Teaching Financial Literacy: Top 8 Tips

Whether you are teaching financial literacy to your child or leading a workshop with hundreds of attendees, it is important to design programming that best serves the participants. To do so, we need answers to some specific questions that will provide direction for us to mold the program to meet learner needs.


The first steps in teaching financial literacy lessons are centered around gaining a deeper understanding of your participants. The NFEC refers to these steps as the discovery phase. This phase is where you learn about the needs of the individuals you will be serving, so you can deliver programming that meets those needs.


1. Understanding Your Audience

Your goal during this first phase is to get enough answers to start roughly shaping the overall financial education path. Several tools are at your disposal to gain a better understanding of your audience. Consider these ideas:


Talking with your participants directly, either individually or in small focus groups.


Conducting surveys that measure participant sentiment and interests.


Review their finances to determine their current financial situations.


Measure their current content knowledge and capabilities.

Blooms model applied to teaching financial literacy

2. Identifying Educational Outcomes

The NFEC suggests using Bloom’s Taxonomy of Higher Order Thinking and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) theories when teaching financial literacy to guide your learner achievement goals. These frameworks outline the cognitive rigor of the material, and provide a clear context for assessments.

Extended Thinking

At this level participants can answer questions that require complex reasoning and analysis; they possess the ability to connect lessons with other concepts.

Strategic Thinking

Lessons that meet this learning objective require higher cognitive rigor like planning, reasoning, and explaining the process used to derive the answer.

Skill & Concept

Activities have participants connect information in the Recall group to be able to solve problems. Lesson plans at this level ask participants to develop relationships between concepts and interpret data.


These assessments test students’ ability to recall information like a name, fact, quote, or other basic piece of information.

3. Selecting Delivery Options

There are a variety of methods to teaching financial literacy effectively. Two major considerations come down to delivery options and pacing.

Delivery refers to how you will share the material with your participants: webinars, eLearning, and in-person instruction are the top 3 methods currently utilized. Blended and flipped classrooms are relatively new trends that combine various modes of instruction and give more control to the learner.

The pacing option you choose also has implications for how students participate. With the test-based achievement option, you can include adaptive pathing elements to help students understand those concepts and lessons they find more challenging. In adaptive pathing, participants unable to pass lesson tests are redirected to a review module that explains the topic in different ways. After completing and passing the retest, they get back on track with the remainder of the course.

Strategies for Teaching Financial Literacy Processes

4. Choosing Learner Topics

Once you gain a better understanding of the participants and have established clear learner barometers, then you can start to select the topics and lessons you wish to share.

When selecting topics to deliver to your participants, start by reflecting on what you know about your audience and what they shared with you in the discovery phase. Your expertise is important here, because sometimes you’ll find they ask to learn about a topic that does not align with their current situations or other educational goals.

For instance, during your initial survey or interview the participants may say they want to learn about investing; but you found that they’re deeply in debt and have no money saved. In this example, it would be good to include some elements of investing to align with their interests, and use this instruction as a motivator to pique their interest in the financial recovery topics you know they most need to improve.

5. Purposeful Curriculum

When you set out to teaching financial literacy, selecting the right financial literacy curriculum is important. The curriculum and presentations you choose should be engaging and fun, yet also meet core educational standards.

The materials should connect with students and inspire participants to take positive financial action. Seek out materials that fit your audience’s cognitive abilities and your established learning objectives. The lesson plans should have been extensively tested by a variety of organizations and proven empirically to make a lasting difference in participants’ financial capabilities.

Much of the curriculum available for use today has been developed by just a single person. Locate material built with diverse contributions from a team of educators, financial professionals, and financial education experts to ensure that the program bridges the gap between theory-based education and practical application.

Guide to teach financial literacy effectively

6. Qualified Educators

Distinguished financial education instructors mold and modify participants’ behavior to guide them toward financial wellness. They understand teaching financial literacy is unique in that it elicits emotional reactions from participants. These instructors have come to realize that a “one-size-fits-all” pedagogy does not work for delivering high-quality financial education.

