Give the gift of financial common sense

Can you “gift” financial common sense?

That’s a question I get from a lot of people, although it’s not phrased quite the same way.

People often ask for recommendations of good books for their financially trifling parent, adult child, sibling, cousin or friend. Yes, I said trifling. Many people are tired of supporting or enabling grown folks who are not handling their personal business the right way.

So the holidays are a good time to gift some common sense. It’s not too late. A survey released this week by Visa found that 73 percent of consumers still haven’t finished shopping for Christmas gifts. Sixteen percent of consumers say they haven’t purchased a single present and plan to do all of their shopping at the last minute.

If you have some financially challenged people on your list, think about getting them something they can actually use: a book on personal finance. But here’s the thing. The books I’m going to suggest aim to do more than provide a budget template or 10 steps to financial freedom.

In order to help people make better financial choices, you have to get inside their heads and hearts. You have to change the way they think about money. You have to help them understand that a lot of their poor financial choices come from a warped sense of entitlement. Without getting to the root of why they do what they do, it’s hard for people to change.

To that end, here are five financial books I recommend:

“Your Money or Your Life,” by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez with Monique Tilford. First published in 1992, this book remains one of my favorites. It always tops any list of personal finance books to buy. And yes, I meant to say “buy” because some books you need to keep. In this book, the authors ask you to examine your life and determine if what you’re doing with your money is making you truly happy.

“Lost and Found: One Woman’s Story of Losing Her Money and Finding Her Life” by Geneen Roth. Look for the paperback that was released in April. Roth and her husband were victims of Bernard L. Madoff. They had invested nearly $1 million with the con man, who is serving a 150-year prison sentence for running an estimated $65 billion Ponzi scheme. I’ve included this book because Roth takes an honest look at how the way she had handled her money put her in the position to be swindled. Her overall message is that you won’t develop better financial habits until you address what drives you to make bad decisions. She believes people don’t do the work to address their issues — addiction to shopping or overspending, or fear of anything financial — because it’s easier to do nothing than to make the effort to become more aware.

“How to Be Richer, Smarter, and Better-Looking Than Your Parents” by Zac Bissonnette. “Managing your financial life is not about spreadsheets and compound interest,” Bissonnette writes. “It’s about your life. The financial decisions you make can give you freedom or make you a slave.” Bissonnette took his parents’ struggles and his father’s “lifetime of financial inattentiveness” and has used them as inspiration to do better for himself. His focus is on helping other 20-somethings become good money managers.

“How Much Is Enough? Everything you Need to Know to Steer Clear of Overindulgence and Raise Likeable, Responsible and Respectful Children — From Toddlers to Teens” by Jean Illsley Clarke, Connie Dawson and David Bredehoft. “Many of us, with good intentions, have provided abundance for someone only to discover that we have overindulged them,” the authors write. “We can tell we have overindulged them, because instead of appreciation and joy, we get whines or demands for more.”

“The Big Leap” by Gay Hendricks. Hendricks, who has a doctorate in counseling psychology, tries to help people get out of their own way. He provides thought-provoking questions, behavior-changing techniques and illustrations from people he’s counseled.

This is a very short list. Of course I’ve left off some really good books (including my own, “The Power to Prosper: 21 Days to Financial Freedom”), but it’s a start.

You may have to explain your gift so as not to insult the recipient. Don’t be arrogant and say something like, “You’ve got some financial issues, so I thought you could use this book.” Instead you might get a copy for yourself and say you thought the person might like one too.

Because the right knowledge can be power, giving a personal finance book that may improve one’s financial life is a wonderful gift.

Michelle Singletary: singletarym@washpost.com.

Washington Post Writers Group

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