NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- If you learned anything about personal finance, chances are that you have learned it on your own.
It's not really being taught in schools; last year, only seven states required a personal finance class as a requirement for high school graduation, according to the National Council on Economic Education.
It's not being taught by parents, if the amount of debt they are carrying is any indication. (Don't miss: "
Pay Down Your Consumer Debt
That means that there are a lot of people out there who need to take the time to learn the basics of personal finance.
The basics are not difficult. You can learn them easily by reading one of the many personal finance books that are out there. Simply head down to your local library, check out one or two of the books available (such as
Smart and Simple Finances for Busy People
by Jane Bryant Quinn,
The Total Money Makeover
by Dave Ramsey or
The Wealthy Barber
by David Chilton), and spend a few days reading them to help lay a foundation of personal financial knowledge.
Unfortunately, many people never take this step, because they believe personal finance is going to be too difficult to learn. (Don't miss "
Six Awful Truths of Personal Finance
.") If you happen to be one of those people, here is a quick and easy "lazy person's guide to personal finance."
Version 1: Spend less than you make.
Version 2: Make more than you spend.
Advanced version: Have all your bills automatically paid (including irregular bills such as real estate taxes and insurance premiums) and all long-term savings (such as an emergency fund, college fund and retirement) automatically deducted when your paycheck is deposited. Whatever is left over is what you may spend, and if you don't have enough money for something, you simply can't afford it.
If you can't pay off a credit card balance each and every month, then don't get a credit card.
If you can and will pay off the balance each and every month, then get a card that pays you a reward for using it but doesn't have an annual fee.
Pay all your bills and pay them on time.
Invest in low-cost index funds.
Contribute to your company's 401(k) plan up to the company's match. Then max-out a Roth IRA.
Buy the smallest-class car that fits your needs that is two to three years old and is among the top three with the least lifetime costs for its class.
I can't in good conscience tell you that the above is all you need to know, but those are the basics. In reality, personal finances get a bit more complicated than that, since they need to be tailored to each person's specific circumstances. That is why you should really take the time to read one of the many quality personal finance books out there.
That being said, if you
want to spend time learning the details of how to refine your personal finance needs, you'll do a lot better following these lazy-person rules than doing nothing at all.