For decades, conventional personal finance wisdom has rested on a strong message of self-deprivation: If you’re in debt, it’s because you’re spending on frivolities and neglecting necessities. A slew of new books posit that this thinking is disconnected in a world where student debt has spiraled out of control and home ownership is out of reach for many, and where valid anxiety about money drives some to make bad financial decisions.
It’s the system, silly
Gone are the days of personal finance gurus urging their cronies to brew coffee at home. “A lot of personal finance books are really frustrating,” says Emily Wunderlich, senior editor at Viking. “They push for personal discipline and courage, force you to manage your money, and make assumptions about the money people earn or spend. They leave a lot of people out. Its acquisition Finance for the people (Penguin Life, February 2022), which Paco de Leon, founder of financial firm Hell Yeah Group, wrote for creatives and freelancers, “takes into account a more diverse set of financial circumstances. Many of the “habits” mentioned in other books are short term; it’s about feelings and beliefs. We’re all weird about money. It’s about unraveling those quirks to help you live better.
Several publishers TP spoke with for this feature discussed the fact that financial challenges are not created in a vacuum; systemic issues have a huge impact on how we earn, spend, invest and save. Condescending advice on tracking pennies falls flat in an age when dollars are out of reach.
“The days of personal finance books offering platitudes that are supposed to work for everyone – the coffee thing – are over,” says Kate Zimmerman, managing editor at Sterling. In Financial first aid (April 2022), Alyssa Davies, author of The 100 Day Financial Goals Journal“recognizes the systemic issues people face, the difficulty of finding steady employment, the precariousness of the gig economy, the difficulty of finding health insurance if you’re self-employed, childcare costs.”
Many of these systemic issues disproportionately affect women. “There are so many forces in the world that make women feel like they’re not good at money,” says Helen Healey, Managing Editor at Portfolio. “Can you really blame people for falling prey to the insane financial system we live in?” Healey acquired Kumiko Love’s My money, my way (February 2022), based on the author’s self-published budget planners, which she notes have sold more than 140,000 copies in total.
Love seeks to help women understand the emotional components of their financial problems and use that understanding to get out of debt and spend their money in a way that makes sense to them. “Some of the universal finance authors make readers feel like they’re the problem,” Healey says. “Miko makes them feel like they are the solution.”
Like Love, Kimberlee Davis found herself struggling after her divorce when she had to support her children on her own. “The financial situation of women has always been precarious compared to that of men,” says Ariel Curry, who worked as an editor on Davis’s The power of the stock market (Wonderwell, May 2022). “And even more so now; 80% of people who left the labor market during Covid are women. Davis’ advice: don’t let anyone else own your financial future.
A first step to financial peace can be talking openly about financial fear and anxiety. women talk about money (March 2022), an anthology edited by Rebecca Walker and featuring essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom and Alice Walker, among others, offers women writers of many races and gender identities the opportunity to share the reality of their situations. “Even in 2021, women are uncomfortable talking openly about money,” says Hana Park, associate editor at Simon & Schuster. “This collection seeks to dispel shame and break down that barrier.”
It’s my bank balance, and I’ll cry if I want
Understanding the emotional roots of money problems is the first step toward resolving them, according to financial therapist Bari Tessler, author of The Art of Money Workbook, a June release of Shambhala. “There’s a lot of fear and confusion around money,” says Beth Frankl, senior editor at Shambhala. “This book uses the reader’s relationship with money as a training ground for compassion, confidence, and self-esteem.”
In contrast, Matthew Partridge, senior UK writer MoneyWeek magazine, suggests that removing emotion from investment decisions may be the key to sound investing. In Investing Explained, which Kogan Page publishes in February, he “talks about behavioral psychology and how readers can leverage and profit from the irrational behavior of others,” says Isabelle Cheng, senior editor at Kogan Page.
Nick Amphlett, who edited William Morrow’s April version The anxious investor, notes that the already unpredictable economy is pushing many people to go public. “There was a lot of fear about finances and what was going to happen; would they still have jobs, which was happening to the stock market,” he says. “We realized there was a hole for a book on what investor psychology is and how to understand it.”
Hit the road, Jack
This same economic upheaval is also driving new books that warn readers against relying on their nine to five to keep them employed and solvent. “Covid has given people an opportunity to reevaluate how they live their lives, how they approach their life goals like sending their kids to college,” Amphlett says. “There’s definitely a lot of stuff out there from entrepreneurs blazing your own trail.”
In money magic—a January version of Little, Brown Spark that TP‘s flagship review called it “must-read for anyone concerned about their financial future” – economist Laurence J. Kotlikoff explains, for example, why becoming a plumber may be a better career choice than becoming a doctor; they earn a similar income, but plumbers do so without the crippling medical school debt.
“People are interested in financial freedom,” says Marisa Vigilante, managing editor at Little, Brown Spark. “How can you create your own wealth to be more independent? Many of these conversations originated in the FIRE [financial independence/retire early] movement; we see this resonating in a new light with the Great Resignation, as we see more people who don’t want to work unless they are properly compensated. Workers in general feel they have more rights than before.
And they don’t feel blindly loyal to their employers. “Young professionals don’t want to stay in their jobs for 20 years, but they still want to be financially secure,” says Jeanenne Ray, managing editor, business publishing, at Wiley. “We’re seeing proposals for figuring out how you’re going to buy a van to live on, how to travel full time and work remotely, how to buy a place in Mexico and become independent to support a new minimalist lifestyle.” The acquisition of Ray Financial Adulting (March 2022) by Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, founder and CEO of Fiscal Femme and author of The 30-Day Money Cleanse, aims to help young people make good financial decisions.
This kind of training can start in high school, according to Dan Sheeks, who wrote First to a million based on his experience as a high school business teacher. He wants to teach finance to teenagers, and also offer alternatives to the maxim “work until 65, then retire”. Kaylee Walterbach, operations manager at BiggerPockets Publishing (which publishes the book in December), notes that this is the first foray into YA nonfiction for the company, whose primary readership is real estate investors. Within this group, she says, “we see people saying, ‘I don’t want to quit my job; I want the flexibility of knowing that I could if I wanted to. ”
It’s an uplifting sentiment, and one that fits the spirit of many of the season’s personal finance headlines.
Liz Scheier is a writer, editor, and product developer living in Washington, D.C. Her memoir never simple will be published by Henry Holt in March 2022.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the number of copies sold by Kumiko Love’s self-published budget planners.
Below is more information on business and personal finance books:
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The Great and Powerful Oz(zes): Business and Personal Finance Books 2021
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A version of this article originally appeared in the 11/29/2021 issue of Weekly editors under the title: It’s Not About the Latte