As a millennial, I’ve never felt like the majority of financial advice circulating in articles and books speaks to me. I find it’s often written by people coming from an entirely different generation. They graduated with student loans that were much lower than those people in my generation are struggling with and bought cars and houses. The path to success for them required that they pinch pennies and find ways to move slowly up the ladder at work.
I’m not trying to say that everyone in the generations that came before millennials had it easy when it came to money. However, when you look at the challenges that we face as a generation, it’s clear that they are unprecedented.
But it’s not just our financial realities that have changed, it’s the way we work and interact with money and the way the world has changed that makes typical personal finance advice I encounter less relevant for millennials. I mean, many financial gurus are still recommending that people track their expenses in budget journals that they carry around with them wherever they go. As a millennial, I want to sit them down and ask them if they’ve ever heard of an app.
Here is some advice that I’ve found to be actually helpful to millennials.
1. Being Thrifty Isn’t Always the Right Choice
So much of personal finance advice revolves around how you can save a dollar here or a dollar there. It’s great to save money and you should definitely try to do so, but it’s also important to consider the return on investment of your time. If an hour’s worth of work will save you $100, then great! Be thrifty. However, if an hour’s work will only save you $10, but you could make more than $10 in that hour by working a side hustle or second job, then you might be better off doing some freelance work or starting that side hustle. As online and freelance opportunities abound, there are many ways that you can use your time more efficiently to be further ahead than you would by clipping coupons.
2. Find an App to Make It Simple
Another problem with a lot of personal finance advice is that it’s often based on low-tech solutions. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve read that I need to track my spending in a budget journal or take everything out in cash and put it in different bags or jars based on your budget, I wouldn’t need a budget because I’d have so much money! These solutions, however, are incredibly time-consuming. People who attempt them often become frustrated and end up giving up. These days, why bother adding up your budget when you can easily use an app that will track it for you automatically? Haven’t these experts heard of Mint, or Level Money or Home Budget?
3. Don’t Get Into Student Loan Debt
Millennials are facing one huge financial problem as a generation and that is ballooning student loan debt. The old advice to young people telling them that they will easily be able to pay back their student loans when they graduate isn’t relevant when we’re talking about paying off tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. Instead, millennials should focus on getting scholarships, living cheaply, and maximizing their earning potential while they’re in college to keep their student loans to a minimum. That might mean going to a cheap college, or calculating the return on investment of their degrees to get the best deal.
4. Get Out of Student Loan Debt
If millennials do find themselves deep in student loan debt, they need to get out of it ASAP. While student loan debt is often said to be ‘good’ debt because of the relatively low interest rates, there’s nothing good about it. Every dollar you spend on student loan interest isn’t going toward a down payment on a home or your retirement savings. Young people then lose the opportunity to take advantage of how compound interest can turn money invested in their 20s or 30s into hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time they retire. Hunker down and pay off your student loans as soon as possible so that you can start saving for your future. Another bonus to paying down your student loans – you’ll be building your credit. And better credit can get you access to cheaper interest rates on, say, a mortgage when you’re ready to buy a home. You can see how your student loans and other debts are affecting your credit by getting a free credit report summary on Credit.com.
5. Don’t Climb the Ladder
Prevailing advice suggests you should get out of college and take the best-paying entry-level job you can find. But that isn’t always the best advice. Many millennials are finding themselves unemployed and underemployed once they graduate. Millennials (and younger) might find it a better strategy to start as early as high school getting work and volunteer experience that could potentially serve them in their chosen profession. If they think they’d like to be an accountant, they may want to get involved in non-profits or campus clubs where they can get experience as a treasurer. If they want to be a journalist, they might start a blog and start freelancing as soon as possible. Once they graduate, they shouldn’t necessarily go for the job that will pay them the best. Instead, they may discover that they’re better off taking a job that will give them the most responsibility, even if it pays less in the beginning. Once they spend a year or two gaining valuable experience, they can then look for other internal or external job opportunities. Often, they can parlay that experience into a much better paying job, saving them years of working up a seemingly endless corporate ladder.
This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.
More Money-Saving Reads: