Americans as a whole are woefully under-prepared when it comes to financial literacy. From credit to debt to budgeting to saving and investing, as a society we just don’t tend to prioritize learning about these financial concepts, and that leads to a lot of issues down the road.
If you’re a college student, there’s no better time than now to start learning the basics of personal finance so that you can become a financially successful adult. Even if you aren’t a business or finance major, you should consider taking one or two basic finance courses if they are offered by your school. They’ll help you immensely in the long run as you begin to have and tackle large financial goals like paying off your student loans, buying a house, and investing for the future.
Of course, a lot of colleges limit these courses to students in particular majors (the jerks!). Or maybe your class schedule is crazy enough as-is, and you can’t add a finance course without taking another semester (costing you a lot of money). What is a student like you to do if you want to start learning the basics of finance?
Luckily, the answer is pretty simple: You can learn a lot of what you need to know by reading websites and blogs online.
Think I’m making this up, or that I’m making “finance” sound too simple by saying you can learn everything you need to know by reading websites? I assure you, it’s true: It’s how I learned everything that I know. I graduated from college with an English Lit degree, and never took a business or finance course in my life. Four years ago, I wanted to start investing and paying down my student debt, but I didn’t even know where to begin. I started by setting myself the goal of reading at least one finance article each day on my lunch break at work, from sites like Investopedia and Yahoo Finance.
Eventually, the lingo and concepts started to click. Jump ahead to today, and not only am I investing, saving, and paying down my debt like a champ, but I get paid to write about finance and help others understand it—all without being trained or taking any classes on the subject.
So, it works. As long as you’ve got the determination to teach yourself, you can learn any subject you put your mind to, even something as seemingly complicated as personal finance or investing. The websites and blogs below are the ones that I turn to when I (still) have questions, and they’re all written by incredibly smart people who know what they’re talking about. I encourage you to take a look. To make things a little easier to navigate, I’ve grouped them by the main topic that they write about: Personal Finance, Paying Off Debt, Learning to Invest, and Early Retirement.
General Personal Finance
Grow is a personal finance magazine that is linked to the Acorns investment app. When I first stumbled on the website, I assumed that they would be using it to actively push users to sign up for the app, but I was surprised to find that not only is this not the case, but they actively avoid mentioning the app. The goal of the website isn’t to promote the app at all: It’s to act as a knowledge center for anyone who wants to learn more about personal finance.
You might think that a website linked to an investment app would be focused solely on investing advice, but you’d be wrong on that front, too. Grow offers articles about budgeting, credit, spending, taxes, making money through side hustles, and yes, investing, alongside other topics from time to time, making it the perfect place to turn when you just want to start learning about how you can be smarter financially. Most of their articles also leave the reader with actionable advice, meaning that by reading a piece you come away with tips and tricks that you can put in place immediately to make you better with money.
A bonus: If you are an Acorns customer, you can access Grow magazine right from inside the app.
Just like Grow, LearnVest has the goals of making readers financially literate. They are linked to Northwest Mutual, but they don’t use the magazine to push their parent-company’s products: They just want to help you figure out the complicated world of personal finance. They do also have an app/product that you can sign up to use which will give you a plan to follow for any financial goal you might have, but again, the website is purely educational: There’s never much of a sales push.
The topics that LearnVest likes to cover are budgeting, saving, earning, credit, retirement, banking, debt repayment and management, insurance, estate planning, investing, and taxes. they have literally hundreds of articles, meaning that if you’ve got a finance question they can probably answer it for you.
Rockstar Finance is another favorite finance website of mine. It’s run by J. Money, the incredibly smart (and funny) mastermind behind Budgets Are Sexy. And while that website is great for learning about specific budgeting strategies, Rockstar Finance is amazing for learning about literally every finance related topic.
Rockstar Finance is an interesting mix of blog (they create their own content), aggregator (they collect and promote other people’s content), and directory (they maintain a directory of finance blogs and apps to help other people find them). This is a great place to go to find new and exciting voices to read. 5 out of 7 would recommend.
