As you may have seen on this or other sites, April is Financial Literacy month. While some people go back and forth as to whether or not literacy is the right term, the fact is it’s never been more crucial to have a good grasp of your own personal financial situation and to educate yourself and your family as to how they relate to money.
Movements to include more financial education at all levels have cropped up across the country. Many states have passed laws mandating some level of financial education in state curricula, but funding has not followed. Many business leaders have called for an increase in awareness and education, but concrete solutions have not been realized. I attended the RISE Conference at the beginning of the month where even Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke referenced the need for financial education as a key pillar to improving the long term economic picture for our country.
So, what does this mean to me and my family?
Efforts by federal, state and local governments, school boards and other institutions to determine how best to increase personal financial education amongst all Americans is an admirable goal, but one likely to take a generation or more to truly have an impact.
That’s not to bemoan those efforts. Shifting how a population thinks about something as fundamental to our lives as money is a big job. It’s simply to suggest that perhaps it’s time those of us that are so inclined pick ourselves up by our proverbial boot straps and take charge of our own financial education.
How do I do that?
It all depends on your current personal financial knowledge, what areas need some improvement and who you are. No matter where things stand in your life, there are countless tools available to help. Yes, the internet can be a bit of a gamble as to the quality of information available, but that’s no excuse for not taking the time to seek out free or inexpensive resources that could dramatically change your financial future.
Giving specific examples of where to go to find great resources for all the various stages of life is a whole series of blogs for a different day. For now, I’ll just give you a quick list of some of my favorites.
For teaching children some of the basic tenets about respecting money, there’s a new website called The Secret Millionaire’s Club. The club was partially developed by Warren Buffett who acts as the mentor in the animated series to a group of entrepreneurial kids. Guest appearances by Jay-Z, Shaquille O’Neal and other celebrities add to the fun. The website features information on how to access videos, related games and other tools to help kids embrace strong financial values.
Establishing A Budget
Ah, the monthly budget. A process loathed by many and fully embraced by few. Yet, we know it to be one of the best ways to keep spending in line. There are lots of tools out there to help make this process a little less of a chore. My current favorite is You Need a Budget or YNAB. YNAB is great because it’s not just a way to track spending, but a whole philosophy shift in how you approach your month to month needs. The software comes at a cost, but the related education tools around spending, taxes and other financial areas add lots of value.
If you’re more interested in just seeing where the money is going and keeping track of your assets and liabilities, Mint offers a free service through their website which is widely established as an industry leader.
Saving For College
Surprisingly, the College Board administers much more than just the SAT. It’s also a great resource for learning more about financial aid, college scholarships and the college planning process. If you’re just looking to get over that shock of how much you might need to save to help pay for a child’s education, Bankrate has a great calculator that allows you to add multiple dependents, choose between in-state, out of state and private schools and include savings you’ve already stashed away.
This is far from an exhaustive list, but just a way to get you started thinking about different ways you can improve your financial IQ on your own. None of this takes the place of finding a trusted adviser to provide one-on-one advice when you want to get serious about your specific situation, but a lifetime of improved decisions about your money starts with the first step.
Don’t wait another month or for another reminder about how important your personal finances are to your life. Take that first step today!