When it comes to what stresses out Americans, personal finances routinely lead the list. And though “the future of our nation” was the most frequently reported stressor in the American Psychological Association’s 2017 Stress in America poll, named by 63% of respondents, nearly as many respondents (62%)identified money worries as a significant source of anxiety.
No wonder. Recent surveys have found that almost two-thirds of Americans don’t have enough cash on hand to manage an unexpected $500 bill; roughly half have nothing saved for retirement.
Against that backdrop of unpreparedness and apprehension, many of the personal finance books due out in 2018 offer help with fundamental money management skills. Developing sensible saving, spending, and budgeting habits are often the aspirations under discussion, not the dream of getting rich in a hot stock market.
One way authors are approaching these themes is through personal stories. In Meet the Frugalwoods (Harper Business, Mar. 2018), blogger Elizabeth Willard Thames recounts how she and her husband saved enough to quit their jobs in their early 30s, discovering purpose and contentment along the way (see “The Zen of Frugality”).
New York Times science reporter John Schwartz tells a different tale in This Is the Year I Put My Financial Life in Order (Avery, Apr. 2018). Reaching his late 50s with a trail of ill-fated money moves behind him—overextending on a New York City apartment, falling for a costly annuity pitch—Schwartz devoted himself to mastering money once and for all.
After a 2015 Times story chronicling his first steps toward financial literacy struck a chord with readers, Schwartz decided to drill down more. The resulting book, says Megan Newman, Avery publisher and Schwartz’s editor, “is soup-to-nuts advice on everything from investments to wills, animated by this regular guy’s lived experiences.”
While Schwartz is writing for readers in their 40s and 50s who, as Newman puts it, “know they are behind the eight ball and need to tidy things up,” many other 2018 titles are aimed squarely at the coveted millennial readership, a generation that’s just beginning to tackle money management. To capture this demographic, some authors have turned to unconventional formats.
In Get Money (Hachette Books, Apr. 2018), Kristin Wong applies the concept of gamification to money, teaching the basics through exercises, worksheets, quizzes, flow charts, and more. “The book is easy to read but also empowering,” says Wong, who writes the Two Cents section of the blog Lifehacker. “Gamification is about engaging that part of your brain that makes you feel motivated and feel you have autonomy over money.” She hopes the book takes a beating—dog ears, writing, highlighting. Reading it, she says, “should be very hands-on.”
Chelsea Fagan, who launched The Financial Diet blog in 2014 (its YouTube channel has 321,000 subscribers), also takes a nontraditional approach to financial advice, positioning her forthcoming book as “personal finance for people who don’t care about money.” The Financial Diet (Holt, Jan. 2018), written by Fagan and designed by Lauren Ver Hage, weaves together money tips; profiles of experts on home, fashion, and finance; and literal recipes—food, Fagan notes, is the biggest budget eater after housing.
Aimed at young women, The Financial Diet takes a wide view of the field of personal finance, Fagan says, incorporating advice on fashion and decorating as well as money management, and eschews a prescriptive tone (“It’s the anti–Suze Orman,” Fagan says). The full-color design, she says, is key to the book’s appeal: “We want it to look so chic on a woman’s desk that she would take a picture of it.”
Seeking to capitalize on the popularity of infographics on major personal finance websites, The Infographic Guide to Personal Finance (Adams Media, Dec.) targets readers in their 20s and 30s with a book comprised solely of charts, graphs, lists, and other visual elements, dealing with topics ranging from student loan debt to buying a first home.
“This age group is used to consuming content in an easily digestible format,” says Brendan O’Neill, director of editorial at Adams Media. Author Michele Cagan, a CPA, has written several newbie financial guides for Adams Media, including 2016’s Investing 101; designer Elisabeth Lariviere also worked on a 2017 college guide in the Infographic series.
Other forthcoming beginners’ guides take a more traditional, prescriptive approach to personal finance advice. Soon after the birth of Catey Hill’s first child two and half years ago, the financial writer saw her fiscal discipline crumble in the face of a time crunch. “As I found myself doing more impulse buys and late-night Amazon, my spending went from in control to out of control,” Hill says. And she heard from fellow moms how overwhelmed they were with unexpected new expenses.
Her book The 30-Minute Money Plan for Moms (Center Street, May 2018) is written for that time-pressed parent, with advice in two areas: how to save money when you don’t have time for an exhaustive search for deals, and how to manage a budget quickly. “Those were the two things I knew other moms would really benefit from,” Hill says. Her tips are divided into 30-minute tasks, or a series of half-hour assignments. Why 30 minutes? “I thought that’s a reasonable amount of time to spend a week on your finances.”
In You Need a Budget (Harper Business, Jan. 2018), former CPA Jesse Mecham outlines the four-rule budgeting method he developed in grad school and then, in 2004, turned into YNAB, a business that sells budgeting software to help customers track and pay down debt, and also offers free workshops and newsletters. His money management system includes being mindful about every dollar that’s spent, breaking big expenses into manageable monthly costs, and allowing for flexibility as circumstances change.
Despite the strong focus on budgeting and basics, wealth-building books are not completely absent from the calendar in 2018. Following the recent reissue of David Bach’s 2004 hit The Automatic Millionaire, the author has revised and expanded his blockbuster 2001 guide to financial planning and investing for couples, Smart Couples Finish Rich (Random House, Jan. 2018).
The new version takes account of changes to tax laws, health care, investment products, and retirement accounts, as well as new technology that lets couples track their money and research investments. Plus, Bach has added a chapter on how to plan a “money date” to better work on money together. A revised version of Bach’s Smart Women Finish Rich will follow in the fall of 2018.
A decade after the housing bubble burst, 13-year-old BiggerPockets has developed into a more than 900,000-strong online community of real estate investors seeking advice, education, and support. Adding to its webinars, online guides, forums, tools, videos, and popular podcasts, BiggerPockets has been expanding into books, with a line-up anchored by The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Real Estate Investing by Joshua Dorkin and Brandon Turner (BiggerPockets, Nov. 2018). The book is an expanded version of an electronic guide that saw more than a million downloads, Dorkin says.
While many real estate titles center on a single strategy, this book will be an overview of the entire niche. “Most other books and gurus say ‘do it this way and win,’ ” says Dorkin, the site’s founder and CEO. “We want to give you all the options so you can find the path that makes sense to you.”
In 2018 readers will find no shortage of paths to follow when it comes to finding their way to financial peace of mind.
Below, more on the subject of personal finance books.
The Zen of Frugality: PW Talks with Elizabeth Willard Thames
In ‘Meet the Frugalwoods,’ the blogger shares how she and her husband gave up the 9-to-5 for a more fulfilling life.
How to Head Off a Retirement Crisis: Personal Finance Books 2018
Among the proposals in forthcoming books on retirement: guaranteed retirement accounts.
Teaching Money Skills with a Message: Personal Finance Books 2018
Generous Kids, a new children’s series from Christian publisher Sparkhouse Family, combines money lessons with moral teachings.
Ellen Stark, the former deputy editor of Money magazine and Money.com, is a freelance writer and editor specializing in business and personal finance.