Here's a fantastic post over at Freakonomics. The conclusion is absolutely astonishing. The questions are so simple and so elementary that I can't believe people don't answer them correctly. If people can't answer these simple questions easily, we clearly have something wrong. Part of it is with our school system. I know it's not reading, riting, or rithmatic, but every child should have at least a finance unit in one of their classes, if not a finance course in Jr High/High School that explains the basics: FICO credit score, compound interest, inflation/deflation, basic stock market fundamentals.
I understand if people don't project ahead (for example, at my current projected savings rate, assuming the status quo with my earnings and spend - which is conservative, if you ask me - combined with a reasonable compound interest rate up to the highest realistic compound rate [approximately 2%-10% - again, pretty conservative], I will have millions of dollars for retirement. I am not even in the same hemisphere as that in my 401(k), UVL, and savings accounts at the moment, but that's the magic of compound interest.), but please have a basic understanding. Know that if you have 3 loans: a mortgage at 5%, a car at 6%, and a credit card at 18%, you should pay the credit card off first while maintaining your minimum payments elsewhere. Use the power of the no-interest promotional loan. Pay off everything but your house (your house gives you special tax advantages that make it adventageous to not pay it off immediately). For the love of all that is holy, DO NOT GET AN INTEREST ONLY MORTGAGE and/or A VARIABLE RATE MORTGAGE - unless you're going to pay it off during the promotional period. Those products kill more people than any other. Work to have 20% down on your house. This is difficult in a first home, but after your first home, you should always have 20% to put down to avoid a high rate home equity loan or mortgage insurance. One interesting piece of advice I got was instead of paying off your house with extra income, put that money in an interest bearing account (or bonds would work too) and keep building it up. When you're done, you'll have kept the tax advantages of a mortgage and built up enough to pay it off in one fell swoop. Of course, you can go on forever on all the different tricks and this is just a step, but if we could get that initial step taken by a lot of people, we probably wouldn't be in the current mess we're in.