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The best personal finance books for recent college grads

Ali Oshinskie and David Brancaccio May 18, 2018
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If you’re getting your college grad a gift of money, you might want to include a book on how to put that present to good use. Financial planning might not be a priority — 70 percent of grads are finishing school with significant debt. But with U.S. employers adding an average of 200,000 jobs per month in 2018, your grad could be working — and doing some financial planning — soon.

Here are some personal finance books for grads recommended by Marketplace senior economics contributor Chris Farrell, keeping in mind economics and English majors alike.  

1. “A Random Walk Down Wall Street: The Time-Tested Strategy for Successful Investing” is a classic. Originally published in 1973, Burton Malkiel’s book is the place to start for new investors. If your grad isn’t ready to invest in stocks, Malkiel would probably endorse staying away. He advises index funds and details other types of investments, like money market accounts and real estate. The title is derivative of the “random walk theory” of stocks, which your grad can explain to you after a read.

2. If your grad’s questions about investing are more like “index what?” then you can also pick up the shortened version of his book, titled “The Random Walk Guide to Investing.”  Makiel condensed his original in 2003 to 10 guideposts for novice investors. He cuts down on jargon and lands on a thesis anyone can understand: “The past history of stock prices cannot be used to predict the future in any meaningful way.”

3. But investing or saving for retirement probably isn’t your grad’s priority right out of college. And Beth Kobliner understands that financial headspace. Her book, Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties,” speaks to the economic mindset of millennials strapped with college debt and memories of the financial crisis. Yes, they should get ahead with investments, but not without the essentials: paying taxes, getting out of debt and boosting credit scores.

4. If you’re worried your grad doesn’t want another book after four (or more) years of college, then get them an index card. A few years back, University of Chicago professor Harold Pollack claimed everything you need to know about personal finance can fit on a 3″-by-5″ index card. So he wrote a book with author and journalist Helaine Olen called “The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated.” His book explains how the index card rules can actually work better than advanced financial strategy. Some of these tips include saving 10 to 20 percent of your income and maxing out your 401(k). 

5. For a deep dive into index funds, follow in the footsteps of Vanguard Group founder and former CEO John Bogle. “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns” is another classic on the financial bookshelf. His advice? Do what he did: “Buy and hold all of the nation’s publicly held businesses at very low cost.” Sounds simple, right?

6. Elizabeth Gilbert, after years of success from her New York Times best-seller “Eat, Pray, Love,” wrote a creative instruction manual for life: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.” Her central thesis encourages readers to live out of curiosity rather than fear. While not strictly personal finance advice, it has practical applications for achieving goals, and a little creative encouragement will send grads out into the world ready to invest in their future.

This story was updated on 5/22/18.

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