Skip to content

What Does Financial Literacy Look Like?

Close up of hands holding up a notebook with the words "Financial Literacy" written on it.

At a Glance

Budget Building: Teaching the fundamentals of categorizing expenses and aligning them with personal income to form a sustainable budget.

Goal Setting in Finance: Guidance for students on setting realistic financial goals and planning systematic savings to achieve them.

Understanding and Using Credit: Discussion of responsible credit usage, the impacts of debt, and how to make informed decisions about credit and investments.

Welcome to our Personal Finance Series, where we will be talking about some of the building blocks of good personal financial habits and ways to approach the topic from a teacher or caregiver perspective. 

Like with many components of independent living, personal finance is a topic that does not always get the coverage it deserves when it comes to Autistic students. While personal finance is often taught in school, that does not guarantee that Autistic students will either have access to those courses or any adaptation of that material based on their personal needs.

While we are mostly focusing on a teaching perspective in this series, we have also already created a free Personal Finance Toolkit for Autistic adults who wish to explore the topic on their own.

In part 1 we are focusing on financial literacy and some of the broad topics one might wish to cover to develop it. One point of emphasis we always want to share when discussing financial literacy is to emphasize that sometimes people simply do not have enough money to meet all their needs, and no amount of financial literacy will change that. 

There is a pernicious social narrative around money that suggests people who cannot meet their needs simply need to become more financially responsible, and we will never suggest that is the case. Financial literacy does not necessarily mean having lots of money, it is simply a set of tools for maximizing what you have.

Likewise, knowing about these topics, in theory, is its own step, and incorporating them into practice can be its own process, the same way we might learn how to do a particular chore but need more time to fully incorporate it into our personal routine. 

If you have any personal finance experiences or suggestions you want to share, we’d love to hear from you at . In the meantime let’s dive in!

Building a Budget

One of the most basic building blocks of financial literacy is being able to assign a cost to all of your day to day wants and needs and fitting them within your personal income. It is a process that might simultaneously seem relatively straightforward and daunting, and in many ways both are true! 

There are usually come basic components of personal expenditure such as food, living space, and daily living needs to be accounted for, but the amount we actually spend on various items when we aren’t thinking about it can add up quickly, and facing that reality can be a little scary, even if it feels good to have a better handle on things by the end of the process. 

The great reward of building a good budget, especially if your finances are not as flexible as you would like, is that it takes a lot of the guesswork out of buying decisions and can limit the anxiety you might feel about whether you can afford a particular budget. Once a student learns the basics of financial transactions, budgeting is a great next step to focus on.

Setting and Working Toward a Financial Goal

While inevitably setting and working toward a financial goal eventually gets built into a personal budget, actually determining the goal and figuring out what you need to get there in a timeframe that is acceptable to you is a different story entirely. 

Most people need to save up for big purchases, or even for the down payment for a big purchase, and if you just try to save a little where you can it can be all too easy to feel stuck and like you’ll never get there. This is understandable because the path forward isn’t exactly clear! 

Students who have mastered the basics of budgeting can benefit from thinking about some big-ticket items they’d want, putting a price tag on them, and doing the math of setting aside a certain amount of money each month to see how long it would take them to save enough to reach their goal. 

Good goal setting is not a replacement for having lots of money, but having more of a sense of certainty of where your plan is taking you can make it that much easier to stick to it!

Obtaining and Using Credit

For Autistic students seeking out an independent living situation in adulthood, it may or may not be a helpful tool to obtain a line of credit depending on whether they would be responsible for managing sudden financial emergencies. But any student seeking out future financial independence should still learn the basics of how credit works, and why engaging in certain behaviors with credit is seen as a bad long-term financial decision. After all, relying on credit for day to day living expenses might not feel like a big deal until you hit your limit and suddenly you have an additional monthly expense on top of all the day-to-day expenses you can no longer afford! 

A lesson on why we use credit cards in some ways and advice against using them in other ways can make a big difference in encouraging good credit decisions! Some students may also benefit from going into the specifics of interest rates and perks and rewards that might factor into their decision-making when choosing a line of credit.


Investing for our future is broadly considered to be a good thing, but in a world where there are a huge number of high-risk investment options out there always trying to lure in new money, it can be incredibly helpful to explain some of the basics so that when Autistic students enter into adulthood they have a sense of what kinds of risks they are taking with various investment options. 

There are workplace investments, which can sometimes feel like a tough sell when a big chunk of a paycheck is already going to taxes but are also a safe stable way to build up retirement money. 

There are also lots of investment firms or options that emphasize a low-risk investment with a stable rate of return. There are also investment outlets that have rightfully earned a reputation for being hugely risky and leading to big losses for the majority of investors such as cryptocurrency or NFTs. 

An interesting middle ground is the stock market, which can often be a stable investment with the right company over a long enough period of time, but also offers lots of tools for hugely speculative investments that can implode in a short period of time. Worse, many tools that allow the average person to invest in the stock market have tools for leveraging their cash into a bigger investment on credit, which can leave people in a huge financial hole after a couple of bad mistakes. 

It can be tough when the general idea of investing is seen as a positive but there are so many predatory practices out there that are indistinguishable from gambling! Introducing your students to the basics of investments, the generally safe options that are out there, and why it’s so important to be skeptical when you hear about an opportunity that seems too good to be true is an important step for guiding students who are just learning toward decisions that will be most beneficial in the long run.


We hope that covering some of the basic concepts that make up financial literacy has inspired some thought on how to embed them into a broader life skills curriculum, and we will be back next week to talk a little bit more about how to teach money concepts in part 2. 

In the meantime, if you’d like to see us cover a particular component of this topic more in-depth or if there’s something else you’d like to see us cover in this blog then we’d love to hear from you! Just drop us a line at and we will be back next week as always!

Green squiggly line to mark the end of the blog post
Previous article Teaching Money Concepts
Next article Prioritizing Social Experiences Over Rigid Training

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields