Building Your Financial Literacy
Starting your financial life and making the decisions that go with your independence can be
intimidating. The issues can be complex, the consequences of your decisions can be profound and it can
be difficult to find someone to rely on. You can turn to your friends or your family for some help and
guidance, but ultimately you must assume the responsibility for making and living with your financial
The good news is that with some time and effort you can become sufficiently well enough informed to
make sound decisions and feel comfortable with those decisions. The additional good news is that by
starting early to learn more about your finances, you will have longer to put your knowledge to work and
reach your financial goals.
Here are some ideas to help you learn to make better financial decisions and take control of your
- Take advantage of the resources on the Internet. Many large and reputable financial
institutions (banks, credit unions, brokerage firms, mutual fund companies and insurance companies)
have extensive libraries on their websites that address many of the issues you will face. Just be sure
that the websites you visit and learn from are legitimate and have your best interests in mind.
- Read some of the personal finance columns in the newspaper. Many syndicated
columnists address complicated issues and boil them down to fundamental approaches that you may find
- Talk to knowledgeable people. Your parents and friends that have financial
experience can be valuable resources. They may have already dealt with an issue and you can learn from
their experiences. If you speak with a sales person, remember they may try to convince you to buy
something, so be careful. If it is a very critical issue or one that involves large sums of money,
consider talking with an accountant or attorney.
- Read a personal finance magazine. While you may not want to spend the money to
subscribe, by buying one occasionally or reading one in a waiting room, you may find an article or two
that is interesting and relevant.
- Consider joining an investment club. There are thousands of organizations that meet
regularly and actually make investments. Find one that suits your budget and that meets at a
convenient time. You may not make a lot of money from the investments, but the discussions can be very
- Buy a personal finance book. Every major bookstore has an aisle with dozens of
books. Find one that seems interesting and use it as a reference tool.
- Consider personal finance software. Using a program like Quicken or Microsoft Money
can make your bill paying and record keeping easier and faster. By spending less time on those items,
you can devote your serious finance efforts to learning more about handling major financial issues.
These programs also have information or help sections you may find interesting. If you are really
interested in learning, you may even want to consider a tax return preparation program like TurboTax.
Using a program to prepare your return will teach you a great deal about taxes.
It is never too early (or too late) to improve your financial literacy. In fact, if you avoid major
mistakes and do some of the most basic things, you may find yourself on the road to controlling your
financial future with a lot less financial anxiety.