My father is a man of many great quotes, and one of those quotes that I have always remembered was, “Money is only here to fuel the experience.” For years, I have had a somewhat problematic relationship with money. First, I was an over-saver. I’d save more than half of my paycheck, and end up being too broke to afford the things that I wanted. Once I got over that hump, I became the savings chipper. You know that person — get paid, save some, spend some, spend more, overspend, then have to take money out of savings.
With my big thirty — or as I playfully like to call it, my thirty flirty and fun — looming over my head in less than six months, I have been trying to put a buckle on the things that I hope to achieve by the time I’m 30. That list includes moving to a new city — which I’ve managed to do (SF to DC), get healthier, incorporate some sort of fitness in my life that doesn’t include walking to the coffee shop and back to work. Additionally, on the top of that list is to be better with my finances which I’ve been doing okay with so far — I have a 401K that I contribute to, I use Mint and a spreadsheet to keep up with my budget, but I know there are a lot of things that I may be missing.
That being said, I had a chance to speak with some of my favorite finance experts who gave me five of their favorite finance tips for millennial women like you and me:
Stefanie O’Connell, Millennial Money Expert and Blogger
1. Always know where you stand.
You can’t make informed decisions about what to do with your money until you know where you actually stand financially. I don’t just mean your income, I mean your full financial picture – or your net worth. Start by making a list of everything you own financially speaking – checking account balances, savings account balances, investment account balances, and the current value of significant assets like your home, car, or retirement accounts. Then make another list of everything you owe – student loan balances, credit card balances, medical debt, etc.
Finally, subtract the current sum of everything you owe from the current value of everything you own to calculate your net worth. Your net worth is your single most important financial number – more important than your debt load, your salary, or anything else. Because unlike your assets, you don’t own your income. You only own the part of your income that you keep, so income alone isn’t sufficient in providing a clear picture of your financial health. To get a more holistic and accurate picture of your financial health, net worth is the ultimate numerical benchmark. As you work through the process of calculating your net worth, know that it’s okay to find things in your financial life that you don’t like. Hopefully, this exercise will inspire you to change them. But you can’t change anything if you don’t confront it first, which is why calculating your net worth is an essential first step.
2. Find out where your money is going
While your net worth is the ultimate benchmark for measuring your financial health, mastering the daily inflows and outflows of your money is essential in enabling that benchmark to rise. So spend some time writing down and reviewing what you spend, or downloading an app that will track your daily financial inflows and outflows for you.
Reviewing your spending, and seeing the numbers laid out in front of you forces you to get REAL about where your money is going and to confront your own bad money habits. The kinds of habits that perpetuate cycles of financial stress – like living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to build savings and digging deeper into debt. The kinds of habits that keep your net worth stagnant, or worse, in a downward spiral. It’s far easier to make changes and realign your spending with your goals when you can identify exactly what’s keeping you from reaching them. And it’s far easier to stay accountable to those priorities when tracking your financial inflows and outflows is a daily practice.
3. Go for big wins.
Most of us get so bogged down in the minutiae of money – like budgeting and clipping coupons – that we miss out on the big picture, the truly transformative money moves that have the power to change our lives. Instead of stressing over a few $5 lattes, consider how you can slash your biggest expenses, like cutting your housing cost in half by getting a roommate. Or saving thousands of dollars on your loans, by refinancing your debt at a lower rate. These kinds of big win strategies will free up far more room in your budget.
4. Don’t wait for anyone or anything to start taking charge of your financial life.
There’s a tendency for everyone, but for women especially, to fall into the trap of delaying savings for major goals like buying a home, until other life circumstances (like meeting the perfect partner), fall into place. Don’t let unpredictable timing and life circumstances stand in the way of your personal priorities. Whatever your goals are, start planning now for how much you’ll need to achieve them on your own. If you meet the perfect partner or get the perfect job, or whatever it is along the way, you’ll already be that much more ready to achieve your goal when those things fall into place.
5. Ask for more money.
Whatever your financial goals are, the more money you make, the easier it will be to achieve them. While you can always look for new ways to cut back, scrap and save, eventually, you’re going to run out of things to cut back on. Your capacity to earn more, though, is unlimited. So don’t be afraid to ask for more.
