How can you be smarter about money? By taking advantage of these free financial lessons.
When did you begin learning how to manage your finances? Were you taught to budget as a young child, dividing out your allowance and babysitting money? Or did you only figure it out once you moved into your first apartment, and had to decide between one-ply or two-ply toilet paper?
Whether you are 14 or 54, whether you have a million-dollar retirement account or are brand-new to saving, the good news is that you can always learn more. And the best time to learn more about your finances is today. It’s never too late to start!
For many of us, beginning down the path toward financial education can be daunting, especially if we are new to the world of investing, retirement portfolios, or insurance (among others). Luckily, this isn’t something you have to learn “on the job.” There are many resources available to help empower and educate you, so that you can reach your financial goals, no matter what they might be. One of those resources is Smart About Money.
Education is Paramount
I grew up without much financial education. I knew how to write a check as a child and I have held a job since I was 15 years-old, but I was never really taught to manage my money. Budgets weren’t discussed, money was “too tight to save,” and investing was never even on my radar. As a result, I made some seriously dumb decisions as a young adult, many of which set me back considerably.
To be fair, my mom and dad didn’t really have any financial education of their own. They learned through trial-and-error as young, struggling parents, so I picked up my habits by watching them. Many of those habits, I repeated down the line with my own money. It took me many years, thousands of wasted dollars in missed opportunities, and even a 35% APR credit card to break those old lessons and re-educate myself.
As I made my way through my own financial trials, I recognized the importance of being financially savvy. Even though I got a late start, I began reading everything I could on retirement and investing, learning how to optimize the decades I had left to save. I became something of an aficionado for all things credit card rewards, learning how to save hundreds of dollars a year on the things I was buying anyway.
I could have saved myself a lot of heartache (and money) with a resource like Smart About Money, though. This program, offered by the National Endowment for Financial Education®, offers free financial courses online that anyone can access, aimed to educate Americans on all things money. This at-your-own-pace collection of lessons is offered by the nonprofit foundation as a way of empowering others to make positive and sound decisions to reach their financial goals.
They offer programs on buying a home, buying a car, saving for a rainy day, retirement, or basic earning and saving. You can work through these free-of-charge courses whenever and wherever you want, gaining the knowledge that you need to take control of your life.
Sounds pretty great, huh? Let’s take a look at exactly what Smart About Money can teach you, no matter where you are on your financial journey.
Finance newbies come in all shapes and sizes. You could be a young adult, looking to optimize your money from the get-go. Or you could be a newly-divorced parent in your 40s, deciding that now is the time to get a handle on your finances. No matter your story or where you are in life, you can begin a new money management journey. And Smart About Money can help.
Take the Financial Well-Being course, for example. Starting from the beginning (you can skip ahead, if you want!), you’ll learn all about what financial well-being really is, how to determine your true needs (versus wants), spending wisely, and learning more about what you really value in your life. The guide will walk you through topics like:
- Net worth – What it is and how to calculate yours.
- Credit score – Why it matters, how to determine where you stand, and what to do about it.
- Savings – The difference between long and short-term, where to put your money, and how much to tuck away.
- Utilizing your current resources and protecting what you have.
- Habits – Recognizing good and bad financial habits, making changes, and learning how to make them work for you.
You can jump between the topics as needed, setting your sights on the subjects that you need to learn about the most.
Big Life Purchases
If you’re thinking about buying a home or a new vehicle, you might be a bit overwhelmed by the process. Smart About Money can walk you through everything you need to know, helping you prepare and walk into the process informed.
The courses in My Housing Plan will answer questions like:
- What is a debt-to-income ratio and why does it matter?
- What should my credit score be before I apply for a mortgage/auto loan?
- Is it better to rent or buy a home, and how much can I realistically expect to spend each year?
- How much house do I need and what can I really afford?
Whether you choose to buy or rent a home, the course has resources on handling landlords, settling rental disputes, common lease terms, learning about mortgage types, hidden mortgage costs, and important lender terms. Everything you could possibly need to know about getting a new home–owned or rented–is available on the site.
Looking at buying a car? SAM can help you there, too.
The Transportation course will walk you through every step of picking a vehicle, making the new-vs-used decision, getting an auto loan, and even negotiating at the dealership. You’ll learn about buying auto insurance and how much vehicle maintenance really costs each year.
I love how it even goes into the costs involved with your insurance premiums, how driving impaired/without a seatbelt can cost you, and even how to assess a used vehicle. Literally every question you could have about buying a new (or new-to-you) car is in this guide.
One of the most important aspects of financial management isn’t even keeping today’s money in order–it’s planning for the future. Whether that means determining how much you’ll need in retirement or which accounts to fund, whether to buy life insurance (and what kind you need), or even deciding what a smart safety net looks like, Smart About Money is a helpful source.
The one constant in life is change, and your finances are no different. That change might come in the form of an unexpected expense, like a home repair. It might be you or your spouse getting laid off or unable to work, which would impact your finances significantly. Or maybe the change is one year in the making, such as retiring from a long career. Either way, planning ahead with your money can be the difference between a smooth transition and financial devastation.
The Smart About Money guides, of course, cover all of these topics and more. For instance, you can read everything you need to know about retirement and adequately planning for your future. It’s more than just adding a portion of your paycheck to a work-sponsored 401(k), too–the guides will show you how to calculate how much you’ll need in retirement, where to save that money, and how to gauge your portfolio’s risk.
Ever wondered how Social Security benefits work or how to pay for health care once you’re retired? Well, there’s a course for that, too.
You’ll learn about emergency funds and how to manage your money in a crisis. If your home burns down, your spouse loses their job, or you wind up divorced, you’ll have a plan in place to manage the rough waters as confidently as possible.
You’ll learn about life insurance, so that you can protect others in case the worst happens to you. You wouldn’t be around to navigate the money matters in this case, so it’s important to plan ahead and protect those you love. By learning what your family would need, the products that protect them the best, and how to go about buying adequate coverage, you can give them the safety net they would need in your absence.
You will also find information on life changes that come later on in life, such as needing a caregiver for you or your spouse, and how to plan ahead for such an expense.
Smart About Money offers more than just educational guides. They also provide tools for visitors, which can help you do everything from calculate a loan payoff to track your spending each month.
I personally enjoyed the Financial Identity quiz. This “go with your gut”, 12-question test let me know that, based on my answers, I was a financial Nomad.
This result in and of itself didn’t necessarily provide me with any insight, but it did then connect me to other resources, stories, and information that was pertinent to my financial style. I thought that was not only pretty cool, but also very useful. If you’re just starting out, you might even get more out of that quiz than I did.
The tools provided are much more than quizzes, though. There’s a budget wizard, which can help you track your income and spending each month. By seeing how much money comes and goes–and more importantly, where it goes–you can adjust your habits to meet your financial goals.
I also loved the Basic Steps, which almost seemed like an easy-to-follow version of Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps. These 10 steps are offered as a guide for getting you on the path to financial independence and reaching your goals, one small move at a time.
There are some phenomenal websites that offer you a wealth of financial information (ahem, Dough Roller!). However, knowing exactly what to look for and where to start can be a little confusing.
A resource like Smart About Money can provide you with a roadmap for getting your finances in order–especially if you’re brand new to the process–with basic information from start to finish. Combined with more in-depth resources (like those you’ll find here), you can not only figure out where to start in your financial education journey, but learn everything you need in order to ensure success.
Do you consider financial education courses, like those offered by Smart About Money, to be a helpful resource in your money management journey?Topics: Education