Few schools offer courses in managing your money, which means most of us have to get our personal finance education from our parents (if we’re lucky) or pick it up ourselves. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend any money to find out how to better manage it. You can learn everything you need to know for free online and in library books.
Personal Finance Education Online
A great way to start learning about personal finance is to read personal finance blogs. Instead of the general advice you’ll get in personal finance articles, you’ll learn exactly what challenges real people are facing and how they are addressing those challenges.
"Mr. Money Mustache" offers hundreds of posts full of irreverent insights on how to escape the rat race and retire extremely early by making unconventional lifestyle choices. "Making $ense of Cents" by Michelle Schroeder-Gardner offers advice and personal stories about paying off $38,000 of student loan debt in seven months, how to save 50% or more of your income and how she makes tens of thousands of dollars a month by blogging. And "The Points Guy" and "Million Mile Secrets" will teach you how to travel for a fraction of the retail price by using credit card rewards.
These sites often link to other blogs, so you’ll discover more great sites as you read.
Of course, we can’t help but toot our own horn in this category. Investopedia offers a wealth of free personal finance education. You might start with our tutorials on Budgeting Basics and How to Buy Your First Home – or the thousands of articles in our personal finance section.
Personal Finance Education Through the Library
You may need to visit your library in person to get a library card, but after that, you can check out personal finance audiobooks and ebooks online without leaving home.
Personal finance classics like Personal Finance for Dummies, Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, The Little Book of Common Sense Investing, and Think and Grow Rich, along with many others, are also available in audiobook form and may be available to borrow for free from your library.
Reading about personal finance doesn’t have to be boring. If the first book you try is a drag, put it down and try something else until you find one that engages you.
Free Online Personal Finance Classes
If you enjoy the structure of lessons and quizzes, try one of these free online personal finance courses.
Open2Study from Open Universities Australia offers a financial literacy course that will teach you how to set and achieve savings goals and how to manage your money (subjects that aren’t Australia-specific). Topics include how compound interest works and the basic steps to starting to invest. There are four modules, each with about 10 video lessons, nine quizzes and one assessment. The complete course is estimated to take about 8 to 16 hours to complete.
Morningstar’s Investing Classroom offers a place for beginning and experienced investors alike to learn about stocks, funds, bonds and portfolios. Some of the courses you’ll find there include “Stocks versus Other Investments,” “Methods for Investing in Mutual Funds,” “Determining Your Asset Mix” and “Introduction to Government Bonds.” Each course takes about 10 minutes and is followed by a quiz to help you make sure you understood the lesson.
An online learning platform created by Harvard University and MIT, edX, offers at least three courses that cover personal finance: How to Save Money: Making Smart Financial Decisions from the University of California at Berkeley; Finance for Everyone from the University of Michigan; and Personal Finance from Purdue University. These courses will teach you things like how credit works, which types of insurance you might want to carry, how to maximize your retirement savings, how to read your credit report and the time value of money.
Purdue University also has an online course on Planning for a Secure Retirement. It’s broken up into 10 main modules, and each has four to six submodules on topics such as Social Security, 401(k) and 403(b) plans and IRAs. You’ll learn about your risk tolerance, think about what kind of retirement lifestyle you want and estimate your retirement expenses.
Missouri State University presents a free online video course on personal finance through iTunes. This basic course is good for beginners who want to learn about personal financial statements and budgets, how to use consumer credit wisely, and how to make decisions about cars and housing.
Personal Finance Podcasts
Personal finance podcasts are a great way to learn how to manage your money if you’re short on free time. While you’re getting ready in the morning, exercising, driving to work, running errands or getting ready for bed, you can hear what the experts have to say about becoming more financially secure.
The Dave Ramsey Show is a call-in radio show that you can listen to anytime through your favorite podcast app. You’ll learn about the financial problems real people are facing and how a multimillionaire who was once broke himself recommends solving them. NPR’s Planet Money and Freakonomics Radio make economics interesting by using it to explain real-world phenomena such as “how we got from mealy, nasty apples to apples that actually taste delicious,” the recent Wells Fargo account scandal and whether we should still be using cash. American Public Media’s Marketplace helps make sense of what’s going on in the business world and the economy. And So Money with Farnoosh Torabi consists of a combination of interviews with successful business people, expert advice and listeners’ personal finance questions.
The Bottom Line
The good news if you’re broke and ready to turn things around is that you don’t have to spend a penny to get a great personal finance education. The resources described in this article are just a few of the many options available. The most important thing is to find resources that work for your learning style and that you find interesting and engaging. If one blog, book, course or podcast is dull or difficult to understand, keep trying until you find something that clicks.