The Best Books I’ve Read This Year (So Far)


I’ve read a number of outstanding educational and fun books this year about financial independence, and if I saved this post for December then it’d be four times as long. I’ll write this one now and follow up with another post later this year.

This list has been updated in May 2021.

As many of you know, I read a lot. No, seriously, A. Lot. I go through over a hundred books a year (print and eBooks) and maybe another 500 hours a year online. (Blogs and other research.) About a third of my reading is fiction, but the rest is non-fiction or self-improvement.

You know how Amazon enables you to compile tons of reports on your spending habits? Yeah, all except for how much you’ve spent on eBooks. That’s the most-requested customer report, but there must be some reason Amazon hasn’t quite gotten around to it yet.

Meanwhile, if hackers really wanted to exploit my credit card, they’d just charge me small random amounts about six times a month for cryptic descriptions like:

AMZN Digital*MW20Q98240 888-802-3080 WA $4.99.

Well, last month racked up 11 charges, but some of those eBooks were pre-orders. I’m almost positive they were all charged by me.

No worries: I used to have a book addiction problem, but now I have enough money to afford it. Besides, I’m still one of our public library’s best customers and a long-time Netgalley member.  I can quit anytime I want.

Fortunately for me, when you’re an author and a blogger, people occasionally send you free books and ask you to write about them.

Fortunately for you, I’m only going to tell you about the best of my reading pile.

You can scan the title headers below and read the paragraphs if one piques your interest. Before you buy, ask your library to order the hardcopy or the eBook for you… and then you can decide whether you want a personal copy for frequent reference.

We’ll start with the books which have the most impact for military families, and then expand our view to other topics.

 

“We’re Talking Millions!” by Paul Merriman

Image of book cover "We're Talking Millions!" by Paul Merriman | The-Military-Guide.com

Click on the link to browse.

Mr. Merriman will cheerfully tell you that he’s 77 years old, and “We’re Talking Millions!” is his eighth book currently in print.

He’s worked in the industry for over five decades, and he’s spent the last few decades helping spread financial literacy to new generations. Apparently he’s not aging out of the financial independence genre, and his example inspires me to keep writing.

He’s marketing the heck out of this book, too. I actually received a couple of personal e-mails from him, and then I joined him in an epic phone call. He did an hour-long group call with David Baughier (Fiology), Rich Carey (RichOnMoney), and me in our White Plains Beach cabin in between our surf sessions. I doubt that I’ll ever repeat that conversation with a titan of financial authors.

You… older… readers may remember Merriman’s “Ultimate Buy and Hold” portfolio built from 10 different funds. It’s a challenge to expect investors of any age (let alone new ones) to tackle the construction and maintenance of that asset allocation, no matter how well it performs.

This time he’s replicated the strategy with just two funds: a target-date fund (similar to the TSP’s L fund) and a small-company value fund (like the TSP’s S fund).

That’s the Big Idea. I’ve given away the entire book. If you want the details and the documentation then look for it at your local library. Mr. Merriman says he has enough money and he’s more interested in spreading the word. It’s a fast read at just over 100 pages, and it even has a section for grandparents who want to jumpstart their third generation.

 

“First-Time Home Buyer: The Complete Playbook to Avoiding Rookie Mistakes” by Scott Trench and Mindy Jensen

Scott & Mindy co-host the BiggerPockets Money podcast and have both written other BP books.Image of the book "First Time Home Buyer" from BiggerPockets by Scott Trench and Mindy Jensen | The-Military-Guide.com

This time they relax a little and have fun with the challenge of buying that legendary first home.

For years, I’ve advised military families to rent or live on base while they’re on active dutyWe’re constantly preyed on by realtors and lenders who delude us to spend our housing allowance for “building equity” or “earning passive income.”

Professional real estate investors know it’s more complicated than simply getting pre-approved for a zero-down VA loan and rolling in the closing costs to suck up all of the housing allowance… and even more of your cash flow.

Scott & Mindy teach you the right way to buy a home. It’s not just a home but also a property that can make sense for your finances, even if you have to become long-distance landlords.

The first chapter explores whether it’s even worth buying a house in the first place, and the next chapter immediately addresses the exit strategies. It includes the worst-case example of a family who makes all the classic real-estate mistakes and ends up trapped in a home they can’t enjoy– for decades.

The rest of the chapters guide new buyers through the vocabulary and the process. You’ll also learn all of the marketing ploys and logical fallacies waiting to sucker you into paying more than you should for way more than you need.

