What Are the Best Free Resources for Learning Personal Finance?

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From 401(k)s to the monthly budget, personal finance can be a dull and difficult subject to master. Countless articles and paid and free courses tackle the matter from a variety of angles, each aiming to help knowledge-seekers get a better handle on managing their money. Knowing something about personal finance is a critical life skill, whether you are single or responsible for a family.

The free resources listed below offer practical pointers, in a variety of formats, on topics ranging from taxes and savings to crafting a money plan (a.k.a. budget) and getting out from under the debt load.

The Best Personal Finance Blogs.

There are so many personal finance blogs that it's hard to know which to trust. Moreover, you want to find one that suits your style, personality, and goals. Recommendations for a particular blog or two are less helpful than pointing you towards the Plutus Awards winners announced at the annual financial media community's conference, known as FinCon. Browse through the list of the current champs as well as those from the preceding four years and read through any that catch your eye. The list is divided into categories, such as frugality-focused personal finance, religious personal finance, podcasts, personal finance for retirement, and many more.

The Best Personal Finance Books.

Everyone seems to have a favorite personal finance book, and there are surely valuable lessons to be gleaned from each. We compared lists posted at Business Insider, Amazon, Mint.com, The Simple Dollar, and Inc. to find overlapping recommendations. The following six books cover both the psychological and practical side of personal finance:

  • Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill
  • The Total Money Makeover, by Dave Ramsey
  • Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert Kyosaki
  • Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, by T. Harv Eker
  • The Millionaire Next Door, by Thomas Stanley and William Danko
  • Your Money or Your Life, by Joe Dominguez

The Best (Free) University Courses.

Coursera, a hub for free university-level courses, recently finished sessions on personal and family financial planning offered by the University of Florida and on managing time, money, and career from the University of California, Irvine. Other personal finance topics have been offered in the past. Coursera courses are designed specifically for the online platform by university professors, and each has its own forum (professors and teaching assistants often participate), quizzes, tests, and peer-reviewed submission requirements. Students generally rave about the quality and Coursera is one of the best resources for free online classes. Most courses open enrollment just once or twice a year, so keep an eye out for the next opportunity.

Some universities also offer free online personal finance instruction that's always accessible. We spotted a YouTube course from the Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurship at Fairleigh Dickinson University and another from Missouri State University. Other schools mount text-based personal finance courses directly on their websites.

You can learn a lot from any of these free online personal finance resources. But doing so requires dedication. Some learners have a hard time staying focused without the traditional class structure, such as quizzes to check progress and a forum for questions and discussion.

Other Online Courses.

Universities aren't the only sources of knowledge. Even CNN Money has its own 23-part course on personal finance (all text and a bit dry and generic for our taste). Ally Bank offers educational videos and a course on budgeting, banking, credit, and cars. One downside of third-party lessons presented by for-profit institutions is that they may have been crafted to attract potential customers. If a class advises you to invest in, or use, a product from its creator, steer clear.

Take Action.

You can find all sorts of handy spreadsheets, books, courses, and blogs in the online universe, in the library, and in the bookstore, but it's all for nothing if you don't take action. Setting aside just 10 or 15 minutes to familiarize yourself with the options -- what to focus on, delivery format, and where to find it -- is a good start.