How Do You Become Financially Literate?

Financial literacy is within reach—and often free.

From setting aside money in a piggy bank to scoring the best mortgage rates, financial literacy helps people make decisions that benefit not only their financial present but their financial future. And while this sounds good, for many people, it can feel easier said than done.

Unless you know where to look, it can be hard to come by financial literacy resources. And without proper instruction, it’s difficult to know which concepts and skills are most important to acquire.

Want to become financially literate? Here’s how.

How do you gain financial literacy?

To become financially literate, find a trusted source of financial information. Learn the fundamentals of personal finance and apply them to the financial habits and decisions in your life.

A good place to start is with Jump$tart Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for financial education. This organization covers relevant concepts in its national standards, which identify six core areas of knowledge needed to gain financial literacy:

  • Spending and saving.
  • Credit and debt.
  • Employment and income.
  • Investing.
  • Risk management and insurance.
  • Financial decision-making

Resources for becoming financially literate

Financial education can be acquired in person and online—often for free. Some sources of educational resources include:

  • Federal, state, and local agencies.
  • University extension programs.
  • Libraries and community centers.
  • Banks, credit unions, and financial service providers.
  • Nonprofits with financial education services.

Below are several specific organizations that provide free online resources:

  • EconEdLink: The Council for Economic Education provides classroom-tested online finance lessons geared toward K-12 students.
  • Better Money Habits: A collaboration between Bank of America and Khan Academy, this site features animated videos that cover financial literacy basics (such as budgeting, saving, and debt) as well as more in-depth topics (college and retirement).
  • Money Smart: The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) created a program for people of all ages to provide tools and resources for increasing financial literacy. This includes free lesson plans for educators and personal financial management videos for the public.
  • OppU: At OppU’s core is a standards-aligned, free online financial literacy education curriculum. It covers the fundamentals of personal finance through interactive videos and quizzes based on four modules: spending, credit, budgeting and saving, and debt and loans. There’s also an extensive resource bank of tips and materials (worksheets, videos, and ebooks) published on the OppU Answers blog.

How to test your financial literacy

To test your basic financial literacy, try this basic quiz from Georgia State University. For a more advanced financial literacy quiz, visit the Financial Industry Regulation Authority (FINRA).

Why become financially literate?

In 2016, only 37 percent of respondents passed the FINRA quiz with ‘high financial literacy.’ That means almost two-thirds of respondents had room for improvement.

There are many benefits of financial literacy. Financial literacy is what helps people distinguish between good and poor financial decisions, ultimately leading to either a difficult life or one that is successful and fulfilling. Bankruptcy? Not so great. Saving money in a retirement account? Wise choice.

Without financial literacy, financial decisions and habits lack an informed foundation of knowledge. This can lead to dire consequences.

Frequently asked questions about financial literacy

What is financial literacy?

By definition, financial literacy means having the knowledge and skills to effectively manage money. A high level of financial literacy enables people to control their finances and understand the impact of their decisions on their financial stability. For instance, financially literate people know that treating credit responsibly leads to a higher credit score, lower interest rates, and greater opportunities to finance their goals.

Why is financial literacy important?

Financial literacy is important because it helps people make informed decisions about their financial lives. People who possess financial literacy are equipped with the concepts and skills they need to pursue financial health.

Ask the experts: How do you gain financial literacy?

Marissa Sanders, founder of Simple Money Mom

  • Read books. Reading financial books will definitely help you become financially literate. Some of my favorite books are “The Total Money Makeover,” “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” “The Millionaire Nextdoor,” “Rule 1,” and “InvestED.”

  • Take a course. Taking a course whether free or paid can really give you a leg up when managing your finances. There are many courses available such as learning to budget, learning about credit, learning how to save money, and investing. Many libraries offer free budget and finance workshops as well so be sure to keep a lookout for what may be available in your area.

  • Read a blog. Blogs are free. Many of them are run by financial experts who have experience with managing money and becoming debt free as well. Most of them have a personal connection to their readers so if you feel that you learn best from people who have actually gone through what you are going through, then reading a personal finance blog might be right for you.

  • Go to a conference. Going to a conference is another way to learn about finance topics. These conferences are not free but by attending, you can make connections and network with like-minded people.

Marissa SandersMarissa Sanders is a personal finance expert and financial coach. She is passionate about helping women become financially literate and explains how to manage money in a simple and less intimidating way. It is Sanders’ belief that all women can flourish in their finances and her passion is to make it happen.

Jim Wasserman, retired teacher of economics and media literacy and writer at Your Third Life

  • Start by admitting that you need to learn more. Too many people, daunted by the many paths to financial success (and afraid to admit their own ignorance) grab one path and then defend it to their own demise, like a financial Alamo.

  • 101 yourself. Financial literacy is gaining traction and becoming a more popular topic in schools. Find a great financial literacy education site (like Next Gen Personal Finance) or a wonderful book series on teaching behavioral economics, media literacy, and financial literacy (Media, Marketing, & Me).

  • Consult others ahead of you in the game. When I hike a trail and meet others coming the other way, I ask them what is ahead (or read the experiences of those who have walked the trail). There are great websites (like HumbleDollar or MarketWatch) where people share their experiences. Some are applicable to one’s situation, some are not, but they get you to think about what you want and how to get it.

  • Distinguish wisdom from tradition. There are standard ways to financial well-being, and to the extent they are based on accumulated wisdom (don’t overspend, max out your 401K) they should be followed. But be ready to say that, just because it was done before, it shouldn’t be done now. Term life insurance may not be the best vehicle for saving anymore, and many have achieved financial independence by moving abroad (myself included).

Jim Wasserman taught economics and media literacy for more than 20 years. Retired from the classroom, he continues to write on education, economics, media literacy, and financial literacy. He has a three-book series, “Media, Marketing, and Me” (teacher’s guides for introducing media literacy and behavioral economics to elementary, middle, and high school students), publishing in 2019. With his wife and two feline overlords, he also maintains a blog, yourthirdlife.com, about exploring the world during retirement.

Logan Allec, owner of Money Done Right

  • The first way to gain financial literacy is to visit your local bank branch and talk to the officers who work there. Most bankers are more than willing to share their advice and opinions on different aspects of finances. By visiting a few different banks and asking questions about finances, you’ll quickly build up financial literacy.

  • The second way is to take a free class. Many community centers and schools now offer financial literacy classes due to the importance of understanding your finances. Simply Google ‘financial literacy class’ and your town name to find out if a free class is offered in your area.

  • The final way consumers can gain financial literacy is by reading the business section of the newspaper every weekend. Most business decisions are made based on money. If you can read and understand why corporations make the decisions they do, you will be practicing your financial literacy.

Logan Allec is a CPA and owner of the personal finance website Money Done Right. After spending his twenties grinding it out in the corporate world and paying off more than US$35,000 in student loans, he dropped everything and launched Money Done Right in 2017. His mission is to help everybody—from college students to retirees—make, save, and invest more money. He resides in the Los Angeles area with his wife Caroline.

How did you gain financial literacy? Tell us your story on Twitter at @OppUniversity!