LaTisha Styles: Millennial Money Expert
1. Look for ways to increase your income.
Look for ways to increase your income in your current situation. If you are working full time, look into what is required to get a promotion or pay increase. Before your annual review, ask what actions you can take to be considered for a pay increase; or share your desire for a promotion. Then, once it’s time for your annual review, instead of being reactive, you can approach the conversation proactively with proof of how you rose to the occasion.
2. Look into a side-gig.
Bring in additional income with a side-gig. You have a unique skill that you’re probably not using. If you start offering this skill to clients, within the span of 30 days, you could bring in a healthy side income. To do this, evaluate your current skill set. What are you really good at? What do you enjoy doing? And finally, is that skill something that others are getting paid for? When you find the intersection of these three things, you will know that you’ve found your next income stream.
3. Hide your money.
Hide your money from yourself. It might be tempting to spend that extra income as soon as it comes in, but if you have a bigger goal, then it’s important to stay on track. Deposit the extra income immediately in a separate savings account. Then, log in to your online banking and choose the “hide” feature. You will continue to grow your extra income, but you won’t be as tempted to spend it when you can’t see the total amount.
4. Give yourself an immediate raise.
This tip requires some help from a tax professional. You might be paying too much in taxes. If you get a large tax refund every year, you’ve basically given the government an interest-free loan. Instead, adjust your withholding so you bring home more in your regular paycheck. Then, at tax time, if your tax professional has advised you correctly for your personal situation, you should either owe or receive a refund within the range of about $100-$200.
5. Invest in yourself.
Investing in the stock market is typically recommended, but unless you have the time and energy to pick stocks, you’re probably better off just choosing index funds and depositing cash on a regular basis. Meanwhile, you could immediately increase your net worth by investing in yourself. Learn a new skill so you can freelance or go for that certification that guarantees an immediate pay increase. At the end of the day, you are your best investment.
Sophia Bera: Financial Planner
1. Start saving for retirement with your first job, and don’t miss out on your company’s match!
If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, it can be really difficult to see beyond just a few months out, but saving for your retirement is the best thing you can do for your future self. Starting saving as early as you gives you a few extra years of compounded interest, which may not seem like much now, but in forty years will make all the difference. Also — if your company has a retirement match program, do it. A few dollars less now means literal free money from your company later.
2. Get out and stay out of the credit card debt
Debt is the worst. It hurts your credit score and it increases your anxiety, a real lose-lose situation. Paying your credit cards on time should be a number one priority so that you never have to deal with interests rates and taking that blow to your credit score. Also, the better you are at paying off your credit cards, the more likely they’ll be to cut down your annual fee if you give them a call and prove how great/reliable/on-time-paying a patron you are.
3. Set aside at least a month of Emergency Savings.
As much as I wish my life would follow the script I’ve written for it, I truly have very little control over what happens day-to-day. Accidents happen. Emergencies come up. You might need to fix your heating in January, or buy a plane ticket home for a family emergency, or pay for engine repairs discovered during your inspection. You should have at least one month’s salary saved in your emergency fund at all times. Even if it’s just $20 bucks a week, make your future needs a savings priority. Your extremely anxious future self in crisis mode will thank you.
4. Maximize your company benefits.
Lots of companies offer lots of benefit options, from your basic health care and life insurance to tuition reimbursements, wellness programs, and continued education. Take a long look — with another employee or a financial planner, if you’re prone to get lost in the jargon like I am — at what your company offers and compare those offerings with your goals. Beyond just making wise decisions for your health care, you can also maximize your future education goals, cut down on commuting expenses, and even get financially rewarded for keeping yourself healthy in some cases. Take full advantage of what your company offers you, and fight for the benefits that will, well, benefit you most (like paid maternity leave, if that’s something you see in your future).
5. Hire a CFP to help you once you’ve built financial security.
My financial acumen is approximately zero. I know that with the right strategies, I can get my savings to start working for me by taking some investment risks — but I have no idea what those strategies are. This is why working with a certified financial planner (CFP) is a great idea; their job is to make sure that you stay financially secure while also working your money to get you the best returns on your investments. When you feel like you’re at a comfortable financial place, sitting down with a CFP will be a great choice.
