Money is a real puzzler for most of us. We work hard to get it and there never seems to be enough. When we manage to scrape together a pile of money, we worry about losing it.

It’s even more mysterious when you’re an outsider, which I once was. Having made a bit of it in business I came to Wall Street a neophyte, seeking to learn. I was quickly appalled by what I found. So I started digging into the subject, in part to try to make better decisions but also simply to protect myself from the money sharks that quickly surround you.

That’s why I love the approach of self-help guru Tony Robbins in his new book, “Money: Master the Game, 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom.” Robbins is a highly successful individual, of course, but like anyone coming cold at the investing question he started out as a total beginner, just as I did.

Being an outsider gives you a certain edge, I have found. Skepticism is a key personality trait, but also curiosity and an insatiable desire to learn from the best, to capture the true secrets of money wisdom.

A veteran of the human potential field, Robbins has all of those characteristics. Most importantly, he asks the right questions. For instance, people too often set financial goals for themselves in strictly number terms. “I want to be a millionaire” or “I need to make $100,000 a year.”

The fundamental question — one Robbins asks of the reader — is simpler than that: What is money for? What do you want to achieve in your life? The answer might be “permanent security,” but what does that look like for you, your cost of living, your size family and your life plans?

Once you start to ask the right questions the money game makes more sense. It might be that your goal is to live on a boat and see the world. Perhaps you won’t be happy without a second home, seeing your kids through the Ivy League, or just retiring to a quiet cabin in the hills. All of those outcomes have very different numbers attached.

Different approach

That is a fundamental change in approaching money, and Robbins is masterful at helping the reader move away from the stressful question, “How much is enough?” and toward the far more productive and useful query, “What does money do for me?” From there, you can a set a powerful, motivating personal goal. You no longer see a random number as the finish line but a lifelong plan that make sense. You get excited, for once, about saving and investing.

Being in the retirement business, I read a lot of books in the investing genre. They all have something to offer, usually in a watered-down format that promises to break the problem of saving and investing into small, achievable steps.

Robbins goes the same route, of course, but the difference is in the delivery. It’s like getting three books for the price of one — with a powerful dose of Robbins’ brand of personal improvement. Frankly, to me, this is a book that measures up to Stephen Covey’s classic, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” itself one of the bestselling books of all time.

They compare well because, like Covey, Robbins does a huge amount of the legwork for you. Covey’s genius was gathering, digesting and clearly explaining a multitude of otherwise complex and esoteric concepts. You got in one book on overview of decades of personal development thinking.

Robbins’ take on investing is very much in the same vein. After setting you up for success in the introduction, he swiftly tackles high and hidden fund fees, misleading performance data and the stumbling blocks we face when investing thanks to our human brains.

But he’s just getting started. Quickly enough, we’re on to real, actionable ideas that any fiduciary money manager would recognize as money gospel: Creating a functional retirement plan with realistic savings goals, the importance of lowering risk and how compounding does the heavy lifting.

Most money books stop there, but we’re only halfway through! Robbins then digs down into the really important concepts, ideas that most professional managers have a hard time communicating to even their most enlightened clients: asset allocation strategies, dealing with rough markets and creating lifetime income.

Money masters

Not content to rely on his own prodigious research, Robbins then embarks on what amounts to a third entire book, introducing the reader to 12 towering figures in modern finance, a who’s who of billionaires, most of whom he interviews personally. Carl Icahn, David Swensen at the Yale Endowment, John Bogle, T. Boone Pickens, Charles Schwab, hedge fund chiefs including Ray Dalio and Paul Tudor Jones, Sir John Templeton and Warren Buffett.

Perhaps the most amusing is the very short chapter on Buffett, in which Tony meets Buffett by accident, in a TV studio green room, and then tries and fails to secure a longer meeting. As Buffett tells him, everything he has to say about money has been explained to death, no need to rehash it all. “It’s so simple. Indexing is the way to go,” he tells Robbins.

I highly recommend you put “Money: Master the Game” on your short list of new books to read. Chances are, you’ll be coming back to it again and again and pass your dog-eared copy on to your kids. It’s that good.

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