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A Retired Sailor, Recommends 50 of the Best Personal Finance Books Ever Written

This list was compiled from the recommendations of dozens of veterans and their families. I’ve personally read or used all of them and I was not paid, compensated, or otherwise bribed to recommend them.

Many of them are free through a website or local library. The products are all worth their price, but I recommend working through the free resources before spending money.

What books or research papers or websites have brought value to your life? Post them here and I’ll add them to the next edition of the book!

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Best Personal Finance Books

Military Personal Finance Books

“Guide to Personal Financial Planning for the Armed Forces” by Colonel S. Jamie Gayton and Major Scott P. Handler. Updated for 2013! One of the best decision-making guides for military pay & savings issues.

“The Military Advantage” by Terry Howell of Military.com. Best benefits book. Ever.

The $avvy $ailor” and “The $avvy Naval Officer” by Ralph Nelson. Step-by-step explanations of avoiding debt, starting a savings system, and planning for a career full of earnings and investments.

 

Retirement Books

Work Less, Live More” by Bob Clyatt. The latest and best on early retirement and semi-retirement. Includes CD of spreadsheets and other analysis tools.

The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement” by Billy & Akaisha Kaderli. The latest and best on perpetual travel. You can read more about them over at RetireEarlyLifestyle.com.

Cashing in on the American Dream: How to Retire at 35” by Paul Terhorst. One of the first early-retirement books. Timeless retirement lifestyle advice, now being sold for a penny.

Get A Life, You Don’t Need A Million to Retire Well” by Ralph Warner. Retirement lifestyle advice from the co-founder of Nolo.

How To Retire Early and Live Well” by Gillette Edmunds. Another classic manual.

Rags to Retirement” by Gail Liberman and Alan Lavine. Extreme frugality, expatriate living, perpetual travel, and other creative ideas.

What Color Is Your Parachute? for Retirement” by Richard Bolles & John Nelson. Thorough advice on self-assessment and retirement lifestyle planning.

The Joy of Not Working” and “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” by Ernie Zelinski. “Get-a-Life Tree” and other planning tools.

Prime Time” and “Encore” by Marc Freedman. “Bridge careers” and a lifetime of service. This is what most of us were thinking about when we retired from the military, but it doesn’t always have to be this way.

Retiring as a Career: Making the Most of Your Retirement” by Betsy Kyte Newman. Planning your retirement lifestyle and thinking through the issues.

The Boglehead’s Guide to Retirement Planning” by Taylor Larimore, Mel Lindauer, Richard Ferri, and Laura F. Dogu. Bogle’s index-fund advocates on saving and spending during retirement.

The Wealthy Barber Returns” by David Chilton. Classic detailed introduction to basic steps of getting your financial house in order.

The Investor’s Manifesto” by William Bernstein. Presents “investing for the liberal arts major” without any of the icky math or charts from his earlier books. Excellent guide for the beginner. Bernstein’s long-time readers (especially of “The Intelligent Asset Allocator“) will appreciate his efforts to simplify an overcomplicated subject.

 

Frugality and Savings Books

Your Money or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez. The classic work that inspired the simple-living movement.

The Complete Tightwad Gazette” by Amy Dacyczyn. Complete and detailed frugal advice from a veteran’s spouse.

The Millionaire Next Door” by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. The demographics and mindsets of millionaires applied to savings and business.

The Ultimate Cheapskate” by Jeff Yeager. “Focus on the big lifestyle decisions, not the $3 cup of coffee.”

 

Investing Books

The Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham. The bible of value investing since 1949. Multiple editions and updates.

The Four Pillars of Investing” and “The Intelligent Asset Allocator” by William Bernstein. Asset allocation clearly explained with examples of real-life investment portfolios. Read “Four Pillars” first and go back to IAA for a second helping of details. Bernstein has also written fascinating books on global trade and economics.

Triumph of the Optimists” by Elroy Dimson, Paul Marsh, and Mike Staunton. Pragmatic review of over a century of investment returns among 16 countries.

Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes” by Gary Belsky and Thomas Gilovich. Vital investor psychology guide for self-assessment.

The Retirement Savings Time Bomb” and “Parlay Your IRA into a Family Fortune” by Ed Slott. How to fund, maintain, convert, and withdraw from IRAs.

Are You a Stock or a Bond?” by Moshe Milevsky. Applies novel concept of “human capital” to investing and asset allocation.

A Random Walk Down Wall Street” by Burton Malkiel. Classic analysis of efficient market hypothesis and index-fund investing.

All About Asset Allocation” by Rick Ferri. Explains the basics of asset allocation and starting an investment portfolio.

The Only Guide to a Winning Investment Strategy You’ll Ever Need” by Larry Swedroe. Clear and basic advice on starting and maintaining an investment portfolio.

Stocks for the Long Run” by Jeremy J. Siegel. Advocates benefits of buy-and-hold investing.

The Coffeehouse Investor” by Bill Schultheis. Low-maintenance portfolios for the deployed (or lazy) investor.

The Boglehead’s Guide to Investing” by Taylor Larimore, Mel Lindauer, and Michael LeBoeuf. Leading advocates of Bogle’s invention of index-fund investing.

Common Sense on Mutual Funds” and “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing” by John Bogle. Founder of the first modern index fund and Vanguard.

