be clear, I am not above buying a toy or treat for my children when we go to the store. I do this quite often. That said, I don’t want to set an expectation that every time we go anywhere a new toy will come home with us. So from now on, if Noelle truly wants something that I don't want to buy, she can buy it herself. This will provide teachable moments. If she can’t afford something, she will have to save up for it. When that happens, we will talk about ways that she can earn some money by helping at home. Rather than calling it an allowance, we will call it her salary. As she gets older, we will introduce a bonus and commission plan to incentivize her. Hey - just like real life! 
Teach your kids how to handle money, and start them young. Teach them the relationship between working and earning. Teach them to spend, save, and give away. Good money habits are one of the best gifts we can give our children. If they learn well, they will reap the rewards all the days of their lives. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Secret Knowledge That Will Change Your Life Forever

I have unbelievable news! What if I told you that I know a proven way to build wealth, a way to get out of debt and stay out of debt forever?  Many people have paid fortunes to learn about this amazing plan. Like a magician who divulges his methods, I‘ll probably get in trouble with all the financial gurus out there if I share this incredible secret with you. But just for today, and only for the faithful readers of the moneytrip blog, I will share this fantastic secret of wealth and prosperity!
Are you ready for the secret knowledge that will change your life forever? Are you ready to set sail on a course for the debt-free life of wealth-building that you have always dreamed of? Okay, get ready and grab a pen because here it is –
Stop Borrowing Money
Yup. That’s it. 
See, this stuff is easier than it looks. 
There is no “forever” mortgage. There are no 100 year car payment options. The furniture store will not give you 3 generations to pay for that dresser, even if it is heirloom quality. All consumer debts have a finite period of repayment time built into their formula. If you stop borrowing money, you will eventually become debt free. How quickly depends on many factors, but you will get there. 
When my wife and I decided to become debt free, we were highly motivated. To me, slow progress can be painful progress. However, even slow progress is progress, and slow progress is better than no progress. If you just stop borrowing, stop swiping the Visa, stop “signing and driving” at the auto dealer, you will eventually owe no one. Imagine no payments. Imagine keeping what you earn. Wouldn’t that be something?
There is some debate about the best way to pay off debts. Some financial gurus advocate for a debt snowball approach, where you pay debts from largest to smallest. Some recommend instead paying debts from smallest to largest.  Some advise attacking debts by first going after the balances with the highest interest rates. Whatever. Just do it! My wife and I demolished our debts from smallest to largest, because this method allowed us to get some quick wins. It doesn’t really matter. All methods work – if you first stop borrowing. 
Once your debts are paid you will stop paying interest. This will save you money. Once you start saving and investing the money you were paying in payments and interest, that money will start growing. Rather than working for money, your money will be working for you. How cool would that be? 
Well, now you know the amazing secret, the proven path to a fabulous debt free life! 
(You’re welcome!) 

The reduction of debt correlates strongly with the creation of wealth, and it all begins when you stop borrowing. What you do with this powerful knowledge is up to you.

Friday, April 27, 2012


It is important to celebrate your financial milestones. Keeping to a budget is hard work. Reaching savings and investing goals is a big deal. Paying off debt is exciting. Go ahead, plan a party!
Celebrating can take many forms. Anything from a shout of “Yes!” and a “fist pump” in the air, to a dinner out on the town, to a full blown luxury cruise! It depends on what you have achieved. The larger the goal, the larger the celebration. Just be sure that you don’t go into debt in order to celebrate, and be sure you don’t celebrate achieving your savings goals by spending half of what you’ve saved!

Here are some money events that I believe are worthy of celebration:

