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What is the most important thing for someone in their 20s or 30s to know about money?

That's a challenging question!

I like to talk to people about the importance of making savings a habit.

Young adults are in a unique position to take advantage of compounding returns on savings, and let that money add up until retirement. We know from research that an effective strategy to build wealth is to start small, save regularly and (when possible) put saving on automatic.

For example, setting up automatic deposits to retirement plans from your paycheck typically leads to higher net worth later in life.

Now is an excellent time to start the habit of saving money. This is America Saves Week, and you can go the Champaign County Saves website at to pledge your savings goal and access resources to help you stay on track. Remember, small amounts will add up if you start now!

The next challenging question about young adults and money is where do they like to receive information about money management? Perhaps they'll read this article either in print or online. Or, family members may pass along information to them. A new online course, "Financial Planning for Young Adults," from the University of Illinois, is an effort to reach young adults where they look for information: online.

"Financial Planning for Young Adults" is a massive open online course that provides an introduction to basic financial-planning concepts. It is open to everyone through Coursera, an education platform that partners with universities worldwide to offer courses free of charge.

The course features videos, interactive discussion forums and activities so participants can apply the personal-finance information to their unique situation.

Within each module, participants view a combination of traditional lecture-style videos, along with video vignettes that introduce financial topics for discussion among the course participants. Each of the videos introduces a real-world scenario where financial decisions must be made and financial planning concepts can be applied.

The course includes eight modules. Topics that are covered include:

— "Setting Financial Goals and Assessing Your Situation"

— "Budgeting and Cash Flow Management"

— "Saving Strategies"

— "The Time Value of Money"

— "Borrowing and Credit"

— "Investing"

— "Risk Management"

— "Financial Planning as a Career"

Anyone can participate, although it is designed for young adults who have not had much experience with personal finances. The course can be taken for free, or, for a $49 fee, participants have full access to every element in the course, including graded assessments and a course certificate with all instructors' signatures. Currently about 50 percent of the participants are from the U.S. and the rest are worldwide. It's fun to see the comments in the forum discussions from young adults worldwide!

For more information about the course, and to register, visit

Another online opportunity is coming up at noon Friday. You can join University of Illinois Extension educators for a free webinar called "Cover Your Assets" about the basics of insurance. This webinar is also targeted to young adults but is open to all.

We need insurance to protect our savings to cover large expenses (for example, medical expenses) as well as to protect our future earnings from costs such as the liability from hurting someone else in a car accident. The webinar will focus on understanding insurance terminology so that informed decisions can be made when purchasing auto, rental and life insurance.

You can join for free from any computer or tablet with internet access. You'll need working speakers or headphones to listen in. Register at and then you'll be sent the information needed to participate.

"Cover Your Assets" is part of the "Grow Your Green Stuff" webinar series from University of Illinois Extension, University of Illinois USFSCO Student Money Management Center and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.

Kathy Sweedler is a consumer economics educator at the University of Illinois Extension. Contact her at 217-333-7672 or email

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