By the latest estimates, there are approximately 80 million millennials in the United States today. You may call them “Gen Y” or some other name, but they are the 18-32 year olds that are typically college-educated, technology-oriented and entering (or trying to enter) corporate life. They are socially astute media hounds who are tweeting away hourly with their cohorts. They have many advantages that I never did as I started out as a new member of the workforce. But I do have some advice for those millennials who are reading along.
The truth is that if you are a member of Generation Y, you probably don’t know where your money goes. You likely haven’t thought about your financial future and have no idea of the importance of budgeting or retirement planning. At your age, it’s easy to feel immortal and problems seem to be easily overcome with youthful enthusiasm and an optimistic outlook. Try buying a home or car, paying off your student loans or credit cards with just a smile and a positive attitude…I don’t think so!
Unfortunately, basic financial skills just aren’t taught in most classrooms and it really becomes a “learn as you go” process for most young people. Since I’m old enough to be a millennial’s father, (sigh) even their grandfather, I thought about some of the issues and remedies that the “next generation” will want to think about right now to save themselves future hardships down the road. So here is my financial help for millennials, who are at the perfect age to start off on the right foot or make corrections before they find themselves in a bad situation.
Have you thought about your short-term and long-term future?
Thinking forward about things is called planning, and making a plan is the first step to success. Of course, planning and not tweaking or revising it isn’t worth a heck of a lot. It does require periodic inspection and updating. Every successful individual or business has a plan and specific actions to support success. You need to ask yourself tough questions and think of the path you’re going to take. This encompasses your career, plans for a family, goals like owning a home or travelling the world, and eventually, retirement. Make sure you figure out what’s important to you and how you’re going to accomplish it.
Do you know where your money is going and where it should go?
I need a budget. You need a budget. Almost everyone needs a budget. This will help you with separating your needs from your wants and control wasteful spending habits. It starts with tracking your income and expenses. Just knowing and seeing how you spend your money is a basic life lesson that you’ll need forever. Start now when it’s more likely to be simpler and easier to define and control. Write it down or better yet use an app, website, or software program to see it all.
Have you started a retirement account yet?
Yes, you’re 20-something-ish and retirement is probably 40-50 years away. But guess what? Those years are a gift that you don’t want to squander. By starting now and putting away even a small amount, you have the power of compounding interest with time on your side. I’ll admit it, I didn’t think about making a retirement plan as early as I should have, and I regret it now. You can avoid that regret by picturing the retired you of the future and making sure they have the resources they need. If you work, ask about a 401k plan and enroll as soon as possible. Many employers will match a percentage (like 1%, 2%, 3% or more of the money you contribute each paycheck…another gift!). No other financial investment you will ever make will pay that kind of money.
Also, think about Roth IRA accounts as an option. Besides saving for retirement, you may be able to use this as your back-up emergency fund since there is no tax implication for withdrawing your money early (however there may be penalties depending on when and why you withdraw).
Speaking of emergency funds, is yours healthy?
An emergency fund is a critical tool for keeping you out of trouble. By having a few months of expenses saved up, you are protected when the unexpected happens, like job loss, illness, major car repairs, and the like. A healthy emergency fund will cover 3 to 6 months worth of expenses and remain readily accessible. This prevents you from falling into credit card debt when emergencies crop up. And believe me, they will occur.
Do you carry a credit card balance?
It’s simple. Credit cards are sometimes very necessary, but they are a curse as well. Don’t run up bills and then be forced to make the minimum payments with huge interest rates so that the balances last for years. It makes no sense to waste money that way for something that’s a simple want like an evening out at a club with drinks or basketball tickets that you can’t afford to pay for without installment payments. Make sure you compare interest rates on any card you have and that it’s reasonable if you are in debt. Some cards charges as much as 30% or more while others may be as low as 8%. Students can sometimes qualify for even lower rates. If you already have a balance that you’re dragging along, squeeze some money out of your budget and pay it off as quickly as you can.
Do you have any assets?
Start saving in some way to build your assets. It may be investments like mutual funds or company stock plans or even a simple savings account depending on your budget. Or if you’re ready for the commitment, try real estate. With a shaky job market and expensive costs of living on your own, having assets and saving is a necessity, not an option.
Can you reduce your tax bill?
One of the less-exciting parts of entering the working world is getting to pay taxes. Learn as much as you can about the Federal, State and even local tax laws where you live and work. There are numerous ways to save on your taxes and many credits are available for lower income earners as well as credits for students. You can read about them online and get information from the IRS as well as your school and local officials. When you need help, don’t be afraid to find out where it is. These funds are meant for those who need it. Is that you?
This is a very short list that is meant to get you to start thinking about your life, your goals, and your path to success. Time is very much on your side, but I can tell you that when you reach my age, you start to wonder why you didn’t see things as clearly as you do with hindsight. By the way, there’s not a thing wrong with asking someone older and more experienced like a friend or relative or even Mom and Dad for some “real life” advice. I know I have lots, and some of it is even good!
If you’re a millennial, what are the tough questions you’re asking yourself to get on the right track for success? If you’re a bit older, what’s the most important lesson you learned in your twenties?
Image courtesy of stockimages at freedigitalphotos.net (with changes)