When you make and keep a successful budget for the first time – Celebrate!
When you analyze and reduce your recurring expenses – Celebrate!
When you pay off a credit card debt (and then shred the card) – Celebrate!
When you pay off a car, boat or RV – Celebrate!
When you reach a major savings milestone, whether you have saved your first $100, $10,000 or $100,000 – Celebrate!
When you get a raise, promotion or new job – Celebrate!
When you complete your education; whether college, technical training, MBA, or a certification program – Celebrate!
When you pay off your mortgage – Celebrate!
Why celebrate? Because you’ve earned it! Through work, planning and sacrifice you are closer to your goals. Just as each win brings a team one step closer to the playoffs, each time you win you are one step closer to financial independence.
I fondly remember the day when I checked my 401k balance and discovered that the value had risen to the 6-digit range. The first thing I did was tell my wife. The next thing I did was drive to the store to buy a really good bottle of wine to go with dinner. Celebrate!
I was just offered a new job. Hurray for me! After I complete my first week, my wife and I will go out to dinner to celebrate. I will order whatever I want. 
Someday, I will finish paying off my house. On that day, we will have a mortgage burning party in the backyard. The first thing we will BBQ is that old mortgage. Goodbye debt! Then, I’ll throw on the steaks and burgers. You are all invited to celebrate with me!
I’d love to hear about your money goals and how you will celebrate once you meet them. Please leave a comment below or email me at

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Plan for Tomorrow, Enjoy Today!

If you have been following my blog, you know that I am big on savings, big on investing, and big on being debt free. This is how I live, and I’m happy to share it in the hopes that I might assist and inspire others to get their financial house in order. I offer this project as a public service. I’m trying to help!
There are some people who think that my way is unrealistic. Some say that my way is nervous, fear based, or too conservative. Too much saving! Too much sacrifice! Paying cash for everything is crazy! I recently had a dear, sweet women tell me, “Paying cash for a car is impossible!” Really?
I think the force behind the doubt is the idea that my way entails nothing but needless fear and sacrifice. I believe the doubters are missing the point. I don’t let anxiety drive the process. I want to enjoy my life now AND in the future. I drive the process with HOPE and JOY.  Any anxiety or fear that I might have felt along the way decreased as my confidence and wealth increased. This is a FUN trip!
Financial planning will sometimes entail sacrifice, but not to the exclusion of all else. You can still have fun, travel, eat out, and have nice things. You just need to plan for it, pace yourself, avoid debt, and know that sometimes you might need to delay gratification to meet a larger goal. 
Some people base their financial plans (or lack of) on the assumption of 100 years of sunshine. Not me. I know that rain will fall. I have an umbrella in my car. Does that make me an anxious person, a fearful person, a pessimist? No, it makes me a realist. It WILL rain. When it does, I’m ready. The rain will not be a big deal for me, because I anticipated it. 
The ultimate goal of my financial planning methods is peace, but we don’t wait until all goals are met to experience peace. We can find peace in the process, in the progress, in the little wins that start to add up. It is possible to enjoy your life now while also planning for the future. Just be sure the former does not completely eclipse the latter. And please, whatever you do, don’t believe that it is impossible.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Calculate Your Net Worth

A valuable exercise to help you determine if you are winning with money is to calculate your net worth.  This is a useful method to measure your financial progress. Your net worth is the value of all your assets minus the total of all your liabilities. For our purposes here, assets are anything you own – your house, cars, furniture, boat, jewelry, savings, etc. Liabilities are money you owe (debt), such as mortgages, car payments, student loans, credit card debts, etc. To be clear, your net worth should increase over time.
This is easy to do and will usually only take a few minutes, so give it a shot.
   1. Add up the value of all your assets. 
   2. Next, add up the value of all your liabilities. 
   3. Subtract the total of all liabilities from the total of all assets. 

The result is your financial net worth. 
Here is the net worth calculation from my friend Dan. He is 42, married, and has three kids. Your situation might not look anything like Dan’s, but that’s okay. This is just an example to show you how to do it, not to suggest what yours will look like. 
House: $250,000 (fair market value, check for estimate)
Car: $18,500 (fair market value private sale, check for estimate)
Savings account: $15,000 (actual account balance)
Furniture, appliances & house wares: $8,000 (okay to guesstimate here)
Artworks: $5,000 (estimated fair market value if sold)
401k: $85,000 (actual account balance)
IRA: $5,500  (actual account balance)
Mutual Funds: $27,800  (actual account balance)
College fund: $7,200 (actual account balance)
Total Assets: $422,000
Liabilities:  (actual account balances)
Mortgage: $196,500
Car loan balance: $7,500 
Credit cards: $3,200 
Home equity loan: $6,500 
Medical bill: $1,900  
Total Liabilities: $215,600
Assets of $422,000 minus liabilities of $215,600  = a net worth of $206,400.
It is worth noting in the example above that once this family retires all debt other than their mortgage, their net worth will increase by nearly $20,000 or 10%. Increase is the goal, so paying off these debts would be a good decision.

