The first question I often get about personal finance and investing is usually about what sources I would recommend for people who are looking to learn more.
It may be surprising, but despite the incredible variety and depth of information available online, some of the best sources for ongoing learning are still regular, printed magazines.
I began reading personal finance magazines around 1994, and over the years I’ve sampled most of the commonly available ones. The following represent my favorites, some of which I have subscribed to for over a decade.
Personal Finance & Investing
- Money. Money magazine is published by Time Warner, and continues to be my favorite personal finance magazine. I think the reason I like it so much is that it takes a much more human approach to personal finance – the magazine always features the personal finance stories of one or more families, and you learn a lot month-to-month about how real people approach very real financial questions. I find it much more interesting to understand how a family who hasn’t saved much for college might approach the problem now that junior is entering high school, than about whether or not I should have a commodity ETF in my portfolio. If you are looking for stock picks, this isn’t the place, but as an overall well-rounded magazine, if you were only going to read one issue a month – this would be the magazine to read.
- Smart Money. Smart Money magazine is one of my all-time favorites. Published by the Wall Street Journal, this magazine blends insight into current investing trends, fund managers, and personal finance tips. More investment focused than others, almost every issue features at least one or more “stock pick” lists. I have gotten a few good stock ideas from the magazine, but that really shouldn’t be the focus of the reader. Instead, as you read about the “case” for each stock, it helps hone your own thinking about how to approach investments.
Despite the fact that I have subscribed to the above magazines for over twelve years, I still look forward to each issue every month. Over time, I feel like one of the things you learn is to differentiate the trendy, popularity driven material from the real insights. The biggest danger reading investment magazines is that they always feel compelled to explain and promote the latest trends, and in investing any trend is usually a sign of over-investment. Over-investment typically means high costs with low returns.
- Forbes. Most people think of Forbes as some sort of conservative Republican vehicle for Steve Forbes. But if you skip the first few pages of editorial, what you have is a magazine that repeatedly finds unique and interesting angles to entrepreneurship, business, economics & investment. Some of my best investment insights and ideas have come from the columnists in Forbes, and among all of the business magazines I read, Forbes has the highest number of unique stories.
- Business Week. Business Week is, in fact, a weekly, and as a result, it turns out to be almost like an aggregated business newspaper with slightly deeper reporting. Very timely, they tend to cover a wide breadth of business & investment issues. It’s light stuff, however, so the signal to noise ratio is not great. Still, several of the blog posts I’ve made here have been inspired by little 1-page articles in Business Week.
- Fortune. Ah, Fortune. Glossiest of the Business magazines. This is like the People magazine of business. Several times over the past decade I have discontinued my subscription, only to find out, months later, that I missed some interesting article on a company, industry, or CEO that I really would have liked to have read. Take it for what it is, but I read it regularly.
There are a wide variety of other magazines out there that I have subscribed to from time to time. Kiplingers. Worth. Red Herring. Business 2.0. Entrepreneur. But none of them held my interest for more than a year, and in the end, I find myself coming back to the five I list above.
The Economist is probably the one great, relevant journal that I don’t read regularly. It has a far more global viewpoint, and less actionable investment insight. It’s dense, and I never seem to have time to finish it regularly.
I know this article is called Magazines, but the truth is that some of my favorite periodicals are daily newspapers. I’m going to call out the big three here.
- Wall Street Journal. I haven’t had time to read this daily in years, but I have never been sorry that I picked up a Wall Street Journal. This is the one paper to read if you want to really be in the flow of finance & investing.
- New York Times. Excellent Business section every day, capped off with the famous “Sunday Business” section every week. If you could only read the paper once per week, you should read the New York Times “Week in Review” and “Sunday Business” every Sunday. This is also my recommended cure in case you accidentally read a San Francisco Chronicle or Los Angeles Times one day, and you need to flush your brain out with something intelligent.
- San Jose Mercury News. This is not the largest or most comprehensive paper in the world, but if you follow high tech, this is the best business section in the nation. It has deep coverage of Silicon Valley companies, and its columnists are just one level deeper into high tech than others. It is roughly 1000x better than the other local paper, the San Francisco Chronicle.
Whew. That took longer than I thought. I’m going to follow this article with a post on the top 10 investment books that I recommend, and then I’ll get into specific topics. More to follow…