Melisa Boutin: Certified Financial Education Instructor & Money Coach
1. Create a vision for your life.
Creating a vision for your life and money is an essential step every millennial woman should take. Getting clear on what is most important to you in your life makes it that much easier to create specific money goals to make the vision for your life a reality. For instance, if traveling often is important to you, then preparing your own meals at home becomes less of a chore as it is the trade off you’ll willingly make to keep your vacation account fully funded.
2. Start saving for retirement.
Start saving for retirement as soon as you can, and take advantage of options to auto-increase your contributions. This way, paying yourself first and living on less than you earn becomes built in, as you save for your future self.
3. Prioritize paying off debt as part of your money plan.
Millennial women are deeper in student loan debt than men and typically have higher debt-to-income ratios. When facing a mountain a debt, it’s important to build a debt payoff plan into your monthly budget. This will help you avoid spending more than you earn, while steadily reduce your outstanding debt.
4. Reading is knowledge.
Increase your personal financial knowledge with books, like my favorite, All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan, blogs, and podcasts about money to help you understand the best financial habits to cultivate and gain the literacy you need to successfully tackle any outsized financial challenges that may come your way.
5. Earn more in interest.
Paying more in interest than you earn is a recipe for a sustained negative net worth. To avoid this, millennial women must earning more in interest than they pay when weighing financial decisions.
Jamila Souffrant: Blogger, Podcaster and Money Expert
1. Invest now.
Invest now, even if its $25 or $50 a month, the power of compounding interest is on your side. Investing earlier in life can exponentially increase your returns.
2. Contribute as much as you can to pre-tax retirement accounts. If you have access to a 401k through your job, invest the most you can in it now. Not only do you save money now on taxes by putting money away before the government gets to it, but your money grows exponentially by compounding year over year. The earlier you start to invest, the better and the less likely you’ll miss the money being taken out of your check. At the very minimum, contribute up to the company match if it’s available to you.
3. Find a side hustle.
What is your passion? Can you find a way to make money from it? Start a business, work hard in developing your skills, stay up late working on it. Go all in now and find as many ways to increase your income through a low cost and enjoyable side hustle.
4. Stay away from consumer debt and keep your expenses low Start paying off or make a plan to pay off your debt as soon as possible. Don’t fall into the trap of buying things to make yourself feel better and impressing people with material things. Debt and high expenses are what keeps most people working in jobs they hate, feeling trapped in lives they can’t stand. Practice living a life of simplicity. You don’t need to live off of beans and rice, but you also don’t need to go to the most expensive restaurants to have a good meal.
5. Use a budget.
The best way to reach your money goals and to optimize your cash flow is to use a budget. You won’t be able to have a full idea of how much you are spending and how you can save more unless you know where your money is going. A budget gives every single dollar a job. It doesn’t have to feel restrictive, rather use a budget to allow you to spend freely within the allocated amounts you set without feeling guilty.
The Budgetnista: Financial Expert, Blogger and Author
By taking out the “flawed” human element, aka you, you’re more likely to stick to your budget. I’ve automated EVERYTHING; payments, bills, saving, investing, even giving to charity.
2. Give and get an allowance.
I bet you never thought you’d get one again. After creating your budget, decide which items you can pay for with cash each month and add the amounts up, then divide the total by four. That’s how much your new weekly allowance is. If you take weekly cash allowances, it will help to curb your spending. Also, give yourself a CASH allowance when shopping and leave the cards at home. This way when the cash is done, so are you.
3. Simple and soon
Don’t procrastinate and make things more complicated than need be. Start now. Write down what you spend each month. Then subtract what you spend from what you make. Use your bank statements to help you. That’s your basic budget. It’s just that simple!
4. Set a goal
This will help you get to your destination. Just like it makes no sense to get on a plane without knowing where you’re going, it makes no sense to create a budget without a goal in mind.
5. Let go
No more guilt. Stop being so hard on yourself! We’ve all made mistakes. Get over it, move on and forward.