Financial Literacy

Understanding your money, where it comes from, what you spend it on, and how to make it grow, is a lifelong learning process. The financial literacy skills you cultivate now—saving, budgeting, and even investing—will set a foundation for excellent money management in your future. For example, if you can invest $50 a month, starting at age 20, toward retirement, you’ll boost your retirement funds by nearly $80,000 over time. But maybe that’s not what you’re thinking about right now. Perhaps the question is how to afford a particular textbook or whether there’s cash at the end of the week to go to the movies. Knowing what you know and don’t know about money is the first step. Take this quiz to find out.


Learn More about Your Finances

Budgeting is a necessary skill for navigating life both during and after your time at Grinnell. Creating a budget and implementing skills now will set you up for success as you make the transition from Grinnell to your first destination and beyond. You might even save a little money. 

To get started with the basics, check out this video from Khan Academy. It provides helpful information and reachable steps for students. If you like it, try the whole personal finance video from Khan Academy, check out their other resources, or try courses from LinkedIn Learning. With money matters, it’s especially important to find resources that present information in a way that makes sense to you.

Ready to implement budgeting into your life? Do you prefer paper or pixels? The budget sheet can be downloaded from the button below. And, of course, there’s an app!

Action Steps:

  • Step 1: Create or print a budgeting sheet to track your incoming income, purchases, and savings. 
  • Step 2: Record everything you earn and spend for a month or two. Keeping a clear record will demonstrate to you where your money comes from and where it goes. 
  • Step 3: Once you have a clear picture of money coming in and going out, set priorities. Revisit one of the budgeting courses for tips and tricks.
  • Step 4: More of a tip then a step: give yourself time and be patient. Creating and implementing a budget takes time and practice. It can be a challenging skill to develop. Everyone learns differently, so start with the basic steps and build from there. By starting early, you’re already one step ahead!

Remember, your expenses will vary based on whether you’re on campus or elsewhere. This budget forecasting tool can help, especially if you’ll be living and working off-campus for a summer or a semester.

Pay Yourself First

Creating good savings habits early in your earning career will manifest healthy bank balances, wise investment strategies, and a comfortable “emergency fund” or cushion as your salary increases. Financial experts suggest that students save 10–20 percent of their income if circumstances allow.

It may not seem like much, but if you work five hours a week at the College’s current rate of $13 per hour, you’re earning around $130 a paycheck. Put $25 per paycheck into savings, and you’re banking $200 a semester. Over breaks, when you’re likely to earn substantially more, you will see your savings grow even faster if you continue to pay yourself 10–20 percent first.

Where do you bank?

Know the differences among banks, credit unions, and online financial institutions and make certain that the places you keep your money fits your needs.

  • Banks typically offer more branches regionally or nationally and generally roll out new tech options quickly. Interest rates on savings accounts may be lower while rates for loans may be higher. Watch for fees associated with your accounts.
  • Credit unions are generally more local, and as nonprofit institutions have membership requirements. Interest rates on savings accounts tend to be higher and banking fees along with interest rates on loans are lower.
  • Online banks and financial institutions may offer high-yield savings accounts in part because they don’t have the overhead costs of brick-and-mortar buildings for their patrons. If you choose to go this route, be certain to understand what restrictions, like monthly withdrawal limits, go with the accounts.


Building wealth over time often involves making thoughtful decisions about investing. For college students, it’s vital to understand your goals, your tolerance level for investing, and what you can afford. Learn all you can and work with a fiduciary (a trustworthy financial guide not selling you anything) to sort through the options that include putting your funds in CDs, opening an IRA, or investing directly in the stock market. Explore this Roth IRA Calculator to see how your money can grow over time. That should be enough to convince you that investing is worth exploring.

Taxes are a part of life.

Don’t know anything? Start here! This will give you the basic forms and requirements needed in order to file taxes. 

Action Steps:

  • Step 1: Check to see if your paycheck has taxes withheld. While you may not have to file taxes (if you’re a dependent earning less than $12,000/year), the government may owe you money if taxes are withheld in your paycheck. 
  • Step 2: Make sure you have all your documents ready and in one safe place. For most students, this is the W-2 form. 
  • Step 3: Talk to someone who has done it before. Whether it’s your parents, a coach, or an advisor—a good way to learn is to hear someone else’s experiences. They’ll be glad to share their knowledge! 

