Long­ing for fi­nan­cial free­dom? Start read­ing.

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - Michelle Singletary

In 1966, Mar­garet McNa­mara took a bag of used books to four boys she was tu­tor­ing in read­ing in Washington. She al­lowed each child to keep one, and they were de­lighted.

Her giv­ing soon de­vel­oped into a pro­gram that would bring books to mil­lions of chil­dren na­tion­wide: Read­ing Is Fun­da­men­tal.

Since I started writ­ing a col­umn, I’ve tried to do some­thing sim­i­lar, ex­cept my mis­sion is to get peo­ple to read more about per­sonal fi­nance. I started the monthly Color of Money Book Club to spotlight in­ter­est­ing books that can help you be­come bet­ter money man­agers.

I be­lieve that read­ing is fun­da­men­tal to fi­nan­cial free­dom. And by that, I don’t mean show­ing you how to get more money to buy more stuff. Fi­nan­cial free­dom comes down to what my grand­mother Big Mama would say: “It’s not how much you make that mat­ters. It’s how you make do with what you have.”

I un­der­stand that some of you don’t make enough and are strug­gling to make ends meet. Many of you are in the mid­dle, mak­ing enough to save, in­vest, take va­ca­tions or even splurge ev­ery once in a while. Or you might earn so much that you have lav­ish lifestyles with few, if any, fi­nan­cial con­cerns.

No mat­ter where you fall fi­nan­cially, you have to keep up your knowl­edge of money mat­ters. You also have to con­tend with peo­ple who are con­stantly fig­ur­ing out new ways to sep­a­rate you from your hard-earned money.

This month, for the Color of Money Book Club, I’m not se­lect­ing a book but rec­om­mend­ing that for the rest of July you carve out time to read some free per­son­al­fi­nance re­sources online.

So you’ve got a sum­mer as­sign­ment. Check out the re­sources on the fol­low­ing three top­ics, and then I want to hear from you. Tell me how the in­for­ma­tion helped (or didn’t). You can e-mail me at

col­o­rof­money@wash­post.com.

Or send a tweet to

@Sin­gle­taryM. Rais­ing money-smart kids: Par­ents and guardians are al­ways ask­ing me how to teach their kids about money. Right now, there are thou­sands of young adults pre­par­ing to head off to col­lege. Help equip them with some knowl­edge that will save them some fi­nan­cial heartache.

Check out the “Money Smart” guides and cur­ricu­lums re­cently cre­ated by the Fed­eral De­posit In­sur­ance Corp. in part­ner­ship with the Con­sumer Fi­nan­cial Pro­tec­tion Bureau.

The guides and cur­ricu­lum, avail­able in English and Span­ish, are cre­ated for four school-grade ranges — pre-K through sec­ond grade, third through fifth, sixth through eighth and ninth through 12th. The last one is also tar­geted to young adults ages 18 to 20.

The guides are pre­pared for par­ents and guardians, and the cur­ricu­lums are more tar­geted to teach­ers. Par­ents and guardians can find a quick link to the guides, which in­clude money ac­tiv­i­ties, at www.con­sumer­fi­nance.gov/par­ents. Ed­u­ca­tors can down­load cur­ricu­lums for the class­room or a work­shop at

www.fdic.gov/moneys­mart (there are links to the guides here as well). There are class­room-ready pre­sen­ta­tion ma­te­ri­als, in­clud­ing Pow­er­Point slides, for the ap­pro­pri­ate age or grade.

In the cur­ricu­lum for grades 3 to 5, one sug­gested ac­tiv­ity is to play “I Spy.” To your child, you might say, “I spy some­thing square.” (It’s the TV.) Af­ter the cor­rect item is guessed, you’re in­structed to talk about whether it is a need or a want and ex­plain why. I love this idea.

There is so much in­for­ma­tion in the guides, in­clud­ing words the chil­dren and teens need to know (some of which you might not even

know). You’ll find rec­om­mended con­ver­sa­tion starters about money.

Cy­ber­se­cu­rity: We keep so much of our per­sonal busi­ness on our smart­phones and com­put­ers. But are you do­ing all you can to pro­tect that in­for­ma­tion?

OnGuardOn­line.gov is a site where you’ll find in­for­ma­tion about se­cur­ing your de­vices, avoid­ing scams and shop­ping smart. It’s man­aged by the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion in part­ner­ship with sev­eral other fed­eral agen­cies.

To sup­ple­ment the read­ing ma­te­rial, there are some games that you and your chil­dren might like. I rec­om­mend these two: “The Case of the Cy­ber Crim­i­nal” and “ID Theft Face­off.”

In­vestor pro­tec­tion: So many peo­ple think that in­vest­ment fraud can’t hap­pen to them. But it can.

The U.S. Com­mod­ity Fu­tures Trad­ing Com­mis­sion has cre­ated “SmartCheck,” a cam­paign to help in­vestors help them­selves. At

SmartCheck.cftc.gov, you’ll find links to check the cre­den­tials of cer­tain in­vest­ment pro­fes­sion­als.

Start first with the “Re­sources” sec­tion. There are a se­ries of videos you should watch that il­lus­trate pitches you might hear on TV or at a party or cook­out.

If you truly want fi­nan­cial free­dom, be­come in­formed. And read.

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