Marc’s Wealth-Building Advice

When making a financial decision – this includes any large commitment of resources (house, business, car, education) or smaller recurring commitments (cable, cell phone, club memberships, any payments) – ask yourself, “How will this decision affect my net worth? In 1 year? 5 years? 10 years? 30 years?" This is a useful exercise, because your net worth should (in a perfect world, or even in an imperfect world like ours) trend upward over time. It is valuable to get into the habit of making decisions that increase rather than undermine progress in this area. If a financial decision will negatively impact your net worth in the short term, you should proceed carefully. If a financial decision will negatively affect your net worth in the long term, then you should pause and reconsider.
Remember, financial net worth should not be confused with your actual worth. We are worth much more than our bank balances. One problem in our society is that we tend to attach too much of our personal worth to our net worth.  Don’t fall into that trap. Your money position is not the end all and be all of life. Net worth calculations are simply a useful method to measure your financial progress. 
As you save more, invest well and retire debts, your net worth will increase. As long as you are seeing an overall upward trend throughout your working life, you can take comfort in the knowledge that you are heading in the right direction for wealth building.
Yours in prosperity,

Friday, April 13, 2012

Investing to Retire – The Most Important Thing You're Not Doing?

It is often said that the largest purchase people can make in their lifetime is a house. I disagree. The largest purchase people can make is their retirement. In the Northeast where I live, the median home price as of March 2012 is $225,800, according to the National Association of Realtors. A properly funded retirement account for someone preparing to retire in 2012 could be many times that amount. If we thought of retirement as something we had to buy, like a car, house or vacation, perhaps it would be easier to understand that we need to save for it.
You can’t invest without saving, and we the people of the USA aren’t saving.  The financial services organization TIAA-CREF found that more than one in three Americans (39%) are not saving anything toward retirement.  Many who do save aren’t saving nearly enough. Forbes Magazine says that we are in a “retirement crisis,” and that age 65 has become a “fantasy” retirement date. According to US News, only 25 percent of us are saving more than 10 percent. As a culture, we all are living beyond our means. Without drastic changes, the idealized retirement picture of leisure, security and abundance will remain out of reach for not just a few, but for a majority of the population.

Why Aren’t We Saving? 

Trapped by debt and struggling with finances, many people simply think they can’t afford retirement savings.  Many who do save have too much debt and no emergency fund. They save a little, but then withdraw money to keep themselves afloat financially whenever problems arise.  Some start saving and investing, but the first time markets get volatile, they stop. (Volatile means that stock prices are fluctuating sharply, wildly and often.) Worse yet, they panic and withdraw the money they have invested, incurring penalties, selling at a loss, and missing the eventual market rebound.
If you think money is tight now, 
try not saving for retirement.
Some people think they can rely on Social Security to fund their retirement. I don’t. Social Security is NOT a retirement plan. It was invented to keep the elderly from starving and freezing, and that’s about all it will do. The average monthly benefit is $1,066. Can you survive on $12,792 a year? Many already do, and many more will need to learn how. According to the Social Security Administration, only about 75% of promised benefits will be payable as of 2037 (that’s just 25 years away), which brings that future number down to $9,594 a year in today’s dollars. Ouch.
Many people might think they will just continue to work until they die. This is a bad plan. Research shows that nearly 60 percent of retirees will end up retiring sooner than they planned; and many of those will be involuntary due to health issues, downsizing, or other factors beyond their control.

What Should We Do?