Want to dig deeper into how taxes function? This “Crash Course: Economics” video explains the tax system and the obligation of students. 

Want to hear straight from the source? Visit the IRS website to find all the necessary information about how to file, where to file, and payment methods. 

Are you an international student? Use this website to learn about the forms necessary and resources available to you when you need to file. 

Need more help? The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program works with individuals to help them complete the tax-filing process. 

Learn about Insurance

Like taxes, insurance is a part of everyday life. But just what is insurance and who needs it? And when? Check out What Is Insurance?

Khan Academy is extremely helpful in learning about the way insurance interacts with investments. To learn more, check out this link

Want a step-by-step guide to health insurance? This link will provide you with the different types of health insurance and how your situation relates to each one. The guide was last updated in 2010, but the general advice and processes remain the same. You can also learn directly from Grinnell students. The founders of GHAMP (Grinnell Health Advocacy and Mentorship Program) share this guide that walks you through all the ins and outs of health insurance.

Worried about off-campus living? Use this guide to learn more about renter’s insurance and how it pertains to your life. 

Have a car off- or on-campus? This guide will help you navigate car insurance, discuss what states require it, and highlight best practices for attaining car insurance. 

College students are among the most targeted groups for scams and identity theft. Brush up on best practices to keep your online accounts secure and your identification numbers private.

Password Best Practices

  • Never reveal your passwords to others.
  • Use different passwords for different accounts.
  • Use multi-factor authentication (MFA).
  • Length trumps complexity.
  • Make passwords that are hard to guess but easy to remember.
  • Complexity still counts.
  • Use a password manager.

Bank Accounts and Credit Cards

  • Check balances frequently.
  • Be creative with your security questions.
  • Establish several ways of contacting your bank, including knowing how to talk to a real person should the need arise.
  • Be cautious about logging in to financial accounts on public devices or via public wifi.
  • Keep your electronic devices up-to-date.
  • Install malware detection and ad blockers.
  • If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Never give your bank account number or credit card number to anyone soliciting the information from you.

The Grandparent Scam and Why You Need a Family Password

Your grandparent or another relative gets a call from someone pretending to be you. The caller claims you’re in a foreign country and have been arrested. The caller then makes a demand that your relative must wire money immediately to get “you” out of the situation and back to Grinnell. If your immediate family has an agreed upon password, the relative receiving the request can ask the person pretending to be you, by name, “What’s the family password?” Make sure the password is easy to remember but unique and unusual. It should not be easily gleaned from other personal information about you.

Loans are helpful for affording an education, a home, or a car. They make seemingly out-of-reach goals attainable. However, loans come with interest that adds up quickly. It’s important to understand the overall cost of repaying the loan plus all of the interest. Use these resources and action steps to begin navigating the world of loans and interest. 

Action Steps:

  • Step 1: Be aware of loans you have taken out. Create a document that allows you to track your loans and the interest on them. Microsoft Excel is a great place to put these numbers, and lets you see how much interest is collected over time. 
  • Step 2: Look for loans with a low Annual Percentage Rate (APR). (A lower APR will translate to a lower repayment balance over time.)
  • Step 3: Make sure to pay your bills on time. Not paying the monthly allotment due on loans will incur expensive late fees and harm your credit rating. 

Want concrete numbers? Use this calculator to find out how to navigate savings, credit cards, and loans. Want advice about loans? Check out this website for advice and even more resources. 

What’s the difference between a credit card, a line of credit, and a debit card? It is incredibly convenient to pay for everything with plastic, or a tap of your phone, but be sure you’re paying attention. Knowing what money you’re spending for which items (see budgeting above) is essential and the beginning of learning to manage your credit card spending. An understanding of credit cards, how to access your credit score, and building a plan to pay off your debt are the most significant skills needed to achieve a balanced, low-stress relationship with your money. The resources below can help you navigate credit scores, borrow on credit wisely, and make smart spending decisions.

