How Millennials Can Take Control of Their Finances (and How Parents Can Help)

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By Christine Hassler

Today’s generation of young adults are especially challenged in getting their careers off the ground as they face high unemployment rates and a bleak job market. According to recent census data, employment among young adults ages 16-29 stood at 55.3 percent, down from 67.3 percent in 2000 and the lowest since the end of World War II. This is troubling news for 20-somethings who find themselves under- or unemployed and at a loss for how to change things.

As a result, staggering numbers of 20-somethings (also called Gen Y or Millennials) are moving home with mom and dad and/or remaining financially dependent on their parents. A new Millennial Career study conducted online for American Express by Harris Interactive reveals that two-thirds (68%) of recent grads are not working or working at a job that is not in their field. Additionally, almost half (47%) are receiving financial assistance from their parents.

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So what can Millennials do to jumpstart their careers and get off their parents’ payroll? And what can their parents do to support them in launching their adult life? Here are some tips—for both 20-somethings and their parents—that were developed as part of my work with American Express to help Millennials take control of their finances and build their career:


Invest in Yourself. Instead of spending money on things that make you look better, invest in things that make you smarter, skilled, and more self-aware. Furthering your education, obtaining certifications, enrolling in specialized training programs, and working with a counselor or life coach are great ways to increase your employability and overall well being. Shift your spending mentality to acquiring additional skills instead of more stuff because you are your best investment. And you don’t even have to spend money to invest in yourself! Take advantage of FREE online tools such as the 10-day online financial and career bootcamp programs from American Express and, which cover a range of topics from setting career and financial goals to learning communication, networking and salary negotiation skills.

Don’t Indebt Yourself Further to Your Debt. If you are already in debt, stop adding to it. Abandon the dangerous thinking, “I’m already in debt; what’s a little more?” and exercise self-restraint. Instead of making a purchase, put that money toward your unpaid balances. Commit to a minimum amount you will pay toward your debt each month. Even a small percent will not only begin to chip away at your debt, it will also help you feel more empowered. Debt can certainly feel overwhelming, but looking the other way will not make it disappear. Make an appointment with an advisor at your local bank, or set up a free consultation with a personal finance advisor. Explore ways to pay it off at lower rates.

Get Fiscally Fit. The secret to maintaining a healthy weight is willpower; it’s about monitoring calories in versus calories out. Being fiscally fit requires careful monitoring of money in versus money out by preparing and living according to a budget. Keeping a budget in your head is not enough; create an in-depth, written-out budget that you live by. Make sure to input all your bills, spending, and earnings. Put aside a little money into a “speedbump” fund to cover unexpected expenses like a flat tire or an emergency trip to the dentist. Budgeting may seem obvious, but very few Gen Y’ers know exactly how much they are spending each month. Get balanced by creating your own balance sheet and sticking to it!

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“Friend” your FICO. Become better acquainted with your FICO score than your Facebook friends. If you have, or want to get, a credit or a charge card, it is imperative to know and monitor and build your credit score. Your FICO score is an important friend to have, as it will impact your ability to apply for loans and make big purchases. Get to know your FICO score by understanding the key factors that influence it: payment history, current debt level, the length of your credit history, how many different types of credit you are using, and new credit. If you need help establishing a good credit score, one option is to start by having your parents add you to their credit or charge card account. Many credit and charge card companies will allow you to get a card that is tied to your parents’ account, but it has your own name and number on it, so you can start paying your own bills and building credit.

Get a Job. ANY JOB. Don’t Wait for a Career. Finding your passion and embarking on a career path that is meaningful to you is important. However, if you are earning little to no money because you are waiting for your dream job to show up, it’s time to stop waiting and start working. Make having a job and earning money your priority. You may not know what you want to do for the rest of your life, or you may not be able to find a job along the career path you want. That is okay. Any job you get now is a step toward establishing your career. You never know whom you will meet or what you will discover. And there is always work available. Even if you have to take on several odd jobs at a time, at least you will be working and earning. Consistently be a wage earner. Even if you are in a job transition, do something to keep money flowing in. Furthermore, it is challenging to have an epiphany about what you want to do with your life when you are stressed out over being broke.


Don’t Be An Enabler. A huge temptation, even expectation, exists for parents to provide for their children in every way. They don’t want them to have debt, struggle, have to live in a crummy apartment, etc. They want to do better for their children than their parents did for them, but this is enabling, not teaching independence. It’s okay to let your kids make mistakes—we all learn from them. In the recent survey commissioned by American Express, hiring pros report emotional maturity as one of the top priorities they desire in applicants. If you continue to rescue your children, their emotional maturity will continue to be stunted.

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Ask, Don’t Answer. Baby-boomers have been planning their kids’ agenda their whole life, so many people in their twenties, or ‘Quarterlifers,’ do not know how to navigate through life on their own. When they come to you for advice, guide them into finding their own answers rather than telling them what to do. Ask them questions like, “What do you think? What ideas do you have about this? What is an action step you could take? What do you think is making this choice or situation challenging for you?” Let them figure things out for themselves EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU KNOW BETTER!

Teach Them. Abide by the saying “If you catch a fish for a man, he eats for a day. If you teach him how to fish, he will eat forever.” One way to educate your kids on money management, while still extending a sense of financial empowerment is through adding them as an authorized user on your credit card account. Allowing that access enables them to pay their own bills and build credit, while you can easily monitor spending to keep your kid in check.

Set Up Guidelines. “Adultolescense” has blurred the boundaries between parents and adult children. Some rules are necessary. If your twenty year old is living at home, have them pay rent. If you are paying their bills, have them take out a loan WITH INTEREST from you and pay their bills themselves. Begin setting up a parent and ADULT child relationship. Your 20-something is a grown up now and the old rules and ways of doing things don’t apply.

This is a guest post written by Christine Hassler:

Christine Hassler is a life coach, author and speaker recognized as a leading expert on Gen Y/Millennials. She consults with corporations on bridging generational gaps in workplace and has spoken to over 20,000 students teaching them the life skills not learned in college. Christine has authored two bestselling books: Twenty-Something, Twenty-Everything and The Twenty-Something Manifesto.

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