Take off that funny looking square Commencement hat. No more free fro-yo in the cafeteria or “Monday Funday” frat porch parties – You’ve graduated and s**t just got real. Here’s the biggest adjustment you’re going to make: money management.
Got a new job (or paid-internship-that-could-become-full-time like most Millennials)? Great. Paying first month’s rent will crush you if you don’t have your bank accounts prepared. The price of your monthly Time Warner Cable bill may seem arbitrary, but it’s still got to get paid. And how’re you going to afford that extra round with buddies to reminisce about questionable freshman year pledging stories if you haven’t budgeted for it?
Getting a handle of those finances is essential to living the independent and fulfilling post-graduation life you know you (and your parents) want. So we’ve put together the 6 keys to become a “Money-Smart Millennial.” Use them wisely…
Money management habits
#1. “Budget, baby”
The real world’s going to give you a real paycheck. And that real cash can be really gone if you don’t make priority number one setting a budget. The “b-word” sounds imposing like a pair of restrictive skinny jeans. It’s not showing you what you can’t buy now, but showing you how you can spend your money over a period of time. That’s a great thing. Back in your late-night college library days, you used to pump out outlines for essays in college – those outlines made writing the rest of your papers faster, easier, and less stressful by senior year (even if you hated doing it as a freshman). You might as well take the same lesson to your money.
#2. “Bank Account Feng Shui”
It’s going to be a lot harder to manage the cash flows of the Bank of You if you don’t have an actual commercial bank to hold your new paycheck winnings. Banks keep your dough baking while you’re hard at work, and they also keep you organized. You can use separate checking accounts as easy ways to manage cash that you need access to on short-notice based on your budget – like one checking account for “Weekly Spending” on daily needs like food, drinks with friends, or collecting Hot Wheels (if you’re still into that kind of thing).
And you can set up a second checking account for “Monthly Treats” that aren’t as recurring, like clothes or weekend splurges on a birthday bar tab for your buddy. Since your budget should include money set aside so you’ve got something to fall back on (not all first jobs end awesomely), have a savings account too. And even get a second savings account in place so you can start funding your “I-miss-college” post-college spring break getaway.
#3. “Money Mentor”
You don’t have to post your paychecks details on your Facebook newsfeed, but having a buddy or confidante who can be a sounding board for your financial questions and challenges is key. Since your bank account probably isn’t overflowing, hiring a money management advisor who you don’t know may be premature and too expensive. Instead, connect with a close friend who you consider more responsible (we all have that friend) and meet with them to share tips, budget ideas, and bank account experiences. You don’t even have to share the nitty gritty numerical details with them, but the more you learn from each others’ spending mistakes, the better off you both are.
#4. “Get with the Program”
401(k) isn’t just a random combo of letters and numbers or formula from your high school chem class. It’s a legit retirement fund and it’s almost always (there are few exceptions) the smartest move you can make for “Future You.” The concept is a service your employer offers you, so some cash from each paycheck can be set aside and invested by a third party, before taxes have been taken out of it.
Since taxes aren’t paid on your 401(k) until the money is taken out at a date far, far away, it provides you with financial returns on larger investment than you would otherwise have if you put the money in the stock market directly from your post-tax paycheck. It’s free money, so take it.
#5. “Don’t Get The Stock Sweats”
Sure, we know the stock market crashed and Lehman went bankrupt while the key parts of your brain were being shaped in high school and college. But don’t let the cyclical turbulence of Wall Street scare you from the upside potential of investing at a young age. Unlike any point in history, there is more transparency and access to the world’s largest free market, and you should take advantage of this.
New apps like Robin Hood allow you to purchase individual stocks without a fee, while Scout Finance provides you with info on different stocks, and Betterment manages your investments as a robo-financial advisor at little cost. Before you tap your inner Warren Buffett though, make sure you’re comfortable with and understand the movements of Wall Street – and the best way to do this is exposing yourself to financial news each day like it’s your morning juice cleanse.
#6: “Wise Up on Wall Street”
You can’t take a “Tinder” approach to investing – “swiping right” on a stock after ten seconds of reading its corporate profile isn’t a wise investment approach (and may not be the right relationship strategy either, come to think of it). Before jumping into the stock market pool, make sure you’ve read up on how to swim.
The 21st century media landscape is fragmented with thousands of sources of financial news – bedrocks like the US News & World Report on print, the WSJ printed online, Bloomberg streaming on the web, or CheddarTV to be streaming video on AppleTV, provide a rich variety of information minute-by-minute on stocks, bonds, and other financial products on which you can read up. By making digestion of financial news part of your daily routine, you’ll naturally prepare yourself to become an investor…even if your paycheck needs to grow a tad bit more.
We know the real world is hard – and not just because you can’t wear neon-colored clothing all day, everyday. But by mastering money management with these 6 financial keys, you’ll become the “Money Smart Millennial” your parents will be proud of (and appreciate not mooching off them).