Paying Off Debt
If you want to get serious about paying off your student loans, then you’ve got to check out Millennial Money Man, written and maintained by Bobby Hoyt, a former teacher who managed to pay off $40,000 of student loan debt in about 18 months.
Sound crazy? It is. He had to give up a lot to get to that goal, but the long term benefits for him have been huge.
Since paying off his loans, he’s maintained Millennial Money Man as a blog to inspire and help other people paying off student loans or other substantial debts. He’s recently begin expanding his focus into other categories like saving, becoming an entrepreneur, and investing, but debt repayment remains at the core of his focus. When I want to get inspired, this is the blog I head to.
Cait Flanders is a money blog by, guess who, Cait Flanders, a recent college grad who had a serious spending problem. In 2011 she found herself $28,000 in credit card debt because of her spending habits and resolved to change course, which she did by going on a shopping ban.
The website started as a way to talk about paying off this substantial debt and track the shopping ban, but it has since turned into a nexus for budgeting in addition to debt repayment. Cait Flanders is a great place to go when you want an inspiring story about debt that shows you what you can do to turn your life around, and she’s got a lot of great how-tos for you to follow to get back on track!
Of course you knew I was going to include Student Debt Warriors in this list, right? I mean, I had to!
Student Debt Warriors is THE place to go to learn more about paying back your student loans. In addition to teaching you the basics, like the difference between deferment and forbearance, we want to help you pay off your student loans as quickly and as cheaply as possible. To do this, we’ve created easy-to-follow how-tos on topics like keeping track of your student loans, refinancing your student loans, and more.
And because paying off your student loans is only one step in the long-term battle towards financial freedom, we also cover important topics like investing, saving, and more. If you’re saddled with student loans or just need some help, this is the website for you.
Learning to Invest
You’ll see that I include Millennial Revolution in this list twice, and I’ll explain why now. I include it here as an investment resource because they have an absolutely amazing free workshop that you can sign up for that teaches you how to build your very own investment portfolio from scratch. Believe me when I say that this kind of advice would normally cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars if you tried going through a financial adviser, so this is great information at a price you won’t find anywhere else: Because it’s free!
Where the workshop stands out, though, is that the author doesn’t give you any specific investment recommendations. She doesn’t tell you to buy a certain stock or to try and time the market or anything like that. She teaches you how to understand your own investment goals, the kind of asset allocation you’ll need to get there, and how you can go about building your portfolio around that information without paying a broker to do it for you. Once you’ve finished the workshop, you can use what you’ve learned to build your portfolio and maintain it in the long run. If you don’t want to deal with a managed portfolio and want to learn how to do it yourself, then this is THE website you need to read.
That being said, the bulk of the website is actually focused around “financial independence” and early retirement, which is why I’ve included it in that section below as well. But this workshop is so amazing that it deserved its own spot here.
I told you that I started my financial career thanks to Investopedia, and I stand by that assertion: It’s a great website for newbie investors. As a website, it is an interesting mix of extremely basic information and very high-level information, all about investing, making it perfect for both experienced investors and beginners.
If you are just beginning to dip your toes into investing waters, you need to learn the basics, and that is really where Investopedia excels, in my mind. They have something called the Financial Dictionary which is exactly what it sounds like: A searchable dictionary of all things finance. It’s a really great way to begin laying the foundation of your financial future by learning the terms that you’ll need to know to be able to read and talk about financial topics. You can also register for their Stock Simulator, which is essentially a game built to show you how different investments would play out, which is great for beginners who don’t know enough to start trying with real money.
Okay, so I say Yahoo Finance here, but that isn’t really a website: It’s a news aggregator. It collects the latest or most widely read finance-related news and gets it in front of readers. if you’re not a fan of Yahoo, you could also check out AOL Finance, Huffington Post Business, or any other news source. They will all aim to present you with the most important financial or business related news of the day. If you wan to learn to start investing and just getting better with your money, then you should pick a news aggregator and make a habit of taking a look at the finance section at least once a day so that you can keep up with everything going on in the world.