Teachers are the single most important influence on student success. Effective educators help learners achieve better outcomes. Numerous studies have shown that students of highly-qualified educators accomplish more positive outcomes than those taught by less-qualified instructors. For example, students of qualified financial educators may expect higher lifetime earnings and greater security upon retirement[1], as well as improved mental and physical health and wellbeing.[2]

The effects of educator qualifications on student achievements are realized in various ways. Although few studies have examined the specific effectiveness of financial educators, much parallel evidence can be found in research in the general education sector indicating that better-qualified teachers produce better-qualified graduates across a wide range of academic disciplines.[3,4] Extending those results to include financial literacy education seems a logical conclusion.

7. Measurements

In well-constructed programs, measures are clearly defined to guide development and offer barometers of the program’s impact. Data are gathered consistently to provide solid evidence by which the program can be judged.

Tests and surveys should be conducted before the financial literacy campaign starts, at select points during implementation, and according to set timelines after the program concludes.

Measures should demonstrate behavior adoption, molding, and/or modification based on data-driven outcomes (i.e. savings rate, debt load, credit scores, retirement plan participation, wage garnishment measures, etc.).

Reporting should include not only these measures but also other important assets: event photos, participant testimonials, client testimonials, survey results, pre- and post-test data. Including all these items in a report balances the feel-good aspects of financial education with empirical data that demonstrate the program’s impact.

8. Ongoing Education

Do not forget about your participants after your program ends! This is an important time to build a deeper connection and encourage ongoing education.

Build affinity toward your program by recognizing people who participate in the campaign and highlight the program’s success. Host a graduation event or simply hand out learner certificates. This recognition helps encourage those who participated and reward them for their accomplishments.

Including ongoing education is a critical element to creating positive financial behavior adoption. Provide graduates with training resources that help them retain what they learned and continue to build upon their personal finance skill sets.


[1] Annamaria Lusardi and Olivia S. Mitchell, NBER Working Paper No. 17078 (May 2011), Baby Boomer retirement security: The roles of planning, financial literacy, and housing wealth.

[2] Bennett et al., BMC Geriatrics, 12:30 (2012), Correlates of health and financial literacy in older adults without dementia.

[3] Max Nisen, Business Insider (Sep. 16, 2013), Impact of Teachers on Lifetime Earnings.

[4] Pamela D. Tucker and James H. Stronge, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (2005), Linking Teacher Evaluation and Student Learning.

The Connection Between Sales and Teaching Financial Literacy

by Traci Allan, Certified Financial Education Instructor

Methods proven effective to sell products work very effectively when teaching financial literacy as well.  Often we have limited time with our participants, so we must focus what little time we have for maximum impact.

Think about it:  salespeople are the backbone of a capitalist society.  Good sales require uncovering a person’s needs and goals, building relationships, proposing solutions, and motivating the person to take action.

Educators make very good salespeople and sales people make great educators.  Each are already experts in their respective fields.  They already understand the needs and desires of their clients (students); learning to be an educator requires focus on how to build audience rapport.  Good educators align presentations with benefits that motivate the class.  They share stories to make topics real and relate content to the audience.  The financial education service they provide motivate students to take specific action steps, and gather constructive feedback to improve future lessons.

The persuasion or sales approach to teaching financial literacy includes five phases:  preparation, listening and rapport, offering solutions, taking action, and feedback and resources.

Phase I: Preparation:

The first key to being prepared is belief. You must believe in what you’re teaching, just as the best salesmen believe in the value of their products. The benefits covered in the first section of the Certified Financial Education Instructors training program highlight the value that a practical financial education can offer.

Knowing your material is the second part of preparation. If you’re unsure about the presentation, the audience will read lack of confidence and won’t trust the material. Take the time you need to comprehend what you’re teaching and anticipate questions your audience may ask. You don’t have to know everything; if you don’t know an answer, say, “Hey, I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you!” Your audience will appreciate your honesty and sincere desire to help.

Know your audience: get as much information as possible about each group to which you present. Not only will it help you prepare appropriate material and stories, but you can mentally prepare for the tough questions and attitudes an audience may throw your way.

Set clear goals when teaching financial literacy. Make them specific, achievable, and realistic. For example, you might say, “My participants will improve their test scores by 25% and graduate the course wanting to learn more about personal finance.”

Phase II: Listening and Rapport:

The second phase of the sales approach to teaching money management involves listening.  Listening is critical to making a sale—and we’re talking about active listening, where you keep probing to get the whole picture of your audience’s motivation.  Your goal is to learn the audience psychographics.  Psychographics give us an understanding of attitudes, values, lifestyles, and opinions.  The marketing world uses the term IAO (Interests, Activities, and Opinions).  This audience understanding provides direction on how to shape your presentation.