Investing is simple. Anyone can do it and everyone should. Investing can get complicated, but it does not have to be. The basics really are, well, basic. 
There are only three factors that determine if you will enjoy a secure retirement: How much money you save, how long you save for, and what rate of return (percentage increase) you get on your savings. The hardest part is deciding to do it.
1) How Much You Save
The first step toward saving for retirement is to spend less than what you earn, and pay yourself first. As a nation, we aren’t doing that. The way to make this happen is to do a budget (read about that HERE) and put that retirement savings line item right at the top.  The minimum amount you should save is 10% of your gross income. If you can’t afford to do that right away, don’t give up! Start by saving what you can, and work up to 10% as you are able. 
2) How Long You Save
Is this couple on vacation, or is this where they live?
Only their bank account knows for sure.
You will want to save for as many years as possible, so let’s get going! The sooner you start, the sooner the interest, dividends and capital appreciation of your investment can go to work making money for you. The longer you wait, the more you will have to save to meet your goals. What if you are approaching retirement age and don’t have much time? Start saving anyway. It might be too late to save a million, but a little saved is better than nothing at all. 
3) Rate of Return
The only way to get a decent rate of return on retirement savings is to invest. If you simply leave your money in a savings account, CD, or under the mattress, you will end up losing purchasing power because these accounts do not keep pace with inflation. To build wealth you need to buy stocks, which should be purchased through mutual funds. (Mutual funds are a type of professionally managed collective investment that pools money from many investors to purchase many different stocks and bonds.) Mutual Funds are better than individual stocks because they reduce certain kinds of risk. I do not recommend buying individual stocks unless you can afford to lose every penny you spend, because you will be gambling.
If you have a 401k or 403b plan offered through your employer, terrific! You can use that to save and invest. The money will come right out of your paycheck and be invested into whichever mutual funds you choose. If you don’t have a retirement plan option at your place of employment, then you can just pick up the phone and call any investment management company and tell them you want to open an IRA (Individual Retirement Account). I personally like Vanguard for their low fees, broad offerings, and excellent customer service; so most of my money is there.
Not sure which mutual funds to choose inside your 401k, 403b or IRA? I know that this part can be intimidating. There are many options, and each option has a different focus and goal. Just take a deep breath. You can do this! For starters, there are helpful online calculators that you can use. Chances are the administrator of your account will offer one. The best are set up like questionnaires, where you answer the questions, and then the program suggests a particular asset allocation that is appropriate for you based on your age, goals and risk tolerance. (Asset allocation is an investment strategy that attempts to balance risk versus reward by adjusting the percentage of each asset in an investment portfolio.)

What I Know

Federal law requires that all articles on the
topic of retirement planning be accompanied
 by a sailboat picture. True story!
Those of you who have been reading my blog understand that I only teach what I know. I have been investing in mutual funds through my 401k and IRA for about 13 years. To achieve a fully funded retirement account on a modest income, investing in good growth stock mutual funds is essential. One could easily argue that the last 13 years have been the most volatile in generations and the worst investment period since the great depression. The dot-com and housing bubbles both burst during this time, each causing two significant recessions. Some investors have named it the “Lost Decade.” Even though the market has been a panic inducing mess for over a decade, I have averaged a 10% rate of return. Assuming a continued average 10% rate of return, I’ll be financially independent (a millionaire, if you prefer) before age 60 with a continued investment of just under $500 a month. What if my calculations and assumptions are off by half? I’ll still have more than half a million by age 60. It sure beats the $9,594 a year that Social Security has waiting for me.
The key to making this work is consistency and diversification. I continue to contribute to my retirement funds no matter what the market is doing. This is called dollar-cost-averaging. When the stock market is down, I keep buying, because that means that everything is on sale.  For diversification, I invest in different asset classes that I selected using the online calculators provided by my fund managers and a small amount of additional research. I don’t worry that I’ve done everything perfectly, because the important thing is just to get in the game. You can always fine tune the details as time goes on and your investments grow.
I share my situation not to boast, but to inspire. I believe that if I can successfully save and invest for retirement while supporting a family on a modest salary, then nearly anyone can. I’ll never understand why more people don’t make the effort. Please, don’t end up trying to survive on the pittance that Social Security will dole out because you didn’t save and invest during your working years. I wish something better for you. 
If you want to get serious about retirement savings but aren’t sure where to begin, e-mail me at and I’ll help you get the ball rolling.
As always, thanks for reading.

The information contained in these columns is for entertainment and educational purposes only. 
While the advice given is accurate and authoritative, you also should consult your own personal 
advisors regarding the particular details of your unique situation.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Gratitude Attitude

People who know me well know that I love cars, and I always have. I once had a really sweet car. It was a silver convertible – quick, smooth and sporty, and heads turned as it zipped by. Neighborhood kids would give me the “thumbs up” sign and shout, “Nice car, mister!” as I drove by. My wife and I would plan entire weekends around where we would ride. Boy, I sure was proud of that car. That was many years ago.
I still have that car, but it is getting old. It has dulled headlights, rust bubbles, scratches and dents. On rainy days, the drive belts squeal loudly in protest until the engine warms up.  It is not as quick or smooth, and heads are not turning so much anymore. It needs some work. But I still love it. 
I love it because buying it made a dream come true. I love it because after many years it is part of the family. But the main reason I love it is because I have replaced pride with gratitude. 

