Millionaires come from all walks of life, but research shows they share some key habits that helped them climb to and then stay at the top of their financial games. Upping their financial IQs and reading are two big ones — so it’s no surprise many millionaires credit their favorite books with helping them shape their money mindset.
Want a few suggestions to add to your quarantine reading list? This book list offers options for the intelligent investor, for wannabe supersavers and early retirees, for people just getting started, for those making course corrections, and for anyone who just wants to be smarter and more confident about how they handle their money.
Below, seven self-made millionaires share the one book that changed their finances for the better.
"Your Money or Your Life," by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez
“This is a great book about the foundations of tracking your spending and rethinking how you engage with money. It introduces the idea of thinking about money in terms of how much time — a precious, finite resource — it took for you to earn it. That was a huge mindset shift for me. When you think of it like that, you’re a lot more careful about where your money goes.
"After reading it in 2012, my husband Mark and I began to seriously focus on our discretionary spending, scaling back on dinners out and impulse buys and stopping the constant ‘treat yourself’ mentality. I realized that truly treating myself was working toward financial freedom — not buying more stuff that wouldn’t increase my happiness.
"If you can tamp down on ‘lifestyle inflation’ like this, even as you earn more, and save what’s leftover, you’ll be shocked at how much you can put away.”
“Cashing in on the American Dream: How to Retire at 35,” by Paul Terhorst
"'Cashing in on the American Dream' details how the author achieved financial independence by selling all of his assets (his house, cars, etc.) and investing the proceeds. When my wife Zena and I read it in 1997, we were still paying off $45,000 of student loans and never imagined being financially independent one day—but it did inspire us to start saving aggressively (eventually up to 75 percent of our incomes) so we could invest more.
"The book is timeless in the sense that it shows the power of putting your money to work for you. Especially if you identify with the early-retirement movement, you'll love reading how Terhorst developed his own plan long before the concept existed in popular culture. I'm sure coworkers at his accounting firm thought he was nuts!”
— Gerry, 54, a retired teacher in Statenville, Georgia, who passed the seven-figure mark in 2016 by living frugally and maxing out retirement accounts
Video by Stephen Parkhurst
“The Millionaire Next Door” by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko
“I was at an event one day in 1998 when I heard someone talking animatedly about ‘The Millionaire Next Door’ and the wealthy spending habits it talked about. Their excitement motivated me to read the book myself.
"This book truly helped me turn my financial life around. I was living paycheck to paycheck at the time, often spending more money than I could afford on material things as I tried to keep up with the Joneses. But here’s what I know now: A Timex watch tells time just as well as a Rolex, and an older Jeep gets me from Point A to Point B just as a 2018 luxury vehicle will.
"Because of the lessons I learned from ‘The Millionaire Next Door,’ my husband and I were able to stop wasting money on stuff and start saving for things we valued: paying off our mortgage, funding our children’s education and consistently investing for retirement.”
— Clare Dubé, 51, financial therapist in Madison, Connecticut, who joined the millionaires’ club in 2000 through values-led budgeting, targeted retirement planning and real estate investing
“The Wealthy Barber” by David Chilton
"'The Wealthy Barber' taught me that you don’t need to be an executive making a huge income or start a killer business in order to become a millionaire. Ordinary people can become millionaires by doing relatively simple things—like using tax-advantaged retirement accounts and pushing yourself to save a little extra each month—over a long period of time.
"Since first reading it nearly 20 years ago, I've focused on saving and investing, paying off debt, living below my means and actively looking for ways to increase my income. This has helped me grow the gap between income and money that goes out."
“The Automatic Millionaire” by David Bach
"Everyone is looking for a magic potion to get rich instantly. That rarely happens. Instead, ‘The Automatic Millionaire’ shows the power of building wealth through incremental steps, like signing up for a 401(k) and contributing, at first, enough to get the company match — then gradually increasing from there.
"I’m all about letting little wins pile up, and use automation for many simple tasks, like paying bills, investing and setting up a transfer from my checking account to online savings accounts, dedicated to different goals. This way, I can earn a little interest, meet my goals and avoid the convenience fee some companies charge for converting annual bills, like life or auto insurance, into monthly installments.
Video by Stephen Parkhurst
"Taking care of these things automatically means I can focus on building my career and scouting the next rental property or other worthwhile investment."
— Lee Huffman, 42, freelance writer in Anaheim Hills, Calif., who hit $1 million in 2015, thanks to maxing out retirement accounts, buying a home at the bottom of the housing market and investing in rental properties
“The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing” by Taylor Larimore, Mel Landauer and Michael LeBoeuf
"'The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing,' based on the philosophies of Vanguard founder John Bogle, completely changed my financial outlook. In the 12 years since reading it, I went from being a broke college student to a millionaire.
"I credit that growth to a lot of things, but particularly learning how to invest in diversified, low-cost index funds and hold onto them over the long term. I used to associate investing with picking individual stocks, but the book laid out an investing strategy that benefits from the rise of the market as a whole rather than individual stock picks. This approach is less stressful and less volatile — and helps me sleep at night.”
— Adam Fortuna, 36, product manager in Salt Lake City, Utah, whose long-term investing strategy helped him recover after the Great Recession, when his net worth plummeted by 80 percent, and eventually become a millionaire in 2017
"If You Can: How Millennials Can Get Rich Slowly" by William Bernstein
"When I read this book three years ago, I was a financial infant. My husband and I had a strong income, but we didn't have a goal. Because I grew up in poverty in China before immigrating to the U.S., where money was still tight, I didn’t spend much. My husband grew up in a typical, suburban family, but had similar money habits. So while we weren’t overspending, we weren’t putting our money to good use either.
"In this book, Bernstein spits out the core of personal finance — budgeting, retirement saving and other principles of investing — in 76 pages, which was perfect for my 23-year-old attention span. We implemented Bernstein’s advice, and also continued our personal finance journey through reading more books and finding a community of like-minded people with similar financial goals to keep us accountable.”
— Lily He, 26, entrepreneur in Seattle, Wash., who crossed the millionaire mark in 2017, thanks to saving up to 90 percent of her discretionary income and investing
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