As anyone who’s ever been stuck in traffic knows, the journey isn’t always about where you’re going—it’s about how you get there. As it turns out, the same principle is at work when you have to make a decision about your money.
Arriving at a sense of financial well-being takes skills and know-how. That’s one of the findings in our new report that looks at how financial education can improve people’s well-being.
Our study found that it’s not necessarily what you know about financial products or money concepts—it’s what you know how to do.
The study defined financial skills as knowing how to find, process, and act on information when you need it. Here are ways to apply the skills that help you face any money decision.
1. Know when to look for information
The first “how-to” that you need is the ability to recognize when there’s a gap in your knowledge. Maybe you have incomplete information, or maybe your information is one-sided or unbalanced, when you consider the source it came from.
How to do it: One way to apply this skill is to pause before a financial decision to think and gather new or more reliable information.
2. Know where to find trusted information
Once you recognize your need for information, you need to know where to find it. For example, if you want to speak to a personal financial planner, you need to know how to locate that person and set up a convenient meeting time. Then, you need to understand the sources of the information they have, and the reasons different organizations may offer financial facts.
How to do it: We provide unbiased financial education to help people take control of their financial lives. Check out our answers to hundreds of financial questions, or browse our guides to financial topics. Other sources for information include schools, libraries, and financial institutions such as banks and lenders. They all offer different perspectives.
3. Know how to act on your decision and stay on track
Once you locate reliable information about a money decision, you need to know how to apply it to your individual situation.
How to do it: Match the information you have to the opportunities available to you. For example, if you decide to save 10 percent of your pay for retirement, you need to determine what steps to take, considering your situation. The next step may be determining how to enroll in your employer’s retirement plan. But if that’s not an option, the next step is finding an alternative—for example, finding a way to open an individual retirement account and taking the steps needed to move money into the account.
As you develop your skills, you can apply them to a variety of money decisions. The skills are useful and practical whether you’re facing a one-time decision or ongoing choices, whether the decision is straightforward or complex. Here are more resources to help you on the path to financial well-being:
If you are among the thousands of financial coaches, educators, and others who are helping people manage money, budget, save, and plan, consider how you can help people practice the three skills more frequently and effectively. We offer resources to help: