For me, the end of the year is a time for reflection and gratitude, as I gear up to reset my aims and energies for the coming year.
As I look back over 2011, one of the blessings for which I’m the most grateful is the ability to bring you books that I believe will enrich your efforts to live well and to make wise decisions when it comes to your homes, mortgages and finances.
In case you missed any of them on the first go-round, here are my 10 favorite books we covered this year. (If you’re on vacation this week, any of these would be a good use of your reading time as you set up your own plans for improving your finances or your home in 2012.)
Finance and investment
1. "Financial Recovery: Developing a Healthy Relationship with Money." After a season of financial illness can come one of recovery — as taught by Karen McCall, founder of the Financial Recovery Institute and the author of "Financial Recovery: Developing a Healthy Relationship with Money." McCall starts "Financial Recovery" telling her own personal story of chronic overspending and debt after a divorce. McCall enrolled in Debtor’s Anonymous and began creating her own personal program of financial recovery, which eventually became her life’s work.
Readers who are looking to begin or accelerate their own personal season of financial recovery will find clarity, order, hope and inspiration in "Financial Recovery," and the eight steps McCall lays out.
2. "Warren Buffett Invests Like a Girl: And Why You Should, Too — 8 Essential Principles Every Investor Needs to Create a Profitable Portfolio." With the caveat that the book is based on and full of gender stereotypes (if you can, make a conscious decision from the start to suspend your political correctness — overlook the obvious facts that not every man is overconfident and risk-loving, nor every woman underconfident and risk-averse), I suspect you might find in this book a novel angle to understanding and organizing the attitudes and viewpoints that can create a successful, long-term personal investment approach.
3. Another book in the "Be like Warren" genre, "The Warren Buffetts Next Door: The World’s Greatest Investors You’ve Never Heard of and What You Can Learn From Them," is packed with the investment strategies and tools that have been used by extraordinary everyday Americans — people who have made millions of dollars trading, some before and after their 9-to-5 jobs as civil engineers and computer lab managers. Every one of these stories has its own flavor of wildly inspirational upshot, on top of the substantive investing takeaways.
"The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need" is a funny, smart guide to simplifying your finances and executing most or all of the common financial goals the average American holds in their thoughts, dreams and resolution lists. From saving more, to spending less, to investing more profitably, to retiring flush, the book offers Tobias’ entertaining and commonsense take on it all. This latest edition has been updated to account for the economic apocalypse of which we are all now card-carrying survivors.
4. "What Investors Really Want: Discover What Drives Investor Behavior and Make Smarter Financial Decisions." In an effort to both illuminate why people do the financial things they do — especially the "bad" things — and help us all make better financial decisions going forward, behavioral economist and finance professor Meir Statman has written "What Investors Really Want: Discover What Drives Investor Behavior and Make Smarter Financial Decisions."
In doing so, Statman has crafted an intelligent, nuanced, educational and possibly life-changing book for those who consider themselves students of personal finance or, well, themselves, and why they do the things they do.
Real estate and home
5. "Mortgage Confidential: What You Need to Know That Your Lender Won’t Tell You (Second Edition)." From the very first chapter, author David Reed makes clear his intention to debunk what you thought you knew about mortgages, and course-correct your home finance knowledge base to be both accurate and up to date, the latter of which is increasingly critical if you want to be an informed and successful mortgage consumer, due to the supersonic speed at which the mortgage market is evolving.
Homeowners considering refinancing at today’s uber-low rates will find Reed’s coverage of "Refinancing" to be well worth the price of the book.
6. "Quick & Easy Curb Appeal" is the latest title in the Better Homes and Gardens Do-It-Yourself series, and it’s dedicated entirely to opening up to homeowners a new world of weekend projects they can take on to give their own homes an extreme makeover of sorts. Things like custom garage hardware, trim work, sophisticated paint palettes, and loads and loads of landscaping touches are par for the course in this full-color book.
7."The Healthy Home: Simple Truths to Protect Your Family from Hidden Household Dangers." Americans spend billions every year on home decor and remodeling to optimize how our homes look, feel and function. Microbiologist Dr. Myron Wentz and his son, nutritional entrepreneur Dave Wentz, propose that we spend at least some of our time, money and energy optimizing our homes for healthfulness — and tell us how — in "The Healthy Home."
8. "Your Farm In the City: An Urban Dweller’s Guide to Growing Food and Raising Animals." Many urban dwellers, in my town and across the globe, are converting whatever patch of land, balcony, walls or rooftops they can commandeer into their own personal farms.
In "Your Farm In the City," Lisa Taylor and the gardeners of Seattle Tilth, a 12-acre farm and learning center, provide the single most comprehensive, beautifully designed, step-by-step guide to creating this sort of personal urban farm that I’ve seen yet.
9. "Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success" reflects the authors’ translation of the strategies they have used to help corporate clients implement billion-dollar changes into a user-friendly system for individuals struggling with making permanent changes to any area of their lives.
10. "Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward." Cloud, a clinical psychologist and coach to business leaders, is clear from the preface: "Today, he says, may be the enemy of your tomorrow." By this, Cloud means that many of the good things that are in store for your life can simply not begin or enter your experience until you let go of some things and people, or stop doing things or being in relationships that are not working to further the life you want to have.
My absolute favorite book of any type from 2011, "Necessary Endings" is masterful. Cloud has compiled inspiration and action steps in one nuanced guide to making some of the hardest decisions, conversations and life changes we humans must make in order to thrive.