The dearth of personal financial knowledge in New Zealand is shocking. Readers of this column will know I've taken to reading Trade Me's Community forums whenever I want a litmus test of the financial knowledge of the nation.
Vast swathes of people live in unnecessary financial stress that could be lessened with a little knowledge. Learning more about money isn't hard. There are many ways to improve your personal financial knowledge, no matter how much or how little you know.
The real difficulty is motivating people to learn. No one will learn about money and investing if they are not motivated. The first step is to realise there is a gap in knowledge.
It's a shame night courses have all but died a death. Many very good financial education courses available a few years ago are no longer offered.
But there are several free and paid-for money management workshops and seminars available for anyone willing to hunt.
* Westpac holds Managing Your Money workshops and has an online tutorial. Details can be found at www.westpac.co.nz/money-packs/managing-your-money/
* Christians Against Poverty runs entry-level money management courses in Auckland, to be found at Capmoney.org/en - NZ/home
* The Financial Literacy in Our Workplace (Flow) Trust offers great work-based basic money management courses. John Hawkins of the Shareholders Association encourages employers to take them up. Employees, he says, who are worrying at work about how they are going to put food on the table that night or fix that worrying noise in the car aren't productive employees.
* Te Wananga o Aotearoa and other educational providers offer a free Level 3 NZQA-approved money management course, but you must pass a basic literacy and numeracy skills test first. It's designed to fit in with various business qualifications, but can be taken on its own. It goes beyond budgeting, looking at wealth creation and protection, home ownership, property investment, equities and more.
* The newly formed NZ Centre for Personal Financial Education is preparing to offer six certificates in personal financial management. They will cover the overall management of money, rather than specific investment types.
* For the time-strapped who can't attend classes, there are interactive personal finance courses available online and on CD-Roms. One good source of online learning is the UK-based Incademy Investor Education at Incademy.com, which offers courses ranging from beginners' investment to technical analysis.
Courses where you interact in person beat anything online or in a book by a long shot. If you're immersed in your subject you will soak it up better than you would sitting at a computer.
Despite government cuts some personal finance night classes are still available. Northcote College, for example, offers classes in family trusts and making a will. A list of school night classes can be found at Anotherlook.org.nz/class-list/
The Shareholders Association also offers investing courses through night schools. Both Leisuretime Learning at Western Springs College, and Glenfield College, offer the association's sharemarket and investing courses.
Hawkins, who teaches one of these courses, says a real mixture of ages and financial experience attend. Some students are youngsters who want to learn the basics of investing. Others are older, more experienced investors who may want to fill a gap in their knowledge about a particular aspect of investing, such as bonds.
Sadly the cost of night courses has risen sharply since government funding was cut.
The Shareholders Association courses, for example, have gone from as little as $20 to about $60. As a result the numbers of people attending, and consequently the range of courses available, have dropped significantly.
Another group of organisations offering investor education are the property investor associations. The Northland, Auckland and Waikato associations have regular educational evenings for members.
Beware, however, that property does tend to attract people trying to make money off the back of newbies. These people typically offer expensive mentoring and seminars. The mentoring can be good, but some so-called mentors and educators were shaken out by the recession because they weren't experienced enough themselves to survive a downturn.
For people motivated to read them, websites and blogs offer virtually all the information you can learn in courses and seminars. Sorted.org.nz is a great place to start. There are many other overseas websites worth visiting, such as The Motley Fool, Seeking Alpha, Bankrate.com, Investopedia, SmartMoney, Kiplinger, Wisebread and Get Rich Slowly.
The best New Zealand-based websites and blogs to learn from include Interest.co.nz, PropertyTalk.com, Landlords.co.nz, Sharechat.co.nz and Sharetrader.co.nz.
Many have beginner's investment sections covering topics such as the easy-to-read introduction to share investing at Sharechat.co.nz/first-steps.html
Some of these websites also have forums where readers can learn from others. I'm always picking up interesting ideas from forums. Readers need to beware, however, that the people offering their opinions are not qualified financial advisers and sometimes don't even know what they're talking about.
As a result no comments should ever be taken as absolute gospel, unless the person posting is a professional in the field. Even on the good websites there are posters that spout complete rubbish.
While the New Zealand forums cover investing topics specific to this country, there are some fabulous overseas forums where it's possible to learn an awful lot about general personal finance principles. Two of the best are Fool.co.uk, and Morningstar.com, although the other sites mentioned above have good forums or blog discussions as well.
Sadly one of the most common, but worst places to educate yourself about money in New Zealand is one of the most popular: the Trade Me Community forums.
If ever there was a case of the blind leading the blind it is there. A classic example is a thread started by "liquefaction" on May 17 entitled "kiwisaver is sh##", available at tinyurl.com/liquefaction-kiwisaver
The level of financial ignorance among posters on Trade Me's Community forums is sometimes astonishing. In one single page of a posting about "investment advisers" I read one member encouraging others to put money in finance companies, another believed these investments were still Government-guaranteed, and a third said she wouldn't invest in finance companies because of the level of fees charged. She had confused finance companies with financial planners and/or fund management companies.
Personal finance magazines such as NZ Investor and NZ Property Investor are a good place to pick up information. Some of the Australian, British and United States personal finance magazines are worth a read.
Books are, of course, a great way to educate yourself. I'm sometimes asked for my favourites. To be honest almost all of the personal finance books available in bookstores and libraries are worth a read. Just choose one that appeals to you.
A good one that landed on my desk recently was Recession-Proof Your Life, by Lynelle Johnson. It covers the basics of all aspects of personal finance ranging from bullet-proofing your job to investing in property and the stock market.
Readers looking for something for their teenage or 20-something children to read will find that Scott Pape's Barefoot Investor talks their language. There are lots of good New Zealand-specific books by authors such as Martin Hawes and Lisa Dudson at Intelligentinvestor.co.nz. For a phenomenal range of international books visit Books.Global-Investor.com
Podcasts aren't as popular as they once were, but they're a great way to learn while you're on the go. If you spend a lot of time in the car you can learn while sitting in a traffic jam. Many of the US websites I mention above produce podcasts that can be found on iTunes, Learnoutloud.com, or various podcast directories.
While researching this article I tuned into a few including one by Kiplinger about how to save $50 a day. That's pretty impressive.
I usually suggest people try to save $10 a day.
Some of these podcasts are audio articles. It's also possible to download entire audio books such as The Millionaire Next Door, which runs for nine hours and 5 minutes.