Financial literacy typically is not part of a secondary or even college education curriculum. Developing an understanding of how to handle your finances may be as important as the rest of your education is in regard to a future career and personal well being. The steps to becoming financially literate will improve your personal financial situation as you learn.
Topics For Financial Literacy
Think of financial literacy as learning about the range of financial products and then using that knowledge to increase the benefits from your personal spending, borrowing and investing. Areas to study include: borrowing money and your credit score, making a budget, savings and investments, and retirement planning. A large part of what you learn about the financial world will come from your personal experience as you start to borrow money, set up savings and manage your income and spending.
Build and Maintain Good Credit
Good credit provides a large amount of financial flexibility, and a bad credit rating can lead to extreme difficulty with life's necessities, such as buying a car and getting a place to live. Managing your credit starts with developing the discipline and habits to pay every bill on time consistently. Another part of protecting your credit is not to apply for or accept more credit than you can afford to pay off. Controlling and managing debt can be especially difficult with student loans. When borrowing to pay for your education, attempt to borrow the least amount possible to cover expenses and consider your future income and living expenses in relation to the monthly student loan payments after you graduate and get a job.
Understanding Where Your Money Goes
Understanding your personal financial situation requires some type of plan or budget. The basic idea of a budget is to list the income you have coming in each month and where all of it goes. With an earning, saving and spending plan, you control your money by buying things you really need, not spending frivolously and having money left over at the end of the month. A budget can be as detailed or simple as you want, but the financial literacy point is to control your finances to achieve what you want rather than being controlled by your bills and emotion-driven spending.
Learn About Savings and Investments
The other major topic with financial literacy will be learning about the products you can use to save and invest. With this area of your finances, you can learn as much by doing as you will with reading financial publications and/or taking courses. Open a savings or money market account as a safe place to have cash available for emergencies or more expensive purchases. An investment in a mutual fund -- or fund investments through an employer-provided 401(k) plan -- will help you learn about the stock and bond markets. However, to continue learning about investments, you will eventually want to increase your knowledge through study or work with a financial adviser, who will help you meet your goals.
Shop For Financial Services You Need
As you start to need different financial products, you can expand your financial knowledge with comparison shopping. Look for lower-interest-rate and lower-fee credit cards. Compare the expense ratio of mutual funds. Learn about car loans and interest rates before you go to the dealership to buy a new car.
Tim Plaehn has been writing financial, investment and trading articles and blogs since 2007. His work has appeared online at Seeking Alpha, Marketwatch.com and various other websites. Plaehn has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the U.S. Air Force Academy.