Obviously this phase requires some give-and-take with the audience.  Ask students why they’re there.  What do they want to get out of the presentation?  Listen to what they tell you and follow up with probing questions—why, when, where, how?  Each person is different, but the more you know about your participants the better.

Build rapport with the audience.  Rapport can be defined as building trust and getting “in sync” with others.  Engage in small talk about topics and invite the audience to give opinions.  Share personal stories, be real; engage the group by letting a spirit of fun shine through your presentation.  Show participants that you really care about their well-being.

Phase III: Offering Solutions

This phase builds on earlier phases.  You can’t offer solutions until you truly understand where your participants are now, and their future goals.

Educate with benefits, not features.  For example, say you’re selling a health drink.  A feature of the drink might be, “Provides 100% RDA of Vitamin D.”  That won’t sell someone the drink.   Instead, focus on its benefits:  “Makes you feel energetic and healthy.”

Translate that example to financial education.  “Learn about credit,” is a feature of the program.  That won’t appeal to anyone.  Focus on the benefits:  “Save $10,000 off your next car purchase.”  Benefits are what motivate people to take action.

 Subject differentiation works too.  Show students how financial literacy is different from other subjects.  For example, this topic will affect every aspect of their lives.  The subject relates directly to their ability to live desired lifestyles. Quality financial literacy curriculum will address this fact proactively and give you a good guide to follow.

Phase IV: Taking Action:

If you’ve done the first three phases right, moving them to take action will follow naturally.  Watch your audience’s reactions, nodding heads and facial expressions.  Time the presentation of action steps to occur when emotions are high.

Assume that you’ve closed the sale—you’ve motivated them to take positive action toward financial health.  Ask, “Now that you know saving and investing $100 a month can grow into a million dollars, what first step will you take?”  Strive to get a commitment.  “You know I want what’s best for you.  I am 100% sure this information will make your lives easier and more fun.  Raise your hand to promise me that you’ll continue to learn about money.”

Here’s another approach:  offer them alternatives.  “Either you can have bad credit and go through the embarrassment of being denied a loan, or you can have good credit, no worries, and an extra ten thousand in your pocket.  So how will you start building your credit?”

Ask how their vision of the future has changed.  “Now that you’ve learned this information and plan to learn more, how do you think your life will be different in five years?  What will you do this week to make sure you succeed?”

Phase V: Feedback and Resources:

After you’re done presenting, solicit audience feedback.  What did they like?  Which pieces didn’t resonate with them?  Ask how you could improve your presentation.  Try to uncover their objections to the material at each step when teaching financial literacy coursework.

Answer objections using the “feel, felt, found” method.  Maybe a participant says, “But I need my Starbucks coffee every morning.”  You might respond, “I understand how you feel.  A lot of my friends felt the same way about their morning coffee.  But one of my friends found that, by cutting expensive coffee out of his routine, he was able to save enough money for a down payment on a car.”  Then follow up with a close:  “So will you start buying coffee at a less expensive shop, or make it at home?”

The NFEC hopes these brief tips will help you improve the impact of your financial literacy campaign.

Resources for Teaching Financial Literacy – Certification, Speakers and Professional Development

The NFEC’s Certified Financial Education Instructors possess the knowledge, credibility, and confidence to effectively start teaching financial literacy. Graduates of the course take their place among the most highly-qualified personal finance educators, with the ability to teach essential money management concepts effectively to people of all ages.

The Certified Financial Education Instructor coursework has been accepted for Continuing Education (CE) credits and is offered through several universities. Graduates become part of the first national speaker’s bureau dedicated to financial education experts and advocates: the Personal Finance Speakers Association (PFSA).

Certified Financial Education Instructor

The preeminent educator training program provides the knowledge, credibility, and confidence you need to effectively teach financial literacy.

Financial Educator Standards

The NFEC developed National Financial Educator Standards that define the knowledge and skill sets that individuals should possess before they start teaching financial literacy.

Featured Financial Educators

Learn about the programming and outreach that NFEC Financial Education Community Ambassadors are providing in your area, nationally, and globally.

Request a Speaker / NFEC Speakers

The NFEC is your source for top personal finance speakers, keynote presenters, and trainers. Give your next financial education event a professional touch.

