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Stages of Personal Finance When Teaching Financial Literacy

Close up on student hands counting coins.

At a Glance

Foundational Skills: Begins with teaching the basics like counting money and understanding different types of transactions, including modern methods like digital payments and online banking.

Developing Budgeting Skills: Moves on to setting personal budgets, where students learn to manage their money according to their income and expenses, prioritizing essential needs and planning for discretionary spending.

Long-term Financial Planning: Covers saving for significant purchases and investing for the future, stressing the importance of understanding investment risks and the value of stable, long-term financial strategies.

Welcome back to our Personal Finance Series, where we have been digging into the ways we can impart practical financial skills to Autistic students based on their goals and needs.

In Part 1 we focused on the bigger picture of what financial literacy might look like, while in Part 2 we took a closer look at some money concepts and talked about some ways to broach those subjects in the classroom.

In this post, we focus on the stages of personal finance and how we can consider scaffolding different topics that make up financial literacy.

The great news is that these skills do build on each other and there is a path that tracks from both a practicality and increased complexity standpoint. So let’s take a look at how we might build up from scratch!

Counting Money and Types of Transactions

At its most basic level, financial literacy is about knowing what things cost, how much money we have, and how to get the things we want with our money.

Counting bills and coins and making change can be a great start, but it also is far from the only type of transaction in our modern world! Swiping cards, using chip readers, phone wallets, and online payments are all forms of transaction that can be important to learn, and it can also be important to learn how to check your available money on various banking or cash applications. 

As students learn more about the basics of making transactions on their own, the next step in independent living is determining what they need to pay for based on their income, which is when we move on to setting a budget.

Setting a Budget

Once students master the basics of transactions and knowing whether they have enough money on hand for a particular purchase, the next level of complexity and independence utilizing those skills is setting a personal budget. 

The great part about budgets is that they can be fully situational, and if a particular person has some portion of personal needs covered by a support network they can focus on daily living needs that they do expect to cover with their own money. 

At the outset, the crucial part of budget building is adding together the costs associated with various needs such as groceries, rent, or utilities. It can also involve allocating excess income to various outlets such as entertainment, investment, or saving. There’s all sorts of reasons to try to save money, including our stage.

Meeting Long-Term Financial Goals

Budgets are a great way to feel more of a sense of control over our expenditures, but another reason we might set a budget is to be able to save up money for more expensive medium and long-term purchases. 

A larger purchase like a bike or even a down payment for a car might feel abstract and very far away if we just try to save what we can where we can. 

But if we feel comfortable setting aside a certain amount of savings each month and have a good idea of what our costs will be we can create a more concrete timeline that can be adjusted as needed. Of course, that’s not the only reason why we might save money. 

Investing for the Future

Medium-term saving for larger purchases can be important, but equally important is money set aside for later in life. Unlike savings for purchases, long-term investment is on a timeline where it is worth seeking out a return on investment, and a great way to explore it is to take a closer look at the risk associated with different kinds of investments. 

Depending on how deeply involved the student or students in question wish to go, it may be worthwhile to demonstrate or practice calculating compound interest rates. It is also a great time to talk about the long-term value of stable investments compared to riskier investments that might pay off more short-term but could ultimately lose money. 


Ultimately different students will have different ideas in mind when it comes to financial independence, whether they are fully living on their own or expecting some degree of support in their daily living. 

We hope this post has helped offer a sense of direction a student might go as they learn, and we hope you will join us for Part 4 where we will talk about ways to generalize your personal finance skills.

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