Back to School for Investors: How to buff up your PERSONAL-FINANCE I.Q.

According to futurist Jim Carroll, human knowledge is growing at an exponential rate, forcing us all to accept lifelong learning in order to survive in the 21st century. The personal-finance area has certainly not escaped the unending flow of new information and the resulting changes to everyday life. To cite just one example, exchange-traded funds were little known in Canada 10 years ago; now they are an established fixture in the investing marketplace.

Keeping your personal-finance knowledge current can be challenging in our time-starved society, but it’s worth the effort more often than not. If you are thinking about buffing up your personal-finance IQ, the fall is a good time to take action. Many continuing-education courses on this subject begin when children head back to school.

If you crave structure and you want a low-stress (no tests, no assignments) and relatively low-cost educational experience, check out the non-credit continuing-education classes at your local school board. For example, I teach a five-week evening course on Investment Planning for the Toronto District School Board. Available courses depend on the specific school, but typically cover such topics as the basics of investing, stock trading and retirement finance.

Community college and university continuing-education divisions are largely oriented to professional development, but some have ventured into general interest areas such as personal finance. The University of Toronto offers a six-week course called The Facts of Life about Your Finances. (Disclosure: I am the instructor for this course). The Personal Financial Fundamentals course at Camosun College in Victoria is a three-session course which is also available in a couples version.

Your local public library may have just what you need to improve your personal-finance savvy. Besides accessing the usual printed materials and online resources, at some libraries you can attend free talks on money matters or sign up for an online course.

Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries holds information sessions for patrons on taxes and money management.

Online courses and other distance-learning opportunities are a growth area in the lifelong learning world.

The Canadian Securities Course is an interactive online course that provides a comprehensive rundown of investing in Canada. Completion of the course is a requirement for many jobs in the financial-services industry, but individual investors can sign up if they are ready to do some heavy academic lifting and spend some serious dollars. CSI, the company offering the course, recommends 135 to 200 hours of study to prepare to write the final exam and receive formal credit.

CSI also offers the Canadian Securities Course for Investors, a non-credit course tailored to retail investors. The content is parallel to the CSC, but there are no exams and the lower tuition fee is easier to fit into the family budget.

A less demanding option for consumers who want to improve their investing knowledge is to join the Investors-Aid Co-operative of Canada. This consumer web-based co-operative gives members access to educational materials and tools as well as online support, webinars and coaching for an annual membership fee.

Massive open online courses (MOOC) — free, non-credit online courses designed for large-scale participation via the Internet — are a new educational innovation well suited to lifelong learning. The MOOC List includes numerous courses in the finance area and is updated regularly. The course on Financial Literacy from Australia’s Macquarie University would be a good introduction to personal finance.

Consumers who prefer a less structured learning experience can turn to the web to improve their personal-finance knowledge. The key to success with this approach is to be selective.

In my opinion, the two best websites for unbiased personal-finance information for

Canadians are:

  • The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada – an independent body established by the federal government to protect and educate consumers of financial products and services;
  • – a site sponsored by the Investor Education Fund, a non-profit educational organization established by the Ontario Securities Commission.

Both sites provide easy-to-understand information, as well as tools and calculators on a wide range of money matters faced by average Canadians. Mastering the materials at either of these websites is equivalent to completing a course on the basics of personal finance.

Other useful online sources include Morningstar Canada, Globe Investor, the Financial

Post, Yahoo Finance Canada and MSN Money Canada. This is only a partial list.

With so many options for lifelong learning in the personal-finance area, a little research should uncover an opportunity that fits your specific needs.

Gail Bebee

Gail Bebee is a personal finance speaker, teacher and writer dedicated to improving the financial literacy of Canadians and helping people to better manage their money. As an industry outsider, she is not limited by financial industry hype and delivers the straight goods on the often-confusing world of personal finance.