I particularly appreciated the last chapter on “First Steps As A Homeowner”, “Your Stupid Questions, Answered”, and “Upkeep & Repair.” The authors even circle back to the family who made all the classic mistakes in the first chapter and show how to do it the right way.

I received a review copy of this book– and now I’m buying copies for my daughter and son-in-law. Mindy & Scott probably knew I’d be that impressed.

And if you’re already a BiggerPockets member who smirks at recognizing the names of newlyweds “Alex” and “Shelby”… this book is for you.

 

“TRICARE Around the World: Getting the Most From Your Military Medical Benefits” by John Letaw

I’ve known John on Facebook for a couple years, including his group “Tricare Around The World” and another group for Personal Capital Power Users.  Now his book explains Tricare for everyone.Image of book cover "Tricare Around The World" by John Letaw | The-Military-Guide.com

He’s living the expatriate military retiree family life in Asia, which has been greatly complicated by the pandemic. It’s also made him an expert on using Tricare overseas, and the good news is that the lockdown gave him plenty of time to devote to the book. His Tricare group gave the draft a good scrub on the Q&A, too.

He simplifies Tricare for everyone (all military families, not just expat ones) by explaining the basic eligibility and enrollment options. Then he dives into the details of choosing among your plans, finding a provider, and figuring out your share of the costs. He follows that up with an entire chapter on Tricare in the Philippines and another on prescription refills during travel. You’ll also become a claims expert from the final chapters.

This is the Tricare book that I wish I’d had the patience (and clarity) to write. It’s well worth the retail price just to search the eBook edition for keywords.

 

“A Veteran’s Guide to Transition: Active Duty to Government Service” by Thomas Braden

What a niche topic, eh? Yet the transition from active duty to government service generates lengthy discussion (and debunking scuttlebutt) at least weekly in military Facebook groups.Image of the book cover "A Veteran's Guide To Transition: Active Duty To Government Service" by Thomas Braden | The-Military-Guide.com

Two of my most frequent reader questions are the military service credit deposit (“buying back your military time”) in the civil service, and whether servicemembers can still receive a federal civil-service pension if they retire from the Reserves or National Guard.  (Spoiler: Yes.) From there the confusion runs rampant on submitting an application & resume on USAJobs.gov, or figuring out the ethics rules for the DoD 180-day waiting period after active duty.

Thomas Braden has written a short & sweet guide that you can read in about an hour— and you’ll spend the rest of the week digging into its references as you write your keyword-filled resume for USAJobs. He covers the specific hiring timelines (both in the U.S. and overseas), what resources to use in applying, how to handle the Tentative Job Offer, requesting a higher salary or more benefits, and security clearances. He wraps up the guide with the details of specific retirement plans and perqs as well as possible pitfalls.

By the time you reach the final chapter (page 56) you’re completing the steps of your action checklist.

Military families have needed this guide for a long time. $2.99 is well worth skipping a latte.

 

“The F.I.R.E. Planner: A Step-by-Step Workbook to Reach Your Full Financial Potential” by Michael Quan

Michael’s blogged at FinanciallyAlert.com for nearly six years, which is over a century of Internet years. He reached financial independence in his 30s, and he’s consolidated over 200 blog posts into his workbook.

Yes, a workbook! After he struggled for a few years to write a self-help guide, a British publisher said they had a lot of demand for a financial workbook. They offered the traditional publishing experience, the graphic artists, and the copy editors– all they needed was his content and presentation. The project was picked up by an imprint of Simon & Schuster, despite the pandemic delays and supply-chain challenges.

Michael’s planner is just under 200 pages with plenty of graphics, worksheets, and journal space. You’re doing most of the work to figure out your goals, your limiting beliefs, and your detailed plan. You’ll want to fill in the print version of the workbook or create your own worksheets & journal.

If you’re a visual learner who’s struggled to read walls of text filled with financial jargon and charts and graphs… you’ll be happy to use this format. The layout, text boxes, and even the colors are inviting. It’s designed to entertain as well as educate, and you’ll pick up the information you need as you figure out your motivation and design your financial-independence lifestyle.

You’ll work through the exercises to find your Why Of FI, and you’ll browse over two dozen case studies of others who’ve carved their path to FI. (Yes, there’s a retired submariner.) Once you find a method that appeals to you, even the net-worth and cashflow worksheets are easy to fill out.