Action Steps:

  • Step 1: Build foundational knowledge. A lot of this knowledge can feel very overwhelming if you’re trying to learn and implement these strategies at one time. Right now, do some research by using the links above or a quick google search in order to help yourself learn what will be useful. 
  • Step 2: Talk to someone! There is no need to go through this process alone or fearfully. Thousands of Grinnell students have had to go through the same exact process. Reach out to a professor, mentor, or advisor on campus to talk through your frustration, hear stories, or to get advice.
  • Step 3: Consider a side hustle. Earning a little extra cash now can be useful in the long run. Companies like Lyft, Postmates, TaskRabbit,, and others will allow you to supplement your income or may be the first step to paying off debt. 

Want a whole lesson plan? Use this link to find a more thorough introduction and resources, so you can be well-equipped to deal with credit and debt. 

Want examples of how credit and debt can manifest? The Consumer Education Services, Inc. supplies resources for people deep in debt and educational materials to avoid falling into debt. Their tips range from buying a new car to financial goal setting

As a student, paying for college is likely your primary financial consideration. Here are some resources put together by the Grinnell Financial Aid Department. To make an appointment, visit Contact the Financial Aid Team.


Saving Money while Having Fun

Sometime living on a budget means cutting back on entertainment expenses. Budget templates generally include some funds devoted to wants (as opposed to needs or savings). Entertainment falls into that category. To stretch your entertainment dollar, here are just a …

By Robin Bourjaily
Robin Bourjaily Assistant Director, Exploratory Career Community
Read more

Quiz: What’s Your Perfect Side Hustle? 6 Ways To Work Flexibly

No matter what you study or what your ambitions are, you don’t have to wait to start making a little extra money. That’s what having a side hustle is all about. Whether it’s tutoring, cleaning, dog-walking, or even elder care, …

Read more

Gap Years & Student Loans: What Every Student Should Know About Financial Aid

When taking a gap year, there are important steps every student should take if they anticipate needing financial aid for dental school and dental hygiene programs or any other professional degree program following their gap year. Paul Garrard, MBA, breaks …

By Mary Jane Shroyer
Mary Jane Shroyer Director, Health Professions Career Community
Read more


Financial Tools for Students

These tools, designed with Health Professionals students in mind, offer useful financial nuggets for all students. From managing debt to …

Free for All Students: Financial Wellness Program

The Financial Wellness Program is a free, online, financial education resource offering information on a variety of personal finance topics. …

Build Skills

LinkedIn Learning courses are available to all current students.  For Alumni Access please visit LinkedIn Learning to start an account.

Financial Wellness: Managing Personal Cash Flow

Taught by Amanda Clayman
Even if you’re normally levelheaded, “your brain on money” is different, and it can keep you financially stuck. In this…

Personal Finance Tips and Tricks

Taught by Amanda Clayman
No matter where you are in your financial life, personal finance experts Jane Barratt and Amanda Clayman can help you…

Build Your Financial Literacy

Taught by Madecraft
If you’ve ever felt confused by financial decisions you needed to make, or financial documents that you needed to read,…

The Dumb Things Smart People Do with Their Money

Taught by Jill Schlesinger
What’s the best way to invest your money? Should you hire a professional to manage it? How often should you…

Budgeting in Real Life

Taught by Madecraft
Most budgets fail. But it’s not because the people who made them failed—it’s because they were set up to fail.…

Managing Your Personal Finances

Taught by Jane Barratt
For many of us who are not financial professionals, worrying about money and saving for the future can be a…

Financial Literacy: 401(k), 403(b), and Self-Directed IRA

Taught by Winnie Sun
You don’t need to be a certified financial planner to start saving for your future today. If you’re looking to…

Personal Finance Concepts for Everyday Decision-Making

Taught by Jasper Smith
Looking to get a hold of your personal finances, but not sure where to start? Financial planning is just like…

Contact Us

(641) 269-4940

John Chrystal Center
1103 Park Street
Grinnell, IA 50112


Monday 8:00am–5:00pm
Tuesday 8:00am–5:00pm
Wednesday 8:00am–5:00pm
Thursday 8:00am–5:00pm
Friday 8:00am–5:00pm
Alumni Connections  |  News  |  Events  |   Experiences  |   Jobs  |   Resources  |   Videos