Money is a weirdly taboo subject, and many of us made it through our entire educational careers without partaking in any serious money management lessons—undoubtedly to our detriment. A lot of us manage to buy houses and earn and save surprisingly large amounts of income without really understanding anything at all about our money. Perhaps that’s one reason the average amount American has only saved a measly $65,000 for retirement, while carrying an average debt of $90,460.
Educating yourself about money matters is essential, but if you’re already struggling with money you certainly don’t want to spend big on financial literacy courses. Luckily we’re also living in a golden age of free (or very cheap) online education. If you apply yourself and devote some time to it, you can learn the fundamentals of personal finance pretty easily—and without laying out too much of your dwindling cash. Here are some of the best free—or inexpensive—financial courses for beginners.
Financial courses that cover the basics
If every time you use your credit cards is like playing an exciting game of “Will It Decline?” and your preferred method of dealing with bills is to stuff them, unopened, into a box labeled “Problems for future me,” you’re going to need to master the fundamentals before you move forward. Luckily, there are some excellent courses available to help you achieve basic financial literacy:
- Personal Finance 101: Everything You Need to Know. This a free course that lasts just three hours—but by the end of it you’ll have a basic understanding of just about everything personal finance related, including credit scores, budgeting, debt, and savings. If you’re an absolute newb when it comes to money this is a great place to start.
- Financial Basics Everyone Should Know. This is another course designed for complete beginners that covers all the basics. It’s $27 a month to join LinkedIn Learning, but you can start with a one-month free trial, so you can complete this course at no cost if you cancel before 30 days have elapsed. Is money, personal finance, and investing a mystery to you? Here’s how to educate yourself.
Once you have familiarized yourself with those overarching topics, you can explore some more specific courses:
- Taxes: If you find taxes and the mysterious way they reduce your paychecks to be confusing, this free course from Khan Academy is a great primer.
- Budgeting: The foundation of healthy personal finance begins and ends with knowing how to create and follow a budget. Creating a Budget 101 from Credit.org is a good, free overview of how to budget like an adult.
- Savings: If your concept of personal finance is constantly churning credit card debt to new, zero-interest cards, you need How to Save Money: Making Smart Financial Decisions from EdX. The course is free to audit, but if you want a certificate you’ll need to cough up some dough—but (pro tip) you don’t need the certificate.
- Debt management: Debt is pretty much baked into modern life in America, meaning no matter what you do you’ll probably have some debt to deal with. But there’s good debt and bad debt, and having the skills to manage it will change your life. Introduction to Managing Your Personal Finance Debts from Alison is a free course that will guide you towards becoming debt free—and being debt free is like a superpower in today’s world. Another good course to check out for debt management is Build Sustainable Wealth and Get Out of Debt from LinkedIn Learning. Again, you need a membership to take the course, but if you can get it done in a month you can cancel, making the course free.
The best courses about retirement planning
People increasingly see retirement—at least the classic concept of enjoying leisure and financial security in your older years—as a myth. The truth is it doesn’t have to be. Another truth is that it doesn’t matter how old you are or how little you’ve saved, there’s almost always time to put together some kind of retirement plan. To make that happen you need to understand how it all works. Purdue University offers a terrific primer with their free course Planning for a Secure Retirement, which will walk you through the basics of planning your retirement.
Another great resource is investment firms, which have a vested interest in inspiring you to invest in your retirement. Vanguard offers a series of free online courses broken down by age group, so no matter where you are in life you can educate yourself and start making a plan instead of playing the lottery with increasing desperation.
If you need a bit more structure, Udemy offers The Only Retirement Guide You’ll Ever Need, which takes a nuts and bolts approach to dealing with every aspect of the financial reality of retiring. The course isn’t free, but it’s just $12, which almost any financial advisor would green light as a good deal.
Courses on the basics of investing
It sometimes seems like everyone in the universe is investing and day trading and sipping champagne as their huge gains come rolling in. While that’s not entirely true (especially in 2022), it is true that a sober, rational investment strategy can be a great way to build wealth and fund a retirement that goes beyond the basics covered in the courses above. But if you’re a financial newb (or, like me, a financial incompetent), investing seems ludicrously risky.
Some of that perceived risk lies in ignorance: The best way to lose money is to invest in something you don’t understand—which, if you lack a financial education, is literally everything. A few courses can remedy that for you:
- Managing Your Personal Investments from LinkedIn Learning lays out why investing your money isn’t just for retirement, and doesn’t require huge risk or huge assets to get started. Again, there’s a cost here but only if you let your free trial expire.
- Fundamentals of Investing! Another $12 course from Udemy, this is a comprehensive introduction to investment basics, de-mystifying the process, risks involved, and common strategies.
- Morningstar Investing Classroom from investment advisor firm Morningstar is a free deep dive into investing that covers a wide range of topics and makes for an ideal follow-up to the more basic courses above. It’s still designed for the relative newcomer, but digs a little deeper into investment strategies and concepts.
Of course, you can’t talk about financial topics these days without mentioning cryptocurrencies. Despite the hype, crypto is probably not a great place for folks new to personal financial knowledge, but that’s certainly never stopped anyone. If you’re thinking that “buying the dip” describes your financial spirit animal, at least understand the fundamentals before you dive in:
- Cryptocurrency Fundamentals: Buy, Sell, Trade Cryptocurrency from Udemy is a $14 extremely entry-level course. Start here if all you know about cryptocurrency is that there’s one with a cute dog as its mascot. This isn’t going to teach you super-secret get-rich-fast strategies (thank goodness) but will get you comfortable with the basics.
- RocketFuel Crypto Education by Robert Kiyosaki & Jeff Wang is designed for folks who like money but who have never seen a line of computer code and regard crypto as an investment opportunity, not a path towards freedom from tyranny or something like that. It will give you a solid foundation in crypto that goes a little beyond the Udemy course so you can start making rational decisions about it.
Financial literacy is a key component of being a mature adult—and a key component of a life without a lot of the anxiety, stress, and sleepless nights that come with insolvency and debt. These courses will cost you almost nothing except your time, but the rewards could be tremendous.