By Brittany Mangrum, CFP®
About five years ago, I had a major facepalm moment. I was sitting at lunch with a half dozen of my co-workers, almost all of whom were in their mid- to late-20s. Somehow we got talking about our employer-sponsored 401(k) plan. It was a great plan with a great match, and it was one of the reasons I had chosen to work at this particular firm in the first place. As the conversation drifted around the table, I soon realized that not a single person there was contributing to the plan. Not one! They weren’t investing even a tiny percentage of their paycheck. They weren’t taking advantage of the fantastic employer match. In short, they were doing nothing to save for the future.
I was stunned. After all, didn’t these smart people I worked with (at a financial firm, no less!) know how important financial stability was? If they ‘got it,’ why weren’t they taking one of the easiest steps out there to get the ball rolling?
The more we talked, the more I realized how little they really understood. Even those that did ‘get it’ didn’t think ‘it’ applied to them. At least not yet. Their words made that fact very clear. “Retirement is so far away, I have tons of time to save.” “My parents have a huge retirement account. They’ll never spend it all.” “I am going to save… but after my credit card debt and my student loans are history.”
I decided then and there to change things. I hounded each and every one of my friends to sign on the 401(k). I talked to them about compounding and long-term investing. I convinced them that there was no time to lose—that there was a chance their parents would spend all of their inheritance before they ever saw a penny, that student loan balances shouldn’t replace saving for the future, and that skipping just a couple overpriced lunches at the Thai place down the street would free up enough cash to start investing for the future.
Whether they just couldn’t take my nagging anymore or my message was finally getting through, I’ll never know, but within a month, every one of them was contributing to their 401(k)! I was thrilled! But I knew I couldn’t stop there. I made it my mission to spread the word about the power of financial planning to Millennials who have their heads in the sand.
For any Millennial who doesn’t have a crazy, financial-planning obsessed friend like me to hound you when you least expect it, here are just a few things I would recommend to start decreasing your debt, increasing your wealth, and begin building a confident financial future today:
- Revisit your student loan payments. Loans can be overwhelming. They cut into your cash flow, quash your ability to save, and slow your path to financial wellness. Here’s the good news: your student loan servicer can help. Call your servicer to go over your payment options to make sure you’re on the best payment plan for you. In some cases, you may be able to defer payment or switch to an Income-Driven Repayment plan (IDR) to reduce your stress and help you get on your feet financially before paying down your loans.
- Manage your spending. The word ‘budget’ can strike fear into almost every Millennial I know. One of my favorite things is to turn that idea on its head by showing people how much freedom a budget can give them! By creating and sticking to a budget, you don’t have to feel guilty when you decide to splurge on that amazing top you saw on Instagram because you’ll actually know how much you can really afford to spend. And if you’ve already hit your limit for the month, just wait until next month when you have the funds to splurge a bit on the next big trend. A budgeting app like Mint can help you create and stick to a budget that’s right for you.
- Don’t take on new debt. With student loans likely looming in the background, the last thing you want to do is get deeper into debt. Sure, that may mean hanging on to that old car until you’ve saved enough to buy a new one, but you’ll be much better off in the long run with a healthy balance sheet. And if it’s cheaper to Uber or Lyft than to maintain and insure your own car, make the switch!
- Value yourself. Do you know how much you should be earning for the work you do? If not, research and compare your current salary, and renegotiate your salary if possible. And know that your paycheck doesn’t dictate your value as a person. Value who you are and practice gratitude every day. Take care of yourself too: get enough sleep, stay active, and eat a healthy, budget-conscious diet. A healthy body and a healthy mind will help you reap rewards in the future.
- Save for tomorrow. What would happen if you lost your job tomorrow? What if your fridge breaks down, or your dog gets sick? Life happens, which means you need money set aside to cover emergencies. It seems obvious, but a recent study by LendingTree showed that 6 out of 10 Millennials don’t have enough saved to cover a $1,000 emergency. Be the exception. Pay yourself first by automating your savings so a fixed amount comes out of every paycheck automatically. Check out apps like Acorns or Digit that can help, and start building a more confident financial future today. It’s always exciting to see progress—especially when you don’t even realize you are making it happen!
Take these five steps now and you’ll be amazed at the shift in your financial perspective. And if you need a helping hand to make it happen, please reach out. We’re here to help!
Though Brittany Mangrum, CFP, works with our clients of every age, she is particularly focused on helping fellow Millennials focus on taking the right steps toward long-term financial success.