 

“From Paychecks to Pension: Step-by-Step Financial Guidance for Public-Sector Employees” by Kyle Steele

As Monty Python used to say, “And now for something completely different!”Image of the book cover From Paychecks To Pensions by Kyle Steele | The-Military-Guide.com

This one goes way back, and it’s great to see the good guys win.

I first met Kyle Steele at FinCon17 in Dallas, and we both check in occasionally on Dave Jacobson’s calls with the Millionaire Roundtable.

In 2019 Kyle asked me to read his first draft of his book. (It wasn’t pretty, but it looked better than my first draft of The Military Guide.) I was fascinated that Kyle wrote a novel about firefighters who learned financial literacy in between their alarm bells.

The fire chief had a handle on his finances, and he taught the rookie how to start saving for his own financial independence. Their conversations were frequently overheard by an older firefighter whose personal finances were, ironically, a toxic-waste dumpster fire.

It reminds me of the military. There are different uniforms and a different pension, but the leader is still building a team and putting out fires. Along the way he trains and mentors, and you enjoy the ride.

Two years later, Kyle’s just published through Iguana Books.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching the manuscript evolve into a polished story. You know how it ends but you’re still cheering for the characters, rooting for the rookie, and hoping that the older guy gets his act together.

Why are you reading about a firefighter book on a military personal-finance blog?

Well, first you’ll enjoy Kyle’s unique personal-finance discussions presented in an entertaining fiction format. Your next career (or your spouse’s) could be in the public sector. You’d have to learn a whole new financial vocabulary (401(k)s and 457 plans) but veterans tend to gravitate toward occupations with teambuilding and taking care of people. As I write this, I know a very senior vet who’s going through a firefighter academy… in their 40s. Hardcore, and they’ve planned their transition through years of preparation during military training and deployments.

Second, you’ll appreciate the book’s advice on running a side hustle when you’re not on duty. (In this case, it’s investment rental properties.) By the time the fire chief retires from the station house, he’s nearly replaced his paychecks with the cash flow of net rental income. It didn’t happen overnight, but the compounding was relentless.

Kyle even describes the military transition into the public sector, where you can buy back your active duty for retirement credit in the public sector. In a public safety occupation like firefighting, you can also tap a retirement account as early as age 50 (instead of the TSP’s typical age 59.5).

Finally, I appreciate the book’s metaphor of financial persistence and patience while I’m reflecting on all the challenges that Kyle’s overcome in the last few years of writing & editing.

 

“Leading Remote Teams: Embrace the Future of Remote Work Culture” by Alexis Gerst

You’ve probably already noticed that this book doesn’t talk about military personal finance.

However Ms. Gerst is an Air Force officer, a logistics specialist, and a program manager. Like the rest of us, she’s survived the pandemic adjustment to remote work. Unlike most of us, she also made the time in her pandemic life to write the book about it.

Everyone leaves the military someday, and if you start a bridge career then you might want to rewrite your rulebook. I love an independent lifestyle without a commute, and the military transition gives you the opportunity to figure out how you’d adapt to this change.

Ideally you’ll save and invest enough in the military for the freedom to choose your bridge career. (If you even want a bridge career!) Instead of a traditional cubicle in a corporate uniform with boss facetime and rush hours, why not seek remote work? It’s not a fad– Automattic has done it for nearly two decades with their WordPress teams.  (Several years ago they sold their office building because nobody wanted to use it.) Startups like InstantTeams are building entire business models on connecting remote workers with corporations for part-time or full-time projects.

If you’re working remotely while your military command deals with the pandemic, then this book will show you how to boost your leadership skills through video, e-mail, and other channels. It might even make you a better team member when you have to get together in person for the mission.

If you’re considering a bridge career after the military, this book explains how to build your remote-work leadership skills now. It discusses teambuilding, trust, and transparency. It shows you how to set the priorities (without endless meetings) and keep the projects moving (without endless meetings).

 

I’ll end this post with three bonus additions that will be published any day now.

 

“The Military Money Manual: A Practical Guide to Financial Freedom” by Spencer Reese

Coming soon! I’ve read a review copy, and he crams a lot of advice into less than 70 pages.

The best part of the book is page 3, titled: “If You Don’t Have Time to Read Anything Else.” Spencer lists 10 things to do right now to stop the financial leaks and get your life back on track. The rest of the book helps you figure out your course & speed to financial independence.

