Everyone seems to have something to say about Millennials. Generation Y grew up in a very particular time in history -- there were Gameboys, snap bracelets, boy bands, and