If you feel like you're very behind when it comes to money, you are not alone. Millennials are busy dealing with lower and stagnating incomes, higher debt, lower net worth, lower rates of homeownership, underemployment, duration of financial position, and more.
In part because we came of age during the Great Recession.
But no worries, all is not lost.
A great place to start and fight against some of those hurdles is through our 15-point checklist to help you get money smart. It’s great to build on these habits now when you’re young as you’re laying the foundation for a sound, strong financial foundation in the future.
Let’s get started!
1. Go Through Your Money
The most important thing everyone needs to do if you have not touched your money is go through all of your bank and card statements and just analyze every purchase. Gain an understanding of your money on an intimate level. You should know what's coming in and what's going out.
This will allow you to get a bird's-eye view of your net worth, which is basically your assets and your debts and the review of your accounts, which will allow you to really see the daily flow of your money.
This will give you some context as to how you've gotten to that current net worth just looking at your money situation in the face and getting to know it intimately.
This is a crucial first step.
2. Create a Budget
Use that analysis of your starting budget to create a current budget. This does not mean it is where you want to be, it is understanding where you are. You should know roughly what percentage of all of your income is going to what, particularly if you've never given yourself a budget before.
Coming to the understanding that you do have a budget whether or not you realize that you just maybe haven't had control over it is very important. Even if you only have $10 you should know where most of that money is going.
3. Have Different Goals
It’s ok to have different goals. Not all of them are going to be the same.
You should have a rough picture of the life that you want to live.
This might be:
- Owning a home
- Put in your job to go freelance
- Traveling the world
- Starting a family
The point is, you want to have a rough sketch in your mind of the goals you are working towards. Then you can tie money to those specific goals rather than just think of cash as a something you accumulate.
The more you will be able to stay on track, stay motivated and understand why you're making the choices, the closer you will get to reaching your future goals. To get there you must create a budget.
4. Choose a Goal Budget
This means figuring out roughly how much you want to be saving every month, how much more will you need to earn or less we need to spend in order to get there, and where you are in terms of distance from how you're living today from that ideal budget.
Your goal budgets will change over time but the point is you should take time to separate yourself from how you’re handling money today to how you should be handling money.
Makes sense, right?
A common frame that a lot of people use to making an ideal budget is something like the 50 30-20 Rule:
- 50% of your money goes to needs (bills)
- 30% of your money goes to wants (traveling, etc.)
- 20% of your money goes to savings
5. Get to Know your Credit Score
Wherever your credit is now or where it’s been, there are always ways to improve your score so don’t feel disheartened if you’re not where you want to be.
We recommend Lexington Law to help improve your credit. They have a stellar team of professionals and attorneys that specialize in credit repair. The process is simple and I’ve had several friends go through the process with amazing results, that left them happy, confident and able to move forward with buying a house, buying their dream car, and more.
Credit is important and a means to help you get access to larger purchases that you may not have cash for, like a house or car.
When it comes to managing your credit, to position yourself to have the strongest score, practice on time bill payment, having a low debt utilization ratio, keeping your cards open and in good standing.
6. Find a Financial Buddy
Number six is find to financial buddy to help you on your journey and sandwich we will link you to but it boils down to this:
The hard decisions you're going to have to make and the savings Journeys are going to have to go on and the things you might have to say no to expensive financially who's not going to judge you for being on a budget
7. Start Working on an Emergency Fund
Working on your emergency fund is crucial. Save up your emergency fund for the long term and short term because if the unexpected were to occur, you want to be prepared.
You should aim to have about three months of living expenses set aside so that if anything were to happen like the 3 root canals my husband needed last year that cost multiple thousands, you’ll be financially prepared.
Other unexpected costs that could come up at any time include unexpected injury, your car breaking down, a car accident, a job loss, etc.
Without an emergency fund any one of these incidents could leave you in financial ruin easily.
Keep spending to a minimum while you are growing your emergency fund. You don’t wanna play Russian roulette with your financial future.