Not Good Enough?
There was a time years ago when I would have believed that this car was no longer good enough for me. I would have been preoccupied with replacing it.  How can I show the world how successful I am in an 11-year-old car? I need to impress! I need to look like I’m winning! That is an expensive way to think. I no longer think that way and I am better off for it.

Ready for the road trip – a decade ago.
I choose to love my old car in part because doing so saves me a fortune. If I replaced my old convertible with a shiny new one, it would cost me about $35,000 plus $2,450 in sales tax, plus around $2,000 in annual excise taxes. My car insurance would go up, too. Yikes! Choosing to be grateful for the car I have means I save at least $40,000. The money I’m not spending on a new car can be saved and invested. My old car might not impress anyone; but it’s mine, it’s paid for, and it’s good enough. It will remain good enough until the day it is no longer safe to drive, because I have learned that an attitude of gratitude builds wealth.
Are you with me so far? I hope so, because we can apply this philosophy of gratitude to the rest of life. Consider all the things that you might think you need to replace or improve: your car, home, clothes, furniture, appliances, electronics, and on and on. How many of these things might actually be good enough?  If you can change the way you perceive your possessions from “not good enough” to “good enough and I’m grateful for it,” you will almost certainly find greater peace in your life, and you will probably save a fortune.  You have the power to make this decision!

Write a New Story
I believe that the Western world is very bad at gratitude. It seems like almost everybody wants more than they’ve got. We see the commercials for luxury cars, watch the nouveau-riche Mc-Mansion tours on MTV Cribs, buy our lottery tickets, and think, “If only!”  
In our collective culture, there is so much anxiety born of the idea that what we have, where we live, what we drive, and by extension who we are is not good enough.  We live in one of the most affluent, most coddled societies in the history of the world, and yet many of us are a stressed-out mess, and deeply in debt, because we lack gratitude and perspective. 
Have you been telling yourself that you don’t have enough or that what you have is not good enough?  If so, question your assumptions and write a new story. Cultivate gratitude, and you might discover that what you already have is exactly what you need. You'll be richer for it.

Friday, April 6, 2012

You Might Be Richer Than You Think

What is your definition of rich?

Money is tight. Wages are stagnant. Prices are on the rise. The recession drags on. These days, most of us sure don’t feel rich.
Whenever you start to think that you are not getting your fair share, this resource might help to change your perspective:
This web site allows you to enter your annual income, and then it calculates for you how rich you are compared to the rest of the world. 
What is your definition of rich?
For example, it reveals that if you earn $25,000 a year, then you are in the top 10% of the richest people on Earth. If you earn the median family income of $65,000 a year, that puts you in the top 1% of the richest people on Earth.

So, how are you doing? Pretty good, I bet.

It is kind of hard to feel poor when you discover that you are rich, and most of us are MUCH richer than we think.  Just one more thing you can be grateful for.
"I've never been poor, only broke. Being poor is a frame of mind. Being broke is only a temporary situation.”– Mike Todd

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Books That Changed My (Money) Life