Why is this so important? Well, first of all, these sites present financial topics to readers in the form of news, which actually makes it easier to understand (especially for newbies). And aside from this, once you start investing you will notice that the markets can fluctuate wildly sometimes because of world events. Brexit and Donald Trump being elected president both rocked markets around the world (in the short term); fears about North Korea made things a bit choppy earlier this summer; and mergers and acquisitions among companies can make whole indexes or sectors behave strangely.
Am I telling you this so that you go out and try to time the market? Absolutely not. Trying to time the market is the surest way to lose money and miss out on gains, and I’ll never recommend that anyone do it. But it is important to understand how word events can impact your investments. It’s also important to understand that some fluctuation is normal, and when you’re investing for the long term it’s something that you shouldn’t worry too much about. Reading financial news is one way you can help yourself understand all of this. Read enough news and you’ll eventually pick up the patterns that matter.
Early Retirement/Financial Independence
Mr. Money Mustache is a website that’s centered around what the author calls “financial independence,” but which the rest of us would probably call early retirement. The author is someone who was able to save and invest enough money to “retire” in his thirties so that he could enjoy life and raise his family without the stress of work eating into the precious time that he had. His method focused entirely around reducing expenses as much as possible so that you can save as much money as possible. By investing that money smartly in the market, you can grow a healthy nest egg that will, used correctly, last you the rest of your life.
Is his strategy right for everyone? No, probably not. Some people want more expensive luxuries out of life, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But this is a great website to illustrate the fact that everything in life comes at the expense of something else, which is a lesson that we’ve all got to learn. Do you want a fancy car, or to stay in 5-star hotels when you travel? That’s fine, but you’re going to need to pay for that by working, probably into your late 60s. If you’re willing to give up those luxuries—even just some of them—you might be able to shave years or even decades off of your working life. Financial success is all about identifying what matters most to you, personally, and working towards that.
11. Mad Fientist
This website is run by a youngster who managed to save and invest enough money to be able to “retire” in his thirties. Like Mr. Money Mustache, he refers to this as financial independence, which I guess I should explain. Financial Independence (the “FI” in “Fientist”) is all about having enough money working for you that you no longer need to work in order to be able to live. You reach financial independence the moment that your investment income equals or exceeds your expenses, because at that moment you can quit your job and be able to live purely off of your investments.
To get to financial independence, you need to do two things: Lower your expenses, and invest as much as possible. By lowering your expenses, you reduce the amount of money that your investments have to make. By increasing the amount you invest, you increase your profit. You could just focus on one or the other, but for real success you need to pursue both.
The Mad Fientist website focuses on this two-pronged approach and is full of awesome tips for getting started and carrying through to the end. Plus, it gets really tactical with extremely detailed posts that look into various investment techniques that can come in handy for those who are serious about financial independence. If independence is your ultimate goal, I recommend you start with this website. Even if you don’t care how long you work, the website is a great source of inspiration and helpful tools (like the “laboratory,” which helps you figure out how much you need to set aside to retire based on your expenses).
As promised, here is Millennial Revolution again. Like I said above, the website is full of great information about saving, investing, and budgeting, but where it shines is by putting all of this together so that you can retire early and just enjoy life. Their tagline is “Stop working. Start living.” and it’s easy to see why: That’s what they preach, and what they do!
Again, just like Mr. Money Mustache, their story and strategy is all about trade offs. because they wanted to retire early and travel the world, they decided not to buy a house, which freed up a lot of money for them to invest and grow in the market. That might be extreme, but it allowed the author and her husband to retire at the crazy age of 31. They now have so much money invested and working for them that they won’t have to work ever again in the future unless they want to. Doesn’t that sound nice?
Just like the two websites above, even if you find the ultimate strategies or goals too much for you, personally, this is still a great website for inspiration and solid financial advice.
You’ve Got Options
If you’re a college student who wants to learn about anything finance related, you can rest easy knowing that there is, undoubtedly, a website catering to your needs. From Personal Finance to Budgeting to Paying Off Debt, Learning to Invest, and Early Retirement, there are plenty of free resources available to you to help you start learning and laying the foundation for a great financial future. These are my absolute favorite finance websites, but let me know in the comments if you have any other recommendations and I’ll check them out!