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At any given time I may have half a dozen books I am reading around the house, ranging from the financial books I often read for work to novels recommended by friends. I love books, so trying to pick ten financial books to recommend as gifts this holiday season is a challenging task, to put it mildly.

To help me come up with a top ten list for this holiday season, I called on members of The Garrett Planning Network. As fee-only financial planners, they tend to have a down-to-earth take on personal finance and often have compiled lists of recommended reading for their clients. I culled through their suggestions, and included a few picks of my own.

You may notice I haven’t included any books about debt in this list. Giving a get out of debt book as a holiday gift may be a great idea if you want to help someone, but it feels a bit awkward. Instead, I’ll write a future post about books to read if you are dealing with a financial crisis. I am saving books in the “women and money” category for a future roundup as well, and didn’t include books that are sold strictly as digital copies.

Of course the best books to give are ones you’ve read and found helpful yourself. You may want to pick up some of these right away so you can at least skim the pages before wrapping them. You may end up buying copies for your bookshelf!

  1. In The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with Money, Carl Richards combines his popular “back of a napkin” sketches with simple, straightforward advice. Fans of his column that appears in the New York Times will appreciate this compilation, and those who have somehow missed out will be introduced to his accessible and entertaining approach. Even someone who freezes up at the thought of reading about finances probably won’t be able to resist thumbing through the sketches. And once a sketch piques your interest, you have to read the explanation. Before you know it, you’ve read the entire book, which at 179 pages, including illustrations, is far from overwhelming.
  2. Liz Weston is known as America’s top personal finance writer with good reason. She completed the coursework needed to earn a Certified Financial Planner (not a simple feat) simply because she wanted to make sure she was giving sound advice to her readers. That level of commitment shows in her popular columns that reach millions of readers each month. In her book, The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy, Weston offers her best advice for everything from budgeting, to saving for retirement to “treating your marriage like a business.” This book is a thorough approach to personal finance and is the type of book the person you give it to will refer to again and again.
  3. Another good book for personal finance basics is Jean Chatzky’s, Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security. As the money expert for The Today Show, she’s been helping viewers for years. And with television providing very little time to delve into long explanations, she’s no doubt learned how to get her message across in quick and memorable ways. Hence, the 90 rules that this book shares with readers, such as: Date your stocks; don’t marry them; “More money” won’t always make you “more happy;” to spend less, carry Benjamins, not Jacksons; If you can’t explain it, don’t invest in it; and “Free” can be very expensive.
  4. Clark Howard’s Living Large in Lean Times 250+ Ways to Buy Smarter, Spend Smarter, and Save Money is a compilation of this popular radio talk show host’s down-to-earth money-saving advice. It covers everything from avoiding “food fraud” to creative ways to save money on your cell phone bills and more. If there’s a way to save a buck, chances are he’s tried it. As Howard says in his book, “I’m not frugal, I’m cheap.” This book would be a terrific gift for Clark Howard fans, frugal friends or family members, and those trying to watch their income.
  5. Looking for a gift for parents of high school children who plan to go to college? I recommend The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price (2nd edition) by Lynn O’Shaughnessy. A financial writer who specializes in the demystifying the world of college funding, O’Shaughnessy offers advice parents and their children can use to get an excellent college education without taking on a mountain of debt. I interviewed her on Talk Credit Radio several months ago, and the podcast, Shrink Your College Costs, has continued to be one of my most downloaded episodes. Clearly parents and students are concerned about finding an affordable education. You’ll truly be a hero if you help someone save thousands of dollars with the advice in this book.
  6. Saving for Retirement (Without Living Like a Pauper or Winning the Lottery) — 2nd edition — by Gail Marks Jarvis is financial planner Cheryl Krueger’s pick. She explains, “This book particularly talks to those who haven’t started thinking about funding their retirement, whether they’re in their 20s or in their 60s. In addition, there is lots of information on how to invest savings with a view towards retirement. The book uses stories from Gail’s readers and her financial industry sources to demonstrate how people address various real-life situations. She doesn’t just stick to the simple stuff — she addresses how people with shortfalls should work towards a more comfortable retirement, but she doesn’t sugar coat it, either.” Lauree Murphy of Murphy Financial Planning also gave Jarvis’ book the thumbs up: “I have given the older version to clients as well as to my son. It’s easy for the average person to understand. No mumbo jumbo and excellent information.”
  7. The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge by Ted Klontz, Rick Kahler and Brad Klontz was suggested by Alan Moore, CFP, and seconded by Sheryl Garrett. I agree as well. It’s been awhile since I read this book, so picked it up again and was reminded again how much I like it. It’s a pretty quick read, but takes a new approach to a story we thought we all knew. You may not look at money the same way again. Moore says it’s a “very easy read, and focuses on a topic that very few people talk about — financial psychology.
  8. Two planners recommended Prosperity, Armageddon, and Everything in Between by William Bernstein. Laura Scharr from Ascend Financial Planning says she likes “anything by Bernstein” but especially this book. Tony Noto, a financial planner based in Shanghai China elaborates: “(It) was written after the credit crisis, and the book does well reiterating his themes that beating the market is impossible, investment brokers are dangerous to your wealth, return expectations need to be reasonable, and crises can present excellent buying opportunities if you have a long time horizon.”
  9. The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko is a classic that details the author’s research on the wealthy in America. They explain that most American millionaires are self-made and did not inherit money. They have good incomes but they are frugal, especially when it comes to big ticket items like homes and cars. About half the time they own their own businesses, though “self-employed individuals are four times more likely to be millionaires than those who work for others” according to the author’s research. Because it’s much easier to achieve millionaire status if you start out the right way at a young age — and because this isn’t a “get rich quick” book — I’d recommend it as an excellent gift for young adults.
  10. It’s a Habit, Sammy Rabbit! by Sam X. Renick is a winner for the young children on your list. It tells the story of Sammy Rabbit and how he learns the value of saving when an unexpected storm creates a crisis for his family. I recommend also giving one of the music CDs featuring Sammy’s signature song, Get in the Habit, with the book. The music is just as fun as the book. My daughter enjoyed Sammy Rabbit when she was young, and I have since recommended these books to other parents. Liz Weston, the author I mentioned earlier, has also given it the thumbs up after listening to the CDs with her daughter.

I know that adding another book technically brings this list up to 11, but financial planner Elizabeth Hendrick also suggests giving the The Financial Aid Handbook by Carol Stack and Ruth Vedvik, two former admissions directors. “It has all of the specifics prospective students and their families might need concerning student aid but also encourages readers to consider the process from the perspective of the admissions departments they interact with,” she says. In her financial planning practice, Hendricks works primarily with college students, young adults and baby boomers, so she no doubt has fielded numerous questions about paying for college — and paying off debt .

What books did I miss? Feel free to share financial books you’ve given or received as a gift in the comments.

Image: Susana Fernandez, via Flickr

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