I have lost count of the many books I’ve read since I first began contemplating money. Among those dozens there have been several books that turned out to be especially memorable or influential. I have summarized them here for your consideration:
Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez
This book helped me to understand how consumption is related to wealth and financial security. The book encourages you to reorder your material priorities through debt elimination, robust savings, and cutting living expenses to the bare minimum. This is done to achieve financial freedom so that you can live the life you want to live. The author Joe actually walked the talk. By careful investing and extreme frugality he was able to retire from paid work in his early 30’s. While some of the author’s investment philosophies did not stand the test of time, the basic premise remains sound. The take-away for me was this: I can retire young if I want to, and when I retire is based almost entirely on how much stuff I choose to buy during my life.
The Simple Living Guide, by Janet Luhrs
This little dude
has the right idea.
While Your Money or Your Life suggested radical ways to think differently and live frugally, The Simple Living Guide demonstrated what a life lived that way might look like. As the author says, “Simple living is about living deliberately... It is about knowing why you are living your particular life.”  The underlying message is to be carefully aware of how increased consumption puts demands on you that can inadvertently rob your life of joy and meaning. 
One anecdote from the book that sticks with me involves a conversation that the author had with her children. While riding in the family car, her oldest child asked why the family did not have a nicer car. The author replied that they COULD buy a newer, nicer car, but then mommy would have to work more often. The author then asked the children which they would prefer, a new car or more time with mommy. The children wisely chose mommy time over the car, and the car was no longer an issue. Notice that the author did NOT reply to her child’s question with, “Because I can’t afford it.” The author’s reply, completely void of helplessness or self-pity, effectively demonstrated that life is all about choices, and those choices must be made mindfully.
Life or Debt: A One Week Plan for a Lifetime of Financial Freedom, by Stacey Johnson
Life or Debt offers up good solid advice on reducing debt, living beneath your means and investing wisely, along with many money saving tips. To be honest, there are other authors who have covered this material more effectively. (Sorry, Mr. Johnson.) This book will not waste your time, but unless it is your first exposure to the ideas presented, neither will it change your life. The reason this book made a difference for me is because it was the book that instructed me to write down all my purchases. Although it took me several years to follow through and take this advice (You can read about that HERE), it turned out to be very good advice to take.
The Millionaire Next Door, by Thomas Stanley and William Danko
This book was based on an exhaustive multi-year research project.  The goal was to profile typical American millionaires and their habits, and the results were surprising. The research revealed that the typical millionaire was not some big shot cash-flasher like we see on TV, but your unassuming next-door-neighbor. 
Our culture teaches us that to be rich is to live a high consumption lifestyle. Think of Robin Leach and his Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous show, MTV Cribs, or any of the other modern programs that supposedly represent what it is to be wealthy. What Tom and Williams discovered was that most millionaires drove a two-year-old domestic sedan, lived in a modest neighborhood, wore a Timex watch, and were not at all concerned about what anyone thought of them. In other words, most rich people don’t look like rich people – and that’s why they become and stay rich. Meanwhile, some people who appear to be very affluent are often far from it. Many are just a few bad moves away from losing it all. A fascinating study for anyone interested in money or sociology.
The Richest Man in Babylon, by George Clason
This book was written in the 1920s and you can tell, but the advice is timeless.  Set in ancient Babylon, Richest Man is a charming set of parables designed to teach money basics. It teaches such lessons as staying out of debt, saving the first 10% of all you earn, and prudent investing. It is probably the most entertaining money book there is due to its story format, and the fact that it is still in print after 90 years provides a clue to its continued relevance and enduring popularity. This might be the best first money book for anyone new to the topic. I intend to give a copy to each of my children when they start earning their own money.
The Total Money Makeover, by Dave Ramsey
I am a huge Dave Ramsey fan, and this book is why. For many years my wife and I have been practicing careful budgeting and aggressive saving, and we’ve had good results with our investing. I honestly thought that there was not all that much left for me to learn. I was wrong. 
Dave inspired us with his radical concept of being completely debt free. We have always tried to minimize our debt as a percentage of income, but being totally debt free takes it to the next level. Dave dares you to imagine what you could do with your income if you had no payments. He dares you to cut up your credit cards and build up an emergency fund so you only ever use cash. The result of that level of freedom is something he calls “Financial Peace,” and there is no better way to describe it. 
About 18 months ago my wife and I finally drank his Kool-Aid and made a commitment to live debt free. We followed his plan, went crazy, got intensely focused and paid off everything. As of this writing we have no debt except for our mortgage. Our car payments, credit cards, home equity loans, student loans and medical bills are all history. Following the next step in the Money Makeover plan, we had also saved up an emergency fund equal to about six months of basic living expenses. Was doing this easy? Hell no! Was it worth it? Oh yeah!
Being debt free and having an emergency fund sure does help when storm clouds gather. Taking Dave’s advice allowed me to be in a good financial position when I unexpectedly lost my job in December of 2011. Being debt free and having a cash cushion turned what could have been a total disaster into an opportunity. When I learned that the company where I had worked for 11 years would be closing, I knew we’d be okay. Financial peace indeed.
I recommend all the books I’ve listed above; but if you only ever read one, let it be The Total Money Makeover