Signature Live Events

The NFEC offers a variety of full-production events. From small workshops to high-profile celebrity productions, the NFEC has a financial education solution to meet your organization’s goals.

Personal Finance Speakers Needed

The Personal Finance Speakers Association (PFSA) is the first national speaker’s bureau that features financial education experts, advocates, and presenters.

Teaching Financial Literacy in Eight Key Stages

Teaching Financial Literacy requires a set of steps that have been defined as best practices. On this page we outline those key steps, offering information and resources for putting them to use in delivering successful financial education endeavors to communities and individuals.

Eight Methods for Teaching Financial Literacy Successfully

1. Teaching Financial Literacy with Real Impact

Read the information here to find out how another concerned citizen realized his dream of Teaching Financial Literacy:

Dave Douglas had recently retired from the Air Force, and now volunteered for the local Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization. He had a dream of Teaching Financial Literacy to the disabled vets in his community, so they could learn how to make the most of their fixed incomes and also explore entrepreneurial possibilities for supplementing those incomes. Dave knew his target audience pretty well, that they were generally middle-aged, disabled veterans living on military disability pensions. However, he didn’t know exactly where to start to get a program underway, or what information the vets needed most.

Dave began gathering information, in this case by finding a few disabled veterans through the DAV who agreed to let him review their financial documents. Through this careful review he learned that many of them were struggling with debt and needed resources to help them reduce their debt loads.

2. Assessing Learner Needs Important First Step for Teaching Financial Literacy

Since he knew they were struggling to manage debt loads, Dave’s initial notion for Teaching Financial Literacy was to do an exploratory training with a group of 10-15 vets to help them develop debt reduction plans. He thought a short 90-minute workshop would suffice, but his longer-term vision was to reach more vets by expanding into other cities and areas. In the minimal time available for the initial workshop, Dave set a goal of getting the vets to the Apply level on Bloom’s Taxonomy, where they could apply the knowledge they gained to reducing their debt loads.

3. What’s Next? Selecting How to Deliver Materials

The next step was to choose how the material would be delivered. Because his audience was disabled veterans, Dave decided on a blended delivery using both in-person and Internet platforms. He chose to pace the instruction partly on achievement, and partly self-paced, so the vets could recognize an initial accomplishment – creating a debt reduction plan – and then track their own progress toward becoming debt-free over time.

4. Lesson Selection Part of Teaching Financial Literacy

Dave’s next phase was identifying the topics for the first instruction. That was easy – he had already discovered they needed help dealing with debt. For that reason, Mr. Douglas selected debt, credit, and an overview of basic money management as key topics for the workshop. That would allow him to address the specific needs expressed by these disabled veterans.

5. Next Challenge: Locating a Professional Presenter

The next challenge of Teaching Financial Literacy Dave faced was finding a qualified educator to present the program. He was looking for someone both skilled in teaching methods and knowledgeable about personal finance topics. Fortunately, he knew just the person – another DAV volunteer, Alan Banks, had recently completed the CFEI (Certified Financial Education Instructor) program through the NFEC. Since Dave wanted to expand his program in the future, he thought he would ask Alan to teach the first workshop, and then Dave would pursue CFEI certification himself to teach more down the road.

6. Which Resources to Choose? Those that Address Audience Needs

Now Dave needed a high-quality curriculum from which to draw his lessons. He needed something engaging, interactive, and with practical applicability to address the vets’ most pressing needs. Dave saw his vision to fruition by choosing a curriculum with just-in-time learning components and action-based lessons that were flexible and customizable.

7. Assessing Key Outcomes also Important when Teaching Financial Literacy

Dave and Alan co-presented the 90-minute workshop on a Saturday, and 12 disabled vets were in attendance. Using pre-test and post-test quizzes, they determined that the vets improved their knowledge about credit and debt by an average of 52%. Dave wrote a brief report summarizing these data, which he believed he could use in marketing materials to attract more vets to participate in future workshops.

8. Recognize and Support Learners for the Long-term

Dave was certainly aware that presenting a single workshop would not be enough. Although the vets had left with plans in place for reducing their debt loads, they would need follow-up support and reinforcement to continue their progress. Dave and Alan handed out participant awards right after the workshop concluded, and then Dave followed up by sending each of them a series of follow-up emails that reminded them to use the online tools and track their progress toward debt payoff.