This post is a paid collaboration with Tangerine, but all opinions and stories are my own.
Financial literacy is one of those things that we all wish we had learned in school, right? It’s so easy to make the joke that while we were learning about isosceles triangles, it would have been far more useful to learn about filing our taxes, or how financial products work.
Sadly, there isn’t a time machine we can use to go back and take that class, but I’ve got something even better: A way to build a targeted financial literacy “curriculum” based on what you actually need to know.
I am of course very pro anything that teaches people about their finances, but in my experience, it’s a lot easier to grasp (and stay interested in) concepts that are directly applicable to what’s going on with your money right now. The perk of building your own financial literacy plan is that you can really focus on the things that matter most to you right now, and skip—or postpone—things you don’t need to focus on right away.
Not planning to buy a house yet? Skip the in-depth study of mortgages until it’s more relevant! No debt to pay off? The debt snowball vs. avalanche debate is one you can opt out of until you need to learn about them!
So let’s dive into the three steps that will help you DIY a financial literacy plan that’s tailored to what you need to know.
Step 1: Think about your current financial situation
The best way to figure out what you should learn to boost your financial literacy is to focus on where you’re currently at with money. After all, you’re learning this stuff to improve your personal finances, so it makes sense that your personal situation is the best place to start.
Think through some questions about your financial situation to help pinpoint potential places to start.
- What’s on your mind when it comes to money? Do you worry that you might be spending too much, or do your student loans weigh on your mind? Are you thinking about what it would take to buy a house, or get a dog? (Or a second dog? Hi, it me.) The first things that come to mind are likely important to you, and the fact that you’re thinking about them is a good sign that upping your knowledge about that area of finances could help you tackle them—so you can stop thinking about them so much.
- What questions do you wish you could ask about your money? Listen, no one is born knowing how an RRSP works, but that doesn’t stop most of us from being a little sheepish to admit that we have no idea what’s going on. If there are things you’d love to understand about money, but you’ve been a bit shy about asking the question, that’s a perfect place to start your financial literacy journey.
If those questions aren’t delivering a clear place to start on your financial literacy plan, take a look at your budget. That might mean using a budgeting tool or app, or simply checking up on your last few months of transactions. In my Tangerine accounts, it’s as easy as selecting a date range and searching for all transactions in that time period—from there, I can read through and notice how often I really reloaded my Starbucks card, or how many purchases I genuinely don’t remember.
Which yes, happens, and you might be very surprised at how often!
Step 2: Pick the highest-impact areas you can focus on
No one can learn everything, all at once, immediately—that’s just science. When you’re starting to build your financial literacy muscle, the best way to get started is to pick one topic and stick to it until you’re confident.
Here are some examples of how that might work based on what’s going on in your life.
You have some debt you’d rather not have
If debt is your most pressing financial issue, tackling that is a great place to start getting a handle on your personal finances. You could learn about how interest rates work, options for (potentially)
refinancing your debt, and strategies to pay it down based on both the numbers and the psychology of paying off debt.
You don’t quite know where your money goes every month
The first time I really paid attention to my spending was when I started saving up for a down payment. I knew I had X amount of money coming in every month, so I should be able to save a big chunk of that… right? Wrong, as it turns out. Because I’d never tracked my spending, I had no idea where my money actually went, or how much I spent every month. I started my journey by learning different budgeting approaches, different ways to track my spending, and strategies to help me save more money.
You want to buy a house
Maybe it’s just because I spent the past three years saving and preparing to buy a house, buying a house, and then figuring out what it costs to be a homeowner, but housing is a massive part of your financial life. If you’ve got a handle on everything else and homeownership is on your bucket list, there’s a lot you can learn—from how mortgages work, to the closing costs you’ll need to cover, to how to balance owning a home with the rest of the stuff you like to do.
Step 3: Find resources to help you learn
I’m definitely biased here, because I run a personal finance blog, but there are so many resources and ways to learn about money that don’t involve sitting in a classroom or falling asleep reading really technical financial textbooks.
Once you know what you want to start exploring, there are great ways to get introduced to the topic, and there are a few coming up in the last week of Financial Literacy Month that would be useful regardless of which of these topics you’d like to dive into first.
Tangerine’s Financial Literacy Month Twitter Chat
Over on Twitter, Tangerine will be hosting the #ControlYourFinances Twitter Chat on November 26 at 8:00pm ET with Robin Taub, an experienced CPA who has helped countless Canadians get a handle on their finances with her books. It’s a great chance to start talking about money from the comfort of your couch, and as someone who has participated in a few Twitter chats this year—it’s a lot of fun!
If you can attend the Twitter chat, you’ll leave with great ideas of what to do next on your financial literacy journey, based on what’s actually most important for you and your money right now. And if you can’t make it, no worries—Tangerine also runs their Forward Thinking blog, with articles to help you tackle your personal finances on your own time and schedule (from some seriously big names too, like Barry Choi, Kelley Keehn, and others!)