While many personal finance basics have been around for generations, there is currently a need for greater financial literacy among young people just starting out in life today. The ubiquity of debit cards and other conveniences can make it harder to create and stick to a budget, plus parents don’t always teach their kids how to get ahead financially, particularly if they struggled with money themselves.
Our personal finance guide is intended to show you how to manage your money without the fear and anxiety many people feel about spending and budgets. From paying down debt to creating an emergency fund and saving for retirement, we’ll walk you through personal finance 101 from the perspective of millennials, Generation Z, and everyone else just starting out in life.
In the days before credit cards and overdraft protection, sticking to a budget was essential. Otherwise you’d run out of money before your next payday with no alternative means of buying groceries or other essentials. Nowadays it’s far easier to live without a budget, so many people do. You may tell yourself that checking your bank account online is equivalent to “seeing where your money goes,” but unless you take the proactive step of creating a budget, you likely won’t be very mindful about where those dollars and cents go, leading to waste and skewed priorities.
Of course, it’s one thing to make a budget; it won’t be much help to you unless you actually follow it. So if budgeting doesn’t come naturally (some people do enjoy crunching the numbers), we recommend turning your budget into a kind of game, complete with rewards for good behavior.
- If you like to use tech to solve problems, try a spreadsheet or an app to make and follow your budget. The Balance recommends The Best Free Excel Budget Spreadsheet Template Sources that can be used in Excel, Google Sheets, or Open Office.
- If you want to do budgeting the old-fashioned (or simpler way), all you need is pen and paper. When you’re just starting out, you usually have fewer bills and things to keep track of, like childcare or homeownership. Start with your gross income for the pay period or month and subtract all your fixed expenses (rent, bills, transportation, etc.). Then you get to decide what to do with what’s left over (if there isn’t anything left over, or you end up with a negative balance after subtracting expenses, you need to either take on a second job to make more money or find a way to cut expenses, such as getting a roommate). Before you treat all of that disposable income as, well, disposable–make sure you’re putting money into an emergency fund, as well as other savings goals.
Whether you opt for a spreadsheet, an app, or simply a notebook, spend some time thinking about how you can make budgeting more fun. Looking at your financial big picture on a computer can make it feel like a video game, complete with graphics and other visuals. Focusing on one small change a week is another way to motivate yourself without becoming overwhelmed or dejected. Can you go a week without buying coffee? How about bringing your lunch to work all five days?
Some people like a challenge and everyone likes a reward, which is why it’s important to allow yourself small treats, or whatever feels rewarding, in exchange for sticking to your budget. To keep with our previous examples, maybe you avoid buying coffee during the work week, but treat yourself to an espresso drink in a real cup while you read a book at your local coffee shop. Saved $40 on buying lunch out this week? Take $10 to use on a small reward now or to save toward a bigger reward in time.
Financial goal setting
Besides keeping your spending in check, creating a budget helps you identify and set financial goals. Whatever we may think our priorities are, what we spend money on shows us what’s important in our lives. Part of managing personal finances is knowing where you are and where you want to go. Here are some common financial goals you may want to work toward.
Credit score and history
When you’re just starting out in life, you may not have much of a credit history yet. Or perhaps you mismanaged a college credit card and need to repair your credit score. Regardless of your current situation, your credit history and score will be an important determining factor in many of your life events, from renting an apartment to getting a loan for a car or house. Luckily, there are free resources for checking your score and figuring out how to boost it.
AnnualCreditReport.com is the only website authorized by federal law to provide free credit reports every 12 months. You’ll actually get three reports–one each from the major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). You can compare your scores and make sure there are no signs of identity theft or error.
So how should you think about debt? Personal finance experts have different, but ultimately similar suggestions (it all comes down to “pay it off as soon as possible”):
- The Mr. Money Mustache blog believes that “your debt is an emergency” and repayment should be prioritized above all else (like entertainment and new clothes).
- Some experts believe you should start with the highest interest debt, which makes sense from a mathematical perspective. However, if that seems too daunting, Dave Ramsey’s “debt snowball” method lets you start with the lowest balance, so you can pay one debt off faster and gather momentum to continue.
- Want to know how real people have paid off large sums of debt in just a year or two? Here’s one man’s account of paying off a nearly six-figure student loan in less than a year. And this article details a recent college grad’s success in repaying $80,000 in credit card debt over three years.
One thing every financial expert agrees on is the need for an emergency fund. Most people recommend saving six months of living expenses in case you lose your job, but even $500 or $1,000 set aside for a rainy day will help when unexpected expenses inevitably land in your lap.
Investing for Retirement
It’s never too early to start saving for retirement. These days, investment accounts comprise the main source of retirement income for anyone who doesn’t have a defined benefit pension. Does your employer offer a 401(k) match? That’s a no-brainer to sign up for. If you don’t have a retirement account from your job, or want to do more, read more about Individual Retirement Accounts on our website.
Get a side hustle
One thing many debt repayment stories have in common is the narrator’s realization that they needed to bring in more income. Obviously, you can’t just march into your boss’s office tomorrow and demand a big raise. That’s where the side hustle comes in. From a part-time second job at Starbucks to selling your skills on the freelance market or caring for kids and pets, a side hustle helps you earn extra money that you can put entirely toward paying off debt or saving for retirement. Second gigs are also useful in the event that you lose your job.
Looking ahead: marriage, home ownership, and family
Ultimately, good personal money management comes down to a few basics: spend less than you make, avoid consumer debt, and pay yourself first by auto-depositing a certain amount of each paycheck in a retirement account. Staying disciplined with spending isn’t always easy, particularly when you’re just starting out. Entry-level salaries are usually lower than the average, and it’s tempting to try to keep up with your friends’ lifestyle spending even if they have a lot more to spend than you do.
This is where financial goals can help you stay on track. While getting married, buying your first house, and starting a family may seem like far-off events, most people will take at least one of these big steps and it helps to be financially prepared. Your future partner will appreciate your lack of debt, and in general, the more you have control over your finances, the more freedom you have to make life choices such as quitting your job to spend a year traveling around the world.
Your community bank is here to help
Are you a North Central Florida resident or a recent graduate of our local universities such as University of Florida, Santa Fe College, or College of Central Florida? One of the most important personal finance decisions you can make when you’re starting out is choosing a bank you can trust and turn to for personal service and advice. CBTFL, where banking is personal, is here to help with finances so you can enjoy the exciting next chapter of your life. From high-quality financial products to friendly customer service, visit your local branch today to discover all we have to offer.