J.K. Lasser’s Your Winning Retirement Plan” by Henry “Bud” Hebeler. Innovative and very conservative “negative feedback” approach to investment planning and adjusting retirement spending to investment returns. Extremely detailed analysis of when to take Social Security benefits. See other tools at his website “Analyze Now!”

The Informed Investor” by Frank Armstrong III. A Vietnam veteran and financial advisor on commonsense investing.

Investing in Real Estate“, 4th edition or later, by Andrew McLean & Gary W. Eldred. Common-sense advice and hype-free guide to analyzing and buying investment property.

Landlording” by Leigh Robinson (7th edition or later). The best modern guide on managing rental real estate. Not for the lazy or faint of heart.

The 10 Commandments of Money” by Liz Weston. A personal financial guide for this generation!

Addendum: Recommended by the members of Early-Retirement.org

(I’ve read most of these, and a few more are on my library request list. They’re not necessarily better or worse but could appeal to readers with a different style or a different approach to the subjects.)

“How to Buy Stocks” by Henry Hecht and Louis Engel. If you must buy individual stocks, read this first to understand the vocabulary and the stock-exchange rules.

“The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need for the Right Financial Plan: Managing Your Wealth, Risk, and Investments” by Larry E. Swedroe. Published August 2010. Haven’t read it yet, but his “The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need” books are clear, unbiased explanations of how investing works (and doesn’t work). This one revisits asset allocation and risk tolerances, subjects of considerable renewed interest in 2008-09.

“The Richest Man in Babylon” by George Samuel Clason. The perpetual classic on real-life investing, which really hasn’t changed much over the millenia.

“Manias, Panics and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises” by Charles Kindleberger. Another classic review of phenomena that haven’t changed over the years. Written in 2005, it didn’t predict the 2008-09 recession– but the authors wouldn’t have been surprised by it.

“Beyond Greed and Fear: Understanding Behavioral Finance and the Psychology of Investing” by Hersh Shefrin. The more I learn about investing, the more important it seems to understand our own investor’s psychology. This explains why investors have such a hard time following their own highly logical asset-allocation plans.

Military Research Papers

“A Comparative Study of the Life Satisfaction of Early Retirement Military Officers”, doctoral dissertation by Russ T. Graves, professor at Texas A&M College, 2005. Available online at Texas A&M University research archives. Analysis of survey data indicating that the vast majority of officers immediately begin civilian careers after military retirement. (Their server may limit access so search the archives for “Graves Russ”.)

“America’s Military Population” by David R. and Mady Wechsler Segal, excerpted from the December 2004 issue of the Population Reference Bureau’s Population Bulletin, Vol 59, No 4. Eye-opening demographics and statistics on veterans and the services.

“DoD Statistical Report on the Military Retirement System”: Detailed summary of military retirees by age, rank, service, location, and other factors.

 

Financial Research Papers

Reprinted study of 4% safe withdrawal rate: “Determining Withdrawal Rates Using Historical Data” by William P. Bengen, originally published in Journal of Financial Planning, vol. 7, no. 4 (October 1994), pp. 171-80. Reprinted with “Best Of” collection in 2004. First study to analyze withdrawal rates and conclude that 4% plus inflation was “safe”.

The Trinity Study: “Retirement Savings: Choosing a Withdrawal Rate That Is Sustainable” by Philip L. Cooley, Carl M. Hubbard and Daniel T. Walz, professors of finance in the Department of Business Administration, Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas. Widely publicized study confirming 4% safe withdrawal rate.

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1981). “Prospect Theory: An analysis of decision under risk”, Econometrica Vol 47 (1979), pp. 263-91. Also “The framing of decisions and the psychology of choice”, Science, 211, 453-458. Classic studies of investor psychology.

Jennings, William W., and Reichenstein William. “The value of retirement income streams: the value of military retirement.” Financial Services Review 10 (2001): 19-35. The importance of considering retirement income when choosing an asset allocation.

Fraser, Steve P., William W. Jennings, and David R. King. “Strategic Asset Allocation for Individual Investors: The Impact of the Present Value of Social Security Benefits.” Financial Services Review 9 (2006). SSRN. 10 July 2006. Social Science Research Network. 31 Aug. 2009. Analyzes the significant impact of Social Security benefits on asset allocation.

Raddr’s home page. An early retiree’s analysis of asset allocation, diversification, and withdrawal rates.

 

Military Articles

Summary of the military retirement system: Detailed explanation of military retirement systems and calculations.

MSN Money “Does military service still pay?”: Popular analysis of military pay scales versus civilian careers.

Stripes “Active Duty Retirees Die Sooner Than Reservists”: Statistical study of military retiree mortality rates.

Kiplinger’s “Personal Finance for Military Families”: Clear summary of financial considerations for veterans and their families.

 

Financial Articles

William Bernstein’s “Retirement Calculator from Hell” five-part series:
The Retirement Calculator from Hell
The Retirement Calculator From Hell – Part II
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
A Nation of Wal-Mart Greeters
The Unhappy Implications of the Easterlin Hypothesis

Philip Greenspun on early retirement: Practical advice on getting things done before and during retirement.

 

 

What books or research papers or websites have brought value to your life? Post them here and I’ll add them to the next edition of the book!

About the Author Doug Nordman

I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers and veterans.

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