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. General financial-planning courses such as the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board's four-evening Financial Planning Success series ($69) are common.
Retirement finance is another popular topic. For example, the Winnipeg School Division offers a one-evening class for $15 on Creating Your Retirement Paycheque for Those People 1-15 Years from Retirement. Elsewhere, among the courses available from Edmonton public schools are one on the basics of investing and another on stock trading.
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, at a cost of $245. The Personal Financial Fundamentals course at Camosun College in Victoria is a three-session course which costs $125 and 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. The Halifax Public Library, for instance, features presentations on employment and money matters. Patrons of the Calgary Public Library can enroll in online courses on various personal finance and investment topics.
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. The course cost is $985, or $1,310 with a set of study tools.
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 $495 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 $75 membership.
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. MOOC List currently shows personal-finance courses from Australian and American universities. With the rapid developments in this area, it should only be a matter of time before Canadian versions appear.
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:
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.
With so many options for lifelong learning in the personal-finance area, a little research should uncover an opportunity that fits your specific needs.