By the time I returned from my post-grad backpacking trip around Europe, almost all of my friends had already secured well-paying jobs in the finance industry.
Directionless, and thinking I might as well put my econ major to use, I decided that maybe I should consider a career in finance.
The problem was that I’d only taken a few finance courses in college. I didn’t really know much about the field.
So I drew up a self-directed study plan to learn the basics of corporate finance and investing via books and online courses.
In the end, I decided not to pursue finance (or maybe it was just that they never hired me and a tech startup did).
Regardless, I still learned a lot, and still like to pick up a finance book every now and then so that I can talk about the industry with my finance friends.
This guide is designed to show you how to systematically teach yourself the fundamentals of finance, specifically corporate finance and banking (not personal finance), all on your own.
Feel free to follow it as is, or to alter it to better fit your interests and needs.
Quick Note: By the way, I also have a guide on how to self-learn economics like an econ major (my major) if you’d like to learn that as well. These two subjects go hand in hand nicely. Consider bookmarking it for later.
1. Read 2-3 Beginner Finance Books to Test Your Curiosity
Start by reading a few popular finance books to see if this is really something you want to study for the long-term.
Here are a couple I liked:
- The Richest Man in Babylon: This famous little book provides you with timeless financial wisdom through several parables.
- Business Adventures: This book contains 10 essays about corporate and financial life in the United States. Bill Gates called it the best book he’s ever read. It’s filled with lessons in how to succeed in the business world.
- Liar’s Poker: Written by the guy who wrote The Big Short, Michael Lewis, this semi-autobiographical book gives you a glimpse of what it was like to work as a bond salesman in the 1980s.
After reading a few books about financial topics, you should have a better idea of how much you like this subject.
You’ll know whether it is interesting enough to warrant deeper and more difficult study, or whether you want to go off and self-study something else.
A Tip for How to Read More Books This Year
Want to read more books this year, across many genres, but can’t find the time?
I love the ability to listen to books at night when my eyes are tired or on my long walks around town when I just can’t sit in a chair any longer.
2. Study an Introduction to Finance Textbook
Next, find a textbook that’ll introduce you to finance and its major subfields and concepts.
Studying a textbook will give you the background knowledge and vocabulary you need to excel in more demanding online courses and books.
This book will teach you concepts like the time value of money, bond and stock valuation, risk and return, capital asset pricing model, and more.
This book should serve as a great foundation for the rest of your studies. Grab it here.
If you’re struggling to decide which business concentration to pursue, but you know that you like business, check out my guide on how to self-learn business. It’ll introduce you to each major concentration. Otherwise, keep reading.
3. Start Reading The Wall Street Journal’s Finance Section
When I used to commute into NYC for work I would always see people in suits reading the The Wall Street Journal.
It’s a business and economics-focused daily newspaper that helps them get the information they need to make better financial predictions and decisions.
Reading it for thirty minutes every day is a great way for you to see how the financial concepts and theories you learn about play out in the real world.
This grounds your understanding of finance in reality. Plus, being informed gives you lots of talking points for dinner parties.
You can either buy a digital/paper subscription, or digital only. Right now they’re offering a special offer for digital that’s $1 per week for a year.
4. Consider Doing The Ultimate Financial Analyst Training Course
I took The Ultimate Financial Analyst Online Course to see if being a financial analyst is something I’d enjoy.
The course does a great job simulating some of the work you’ll do on the job, and teaches you a lot of basic techniques and concepts.
I like how I got to spend a lot of time in excel doing real projects. The teacher was also fun and very knowledgable.
In the course, you’ll learn things like:
- How to manage a portfolio
- How to pick stocks
- How to build financial models
- How an IPO works
- How to use excel for financial analysis
I highly recommend this course for anyone who’s considering trying to work in finance as an analyst, especially in investment banking.
What is a Financial Analyst?
If you didn’t know this already, a financial analyst is the typical starting position for someone going into finance.
On the job, you essentially analyze information and writing up your findings into little reports that help higher-ups make their decisions. It involves a lot of excel and presentations.
There’s more to it than that of course, like schmoozing, but that’s the gist.
5. Take Some Free Online Finance Courses
There are many great university-level finance courses online, and many of them are free and created by top universities.
Below are five finance courses to consider taking:
Introduction to Financial Accounting
Wharton Business School’s Introduction to Financial Accounting teaches you the technical skills necessary to analyze financial statements, such as a business’s income or cash flow statement.
You’ll learn to use these common statements to draw insights about the financial health and needs of the business.
Yale’s Financial Theory course teaches you about the significance and roles of the financial system in the world economy.
Through the course, you’ll also start to think about financial questions like someone working at a hedge fund would. So if that’s a dream job for you, you’ll like this course.
Yale’s Financial Markets course teaches you “ideas, methods, and institutions that permit human society to manage risks and foster enterprise.” (Open Yale Courses)
You’ll learn about real estate, securities, investment banking, insurance, and other rmajor financial-based industries.
Introduction to Risk Management
New York Institute of Finance’s Introduction to Risk Management teaches you about the different methods that firms use to manage their financial risk.
Private Equity and Venture Capital
Bocconi University’s Private Equity and Venture Capital is a great intro to these topics and will be especially fruitful if you want to some day work in the corresponding fields.
You’ll learn about identifying promising companies and funding them through the various stages of their life-cycle.
6. Make Friends With Investopedia
Investopedia is a great online resource for learning about finance and looking up financial terms like “options” or “capital asset pricing model”.
The articles are always in-depth and very helpful for beginners.
The Investopedia Academy also offers courses you can buy:
Go ahead and explore this website to see which resources are available to you during your studies.
You might find yourself returning to investopedia when you want more of an explanation on a topic you’re learning about in one of the courses in step 5.
7. Narrow Down & Follow Your Curiosity
There are so many paths you can take in finance. You can study investment, venture capital, corporate finance, and many other subdisciplines.
When deciding what to learn about next, pay close attention to your curiosity and enthusiasm, and follow them wherever they may lead.
If you’re interested in working in finance, here’s a helpful video on the different careers and what they pay:
Whichever job you choose to pursue will determine which credentials you need to earn and which parts of finance to focus on studying.
If you have a university degree, you can take the CFA exam, which tests your ability to analyze financial and accounting information.
Studying for this is a long project but would result in some serious gains to your understanding of finance and give you a credential that matters in a lot of finance career paths.
Want to Self-Study Any New Subject Effectively?
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There are so many helpful online resources and books to use to learn finance outside of school.
The hard part about autodidactism these days is not finding the materials but staying motivated and holding yourself accountable to learn the material.
If you want some tips on how to teach yourself new subjects successfully, check out my step-by-step guide on how to become an autodidact.
And good luck with your studies.
I hope they change your life in some positive way, whether that’s by helping you land a job or choose a major, or by sharpening your intellect and increasing your curiosity for the world around you.