Build your personal finance library without breaking the bank

By Sarah Damon

Before the invention of the Internet, most people kept a library of physical reference books. Dictionaries for spelling and definitions, a thesaurus for synonyms and antonyms, an encyclopedia for a comprehensive summary of every topic imaginable, and more. While nowadays many people simply fire up the computer to answer these questions, sometimes it's still best to have a reference book for in-depth information or a step-by-step guide.

Your finances are a great example. Personal finance is a vast topic, and there are many voices out there from many different situations and backgrounds. Some people are more concerned with how to get the best savings rates, others with how to save for retirement. Some already know the basics and want to delve further into investing topics. But buying just 10 books at retail prices can easily set you back $150 or more. Needless to say, that money would serve you better in a high-interest savings account! So how should you start to build your personal finance library? And more important, how do you build a library without breaking the bank?

J.D. Roth at Get Rich Slowly offers great advice on how to build a cheap personal finance library. Use the following tips to save cash and still get a well-rounded financial education:

  1. Scour the thrift stores. Every thrift store has a section for used books, DVDs and other media. Map out a few stores in your area, and stop in regularly to see the latest arrivals.
  2. Check out garage sales. You know what they say, one person's trash is another person's treasure! Look in the newspaper for garage sale listings, and while you're at it, search the book section of Craigslist for personal finance books, as well.
  3. Search used-book stores. Peruse the personal finance section and the clearance shelves. Many bookstores also send coupons from time to time to people on their mailing list. Sign up and use a coupon for bigger savings.
  4. Put the books on your library card, not your credit card. Think about how many books you own that were only read one time. That's often the case with personal finance books, too. Rather than spending dough to read a book once, use a public library card to check it out. If you like it enough to buy it, you can hunt down a used copy. Public libraries also are a good option if you want to read a specific title immediately, and don't want to wait until you happen across it at a thrift store or used book store.

"I'm gradually building an extensive personal finance library comprising only books that I've purchased at garage sales and thrift stores," writes J.D. "I have a mental lists of books I'd like to acquire, and I keep an eye out so that I can get them cheap."

You can go one step further by writing down your list or keeping it on your phone.

Choosing books for your library

Obviously which books appeal to you most will depend on where you're at in your financial journey, and what your situation is at home. A 24-year-old single woman will have different needs from a 45-year-old married man with two kids and a mortgage. But for a good overview of personal finance topics, J.D. lists his top 25 picks as follows:

Basic personal finance

  • The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko
  • Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin
  • The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
  • The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton
  • The Richest Man in Babylon by George Clason


  • How to Live Well Without Owning a Car by Chris Balish
  • Miserly Moms by Jonni McCoy
  • The Joy of Simple Living by Jeff Davidson
  • Wealth on Minimal Wage by James Steamer
  • The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn


  • The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach
  • Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias
  • The Bogleheads' Guide to Investing by Larimore, Lindauer, and LeBoeuf
  • Yes, You Can…Achieve Financial Independence by James Stowers
  • The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
  • A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton Malkiel


  • 50 Success Classics by Tom Butler-Bowdon
  • Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • Getting Things Done by David Allen
  • Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
  • What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard N. Bolles

Kids and money

  • What Color Is Your Piggy Bank? by Adelia Cellini Linecker
  • You Call the Shots by Cameron Johnson
  • Living Simply with Children by Marie Sherlock

Use the Internet and your local library to take advantage of the wealth of written information for free. If you find a book that you think you'll return to often, put it on your list and hunt down a used copy. It might not seem like saving $10-$20 is much, but in truth it's quite possible to build your savings from spare change.