Personal finance is a little bit like physical fitness. You can hire a personal trainer, a dietician, and say you’re going to workout five days a week, but if you aren’t fully committed to following through with a health plan, it will get you nowhere. As a young adult in the US, we often feel slighted that most of us aren’t educated on personal finance issues in high school before we’re thrown to the wolves of the real world. We are just expected to know how to file our own taxes, know how credit cards work, and how to navigate through financing college degrees all on our own.
Trial and error is the name of the game because we feel shamed in asking personal money questions. My financial journey really began in college with student loans. To be quite honest, by the time I graduated, I had only a very general idea of how much I owed because while in school I chose not to think about it. I tried not to anyway. I didn’t even know who I was supposed to be paying this money to. I found out I had to pay two different entities, which is common if you end up having multiple loans. Once I realized I had no idea how my student loans worked, I dove into learning all I could about personal finance. And I encourage everyone else to learn everything about their current financial health because nothing gets resolved by burying your head in the sand.
It’s not that hard in theory, but it does take discipline. Here’s the steps I’ve taken so far to ensure I’m a financially stable, fully-functioning adult.
If you have debt, know EVERYTHING about each debt. Figure out the interest rate, how much interest accumulates daily/ monthly, and what percentage of your monthly payment goes to interest versus the principle. I have student loans and a car loan. I overpay on all my student loans. However, I prioritize my two highest interest loans, so I overpay the most on those. As of right now, I’m looking at paying off my loans four months ahead of the original estimated date. I keep monthly track of how much I paid each loan and how much there is left to go. There’s many ways that people advocate to pay off debt (debt avalanche, debt snowball, etc), just find which method works best for you, and do it.
Look at your income and how much you bring in each month. Know how much money you bring in each month and figure out how much you can afford to spend each month. Some people track every expense. Personally, I find this dragging, and I’m never able to keep up with it. So I’ve adopted a simpler method of not spending more than I can afford to. Live below your means so you can…
Save, save, save. This is so hard for me to write about because I know that there are people out there living paycheck to paycheck. And that’s why many people climb into the hole of credit card debt in the first place. Therefore, we need to educate people on how credit cards work and how to get them to work for you not against you. But saving is the beginning to eventually growing wealth. It will get you into the habit of setting money aside to eventually invest. Some personal financial “experts” say that you shouldn’t even think about saving before paying off your debts. In my opinion, and what works for me, I want the stability of having money set aside to pay cash for an emergency and not have to swipe a credit card to be able to “afford” a crisis.
Get Life Insurance. This was a hard one for me. Homeowners and auto insurance are obviously necessary, and you must have them. Life insurance is different. It’s a choice. But is it really? I’m at the point in my life where I just made a large joint “purchase”- a mortgage. And it’s scary to think about the fact that life happens. I want to make sure that my husband could still afford the house should I pass away unexpectedly. So, I’ll happily pay $20 a month just in case, at least while we’re still paying off the house.
I’m not a financial guru. I don’t claim to know everything, and I’m still learning. Take what I say with a grain of salt because this has just been my experience, and we all have our own unique financial journey. Better yet: read, learn, listen. Figure out what works for you, and do it.