Now is a great time to learn the basic principles of finance, no matter your industry or background. The National Endowment for Financial Education recently found that 76 percent of Americans made financial-related goals for 2020, and with the COVID-19 crisis upending plans, 88 percent report feeling financially stressed.

If you fall into one or both of these groups, learning about finance can help you alleviate anxiety around financial unknowns and work toward your personal and professional goals.

If you don’t have a finance background, bolstering your financial literacy can be a way to make informed business decisions and effectively lead your team at work. It can also be a way to position yourself as a well-rounded employee or job candidate.

Here are six steps to keep in mind as you pursue your financial education.


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6 Steps to Learn Finance Without a Finance Background

1. Establish Your “Why”

Consider the tangible ways financial literacy can help you. Ask yourself, “What will learning about finance help me gain in my personal life and career?”

Perhaps it can enable you to be a stronger job candidate, get promoted at work, or contribute to financial discussions that impact your team. It can also equip you to understand the relationship between current events and your personal finances.

To help find your "why," watch the video below featuring Harvard Business School Professor V.G. Narayanan, who teaches the online course Financial Accounting and explains the benefits of studying finance even if you aren't in a finance role:

View Video


Whatever your reason for building your financial literacy, write it down and reference it throughout your learning process. Use it as a motivator when you need encouragement.

2. Determine Which Learning Method Is Best for You

There are multiple ways you can learn about finance, including online courses, in-person classes, reading financial publications, self-teaching from finance books, and joining a network of financial professionals. Choosing the method that’s right for you involves weighing multiple factors, such as your:

  • Learning style: Everyone learns differently. You may be a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner. Studies show that when multiple senses are engaged in the learning process, you’re more likely to remember the information. Finding a course that allows you to hear the information, see it presented visually, and engage in interactive exercises can allow you to incorporate all three learning styles.
  • Budget: Everyone’s budgets for personal and professional growth look different. Your budget might restrict you to free resources, or maybe it allows for a paid course. If you’re considering one of these options, check to see if your company provides tuition assistance. Remember that learning about finance is an investment in yourself and your career.
  • Schedule: Whether you have a nine-to-five job, work overnight shifts, have children in school or childcare, or other obligations, the key is to choose a learning method that fits your schedule. If your learning interferes with other aspects of life, you may be less likely to see it through and reach your goals.
  • Transportation options: Transportation options should be taken into account, as well, especially if you’re considering an in-person finance class. For this reason, many people find it useful to take an online course—meaning you can learn the material anywhere at any time.

Whatever learning method you choose, make sure it’s the right fit for you.

Related: Should You Take an Online Class? 9 Things to Consider

3. Dedicate Time to Your Learning

Once you’ve chosen a method that works for you, set aside a specific time each day or week to learn about finance. Scheduling this time can help make learning new skills part of your routine. Every time you sit down to complete your coursework, finish your reading, or engage in financial conversations, you can feel proud knowing that you’re consciously dedicating time to your growth.

4. Make Connections to Real-World Situations

To root your understanding of financial principles in reality, strive to connect the material back to real-world examples whenever possible. Whether these are instances from your own life or case studies of other businesses, real-world examples can make nebulous concepts more tangible and meaningful to your goals.

5. Interact With Other Financial Professionals

As you set out to learn finance, you may feel alone in your endeavor, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Interacting with people who have similar goals and backgrounds can stimulate interesting conversations, open your eyes to new perspectives, and offer support in the form of community.

For example, Paul Accornero, an international commercial director, took the online course Leading with Finance and found a community of fellow learners.

“I enjoyed the fact that the course platform lets you interact with fellow students to share and learn from each other,” Accornero says.

Whether you take a course with a community feature built in, or you need to track down contacts online, finding a network of other financial professionals can be invaluable.

6. Keep Asking Questions

After you’ve completed your studies, the key is to never stop learning. Use your newfound knowledge as a springboard to pose questions you wouldn’t have previously been able to ask. Finance is a deep, far-reaching subject, and there will always be more to learn.

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Invest in Your Growth

With these steps in mind, all that’s left to do is take the leap. Putting time into your personal and professional growth is truly a worthwhile investment. Financial literacy can allow you to land a new job, lead your team, and position yourself to feel well-informed and empowered, regardless of your background.

Are you interested in learning about how broadening your understanding of finance can advance your career? Explore our six-week online course Leading with Finance or other finance and accounting courses, and discover how you can gain the skills and confidence to understand the financial landscape of your business and industry.

Catherine Cote

About the Author

Catherine Cote is a marketing coordinator at Harvard Business School Online. Prior to joining HBS Online, she worked at an early-stage SaaS startup where she found her passion for writing content, and at a digital consulting agency, where she specialized in SEO. Catherine holds a B.A. from Holy Cross, where she studied psychology, education, and Mandarin Chinese. When not at work, you can find her hiking, performing or watching theatre, or hunting for the best burger in Boston.