As Spencer writes, “This is the book I wish someone had handed me on my first day in the military. As a college graduate and second lieutenant, I had no idea what to do with the money the US government sent my way on the 1st and 15th of every month.”

He has a great blog at MilitaryMoneyManual, and you’ll enjoy the book.

 

“The No B.S. Guide to Military Life: How to build wealth, get promoted, and achieve greatness” by David Pere

Coming 1 June!Image of the cover of "The No B.S. Guide To Military Life" by David Pere | The-Military-Guide.com

If you enjoy David’s “From Military To Millionaire” podcasts and videos then you know what you’ll find in this book. He’s an active-duty Marine who’s figured out his own path to financial independence, and it involves more real estate along with surfing. He’s not gutting it out to 20, either, and the Marine Corps Reserves will give him plenty of flexibility to reach his FI goals.

 

“Personal Finance and Investing” by Kyle Landis-Marinello

Coming soon! I’ve read a review copy and it’s full of great tips.

Kyle offers dozens of specific actions to make more money and cut your wasted spending. (You decide what’s wasted.) Once you’re saving more, he explains the easiest ways to invest and grow your wealth. While you’re boosting your financial independence, you’ll appreciate Kyle’s epic stories of his Dad’s amazing financial mishaps.

Kyle’s working on the book’s website, and I’ll add a link here when it’s ready for browsing.

 

Previously mentioned in earlier editions of this post:

“Playing With FIRE”

You’ll love the book “Playing With Fire”, the companion to the documentary.

“Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance, Repeat” by David Greene

BRRRR is still selling briskly.

Chad Carson’s “Retire Early With Real Estate”

Chad’s subtitle is How Smart Investing Can Help You Escape the 9-5 Grind and Do More of What Matters.

The Next Millionaire Next Door

Sarah Stanley Fallaw’s update to her father’s timeless classic.

Cameron Huddleston’s “Mom And Dad, We Need To Talk”

Here’s your guide through the minefield of eldercare.

“Everyday Bucket List” by Karen Cordaway

“10 Steps to Bring More Exciting Experiences to Everyday Life”.

 

 

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Related articles:
The 5 Best Personal Finance Books I’ve Read All Year (2016 edition)
A Retired Sailor Recommends 50 of the Best Personal Finance Books Ever Written
Over two dozen other book reviews from the blog archives.

About Doug Nordman

Author of "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" and co-author of "Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence."
This entry was posted in Financial Independence, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Best Books I’ve Read This Year (So Far)

  1. Chad Carson says:

    It’s an honor to be on this list, Doug!! Thank you for taking the time (and the money) to read my book and to share it. I hope it will be a help to your readers who want to use real estate as part or all of their financial independence plan.

    Something else I learned from this article is that I’m missing out from all these Hawaii trips these other authors have been taking! I’ve got to get out there and spend some time on the beach with Nords!!

    See you at FinCon.

    • Doug Nordman says:

      You’re welcome, Chad, I enjoyed reading it! You (and the other BiggerPockets authors) have shown a lot of people how to reach their financial freedom.

      And yeah… come on over to Hawaii someday, and you’ll paddle out to see what we’re all so happy about.

  2. Shane says:

    I was hoping to catch one of your top fiction picks. Some are definitely on my must read list.

    • Doug Nordman says:

      Good question, Shane, you made me think!

      For personal-finance fiction, I highly recommend MK Williams’ “Enemies Of Peace”.

      We enjoy nerding out together about writing, and I need to make the time to read the rest of her books.

      Otherwise there’s minimal value and maximum escapism in my fiction reading. I’ve been a science-fiction reader since the 1960s, and today it continues with trashy military science fiction and action-adventure novels. Those authors currently include John Scalzi, Jim Butcher, Richard Fox, Stephen Konkoly, D.J. Molles, Kacey Ezell, Larry Correia, and John Ringo. I still use the library but Amazon makes it all too easy to follow my favorite authors and to click the Kindle buy button for immediate gratification.

  3. Shane says:

    Thanks for the suggestions. I received Enemies of Peace at Camp FI Southeast when we met but have not read it yet. I’ll move it to top of the list. I definitely love the maximum escapism from fiction, especially military. I’ve read a couple of Richard Marcinko and have started on a Brad Thor that I got at a paperback swap but i’m not sure I love it yet. I will keep an eye out for some of the authors you recommended. Thanks again Nords!

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