Invest in You: Ready. Set. Grow.

Here's why you need to up your financial literacy: It's costing you money

Carlina Teteris

When it comes to money, you can't make wild stabs and think everything will be OK. Maybe it will be. Maybe it won't.

Less-than-great news for Gen Z: They have the lowest financial literacy of any demographic, according to a survey from TIAA fielded in January.  

In the annual P-FIN Index of financial literacy, the overall population of American adults on average correctly answered 52% of questions. Gen Z got just 41% of its answers right.

Given an unpredictable stock market and an economy starting to reopen, it's more important than ever to know all you can about your money. 

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There are two problems with staying in the dark, says Ric Edelman, founder of Edelman Financial Engines.  Not only are you not managing things that well, but you might also be missing out.

For instance: You got a new job, and your employer asked if you wanted to participate in the 401(k) savings plan. You turned it down because you think you're too young to have to worry about retirement. Or you tell yourself you'll get to it later.

The good news is that your early 20s are the perfect time to learn things you can use for the rest of your life.

For instance, Edelman says a common problem is failing to recognize the true costs of buying something. Here's how to make a truly informed choice. 

Car talk 

Milan Markovic

People usually ask about the monthly cost of a new car. Wrong question. Don't just think about the sticker price or the monthly payment when you scout how much you can afford each month.

Based on the financing, the dealer says it will be $300, and people can see that fitting into their budget, Edelman says. But they are not adding in how much it will cost to buy fuel based on that vehicle's miles-per-gallon ratio. Other items to consider: tolls, parking, insurance, general maintenance, garage fees. Don't forget that some vehicles cost much more to insure than others.

Without looking at the total cost picture, you could take on an expense that seems affordable at first, but really isn't when you add up the other fees.

College costs

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Here's how to better anticipate the real cost of college, says Edelman.

You'll pay more than just tuition, room and board to get that degree. There are fees for various classes and activities. Textbooks are another significant expense.

But the No. 1 cost parents don't consider is inflation. Costs are growing on average about 8% a year, says Edelman. It may not be just four years.

"The average student takes six years to get a degree," Edelman said. "And the cost of that sixth year is going be twice as expensive as their freshman year."

If the cost of a year of college is $30,000, many parents multiply that amount by four — but that simply may not hold true for your specific case.

Changing your major or transferring to another school can mean that prior courses aren't accepted, and you'll need to take more than the standard 120 credits.