8. Do a 1-Month Financial Cleanse
You know when you're getting into the swing of things, going toward your ideal budget and learning how you can save more. The biggest help can be to go on a radical budget for a month. Whether that's a cash-only diet or trying to save 50% of your income or reducing absolutely every expense that's not essential, in order to really get a better picture of your life.
So much of what we come to expect and spend on life is a result of what we call lifestyle inflation. Basically as you get more money you have a tendency to spend more money and feel like you need to it becomes more and more normal to take a car, to order take out, to put purchases on credit, etc.
Basically to live a life that is more luxurious than you need even just to be happy so, doing one month where you're really reducing all of those “want” expenses as much as possible really puts into sharp relief what is worth to spend that extra money on what you really don't need.
9. Advancement Opportunity
Getting more comfortable with understanding your own professional industry and how you can advance in it.
Many people consider millennials job hoppers but did you know that millennial workers are actually just as likely to stick with their employers as Generation X’rs?
Stay on top of your job and take advantage of advancement opportunity, even if it means leaving your company. At my former company I had many friends that were not even getting the interviews they wanted for the next step in their careers and after years at the company, they left! And they left to pursue the opportunity that they wanted and secured it with another company.
Sometimes this needs to be done and don’t be afraid to pursue this avenue. It can be the best thing for your career.
These changes can have significant short-term and long-term positive effect.
10. Additional Streams of Income
Outside of your main industry where you're obviously going to be making your longer-term moves and your primary income, you want to set up at least one stream of additional income. This is extra income outside your job, so no, overtime does not count.
Outside your normal job this could be something as small as babysitting or dog walking once a week. These small changes can go on to creating tons of passive income Investments or really helpful doing things like meeting savings goals and being less dependent on your job.
You never want to feel as though one employer can hold your entire financial future in their hands so this is why diversifying income streams is so important, even if you just make enough to have some fun money because fun is important, too!
11. Get Over Your Fear of Credit Cards
Get over credit card fear and start using them to your advantage now! If you're someone who really doesn't trust themselves quite yet with a credit card, start with a very small card and use them only to pay for specific bills.
This can be a good, fairly low impact way to build your credit history as you get more trustworthy with your ability to use credit cards, making sure you're getting the most point advantages, churning bills through them, so you can build up that cash back or rewards.
Then, you can get that good credit utilization ratio and little by little open up a whole new world of financial extras to you that you can get just by spending the money you were already spending!
A good Golden Rule of credit card so is to never ever use them to buy something that you wouldn't have bought otherwise with the cash in your bank account.
12. Make all your accounts as smart as possible
Make all of your bank accounts as smart as possible.
If you want to separate your checking and savings accounts to two different banks so you are never tempted to transfer over some quick savings, do it!
You can also make multiple savings accounts for different goals and label them by the goals.
Worried about manually going in and moving that money over AKA taking it and using it to spend on something stupid? Try the above to see if it helps.
13. Learn to speak the language of money
Now, once you've mastered your day-to-day use of things like credit cards, savings accounts, budgets, etc., you want to get a little bit more advanced in your understanding of the money world around you.
14. Get a Retirement Account
Open at least one retirement account to help you save for retirement. When you’re retired you want money to live on. You won’t be working so take this time while you’re young to build up your nest egg.
For those who don't know, a retirement account is a special kind of investing account where you put money into this account that you cannot touch until retirement.
There is your 401k and IRAs and you can have both. Whichever option you decide to pursue, make sure you have an account for retirement.
15. Write a 5-Year Work Strategy
Write out your 5-year strategy for getting what you are worth at work.
This means things like how you’re going to negotiate for a raise when the time comes, any particular promotions you’re angling for, are you going to have to move to a new position or switch to a different industry entirely?
Making these big moves are not going to just magically happen. They have to be planned strategically and you have to figure out how they are going to fit into your life.
You are going to get what you are most worth in the most proactive way possible and this will enable you to have the most control in a situation where things can often be unpredictable.
For example, if you know there's a specific promotion you really want to go for, planning to get there should ideally start at least a year in advance.
Craft this 5-year strategy an don’t be afraid to change the plan as life changes.
What do you think? This is some of our best advice for being money smart in your 20s. Share your thoughts and opinions so we can continue the conversation.