Here's the bad news: the vast majority of high schools don't offer personal finance classes, despite the fact that as many as 99% of adults believe that high schoolers should be taught personal finance. For those going on to higher education, their college may offer a personal finance class, but it's probably not mandatory, and it's not exactly high on most students' "Must-Take Classes" list.
Here's the good news: thanks a little something we call the "internet," it's never been easier to create your own personal finance class. Whether you're in high school, college, or old enough to have kids in high school or college, it's not too late to enroll in your own personal finance bootcamp.
Below, we've put together some of our best articles and some of our favorite personal finance resources. Bookmark this page and come back to it as your course syllabus.
Paying Off Debt
If you're looking to spiff up your finances, debt is a great place to start. Carrying a lot of debt makes it difficult to do all of the important stuff: saving, investing, and, in general, freeing up money in your monthly budget. Getting rid of consumer debt is one of the best things you can do for your financial life (and net worth).
A huge piece of the debt pie is student loan payments. If you're in high school or college, we encourage you not to let other forms of debt (such as credit card debt) even begin, let alone pile up.
Key Quote: "If you borrow even one dollar for anything other than your primary house or a profitable investment, the very next dollar you can get your hands on should go to paying that back. You don’t space it out all nice and casual with 'monthly payments', and you don’t have a 'budget', 'entertainment allowance', or any other such nonsense."
Key Quote: "The amount that you’re spending on each individual debt only grows and grows as you pay off bills, building like a snowball that crushes debt in its path."
Key Quote: "Our advice is to make the highest possible payments that you reasonably can every month. But don’t overextend overself. It’s much better to pay more interest in the long run than it is to default on your student loans."
Making A Budget
One of the reasons people get into debt is that they live beyond their means; they don't realize how much money they're putting on credit cards until it's too late. Then they end up spending so much money trying to make minimum payments that they need to put basic necessities on credit cards, continuing the debt spiral. There are a lot of other reasons people get into debt, but poor money management is a biggie. You Need A Budget is our favorite tool to create a budget, but there are a lot of other apps and tools that you can use. It can be hard to get started with budgeting, but the most important thing to do is stick with it!
Key Quote: "I never thought I would ever describe a budgeting program as 'life-changing,' but for many people, YNAB really is a lifesaver. YNAB helped them get out of debt. YNAB helped them save for a new home or their kids’ college education. YNAB helped them get their lives back on track."
Key Quote: "We separated the apps into two major categories depending on how you organize your important information. Do you keep everything on Post-It Notes scattered around the house? Or do you keep data in a detailed Excel spreadsheet?"
Key Quote: "For the person who just wants to make it to the end of the week knowing where her money went, here are several that fall into what could be called 'allowance' apps for adults, because they help you hold yourself accountable to a daily budget."
Key Quote: "In this article, I’m going to focus on helping you answer the first question: what do I need to spend money on this month? While some of these categories may be obvious (actually, I hope they’re obvious), I’ll also be going through some tips and tricks on how to best manage these categories."
Even if you don't end up using You Need A Budget, their free online classes and blogs can be really helpful when it comes to getting into the budgeting mindset.
Saving & Investing
These are the big categories where the majority of your income should go. Once you’re done spending all of that money to pay off your debt, you can immediately funnel it into a savings account or investment vehicle. The first thing you'll need is an emergency fund, ideally in a savings account that you can easily access. After that, you should start putting money into investment funds. Investing your money is the best way to save for retirement and can be a great way to save up for other long-term goals.
Key Quote: "No matter how much you budget, unexpected expenses are always lurking around the corner, waiting to throw a wrench in your short term and long-term plans. It can be something as simple as an unexpected car repair or something more sinister, like a natural disaster that destroys part of your home."
Key Quote: "For this article, we’re going to assume that you want to invest the easiest way possible. With that in mind, we’re mostly going to be exploring automated services that manage your portfolio for you, with little to no interaction on your part. The goal is to make investing as easy as putting money in a piggy bank every month, but as rewarding as playing the market like it’s your job."
Key Quote: "But even index funds cannot solve the number one problem for investors: their consistently putrid, almost-always-perfectly-mistimed, buy-high-sell-low, self-defeating behavior."
We’re rather partial to our own writing here at PolicyGenius, but we do like a lot of personal finance bloggers and we love to showcase their work when we can (check out our Weekend Reads series for weekly round-ups of our favorite personal finance articles).
The people behind the Society of Grownups saw a huge lack of financial literacy in young adults and decided to do something about it. Featuring free online resources as well as classes and events, Society of Grownups is a go-to place for core personal finance resources.
Try not to be too deterred by the outdated "manliness" theme – Art of Manliness actually has some great personal finance resources for men and women in their early 20s. Their personal finance section also features early career advice.
Get Rich Slowly is an institution. Founded in 2008, Get Rich Slowly has an article for almost every personal finance topic that you can imagine. The most impressive part of the blog? That they're still finding new things to write about.
The Billfold is not a personal finance site. They are, as they say on their about page, "a site about money." The difference may seem semantic, but it means that the Billfold ends up talking a lot more about culture, society, and how we feel about money.
Image: Ryan Tyler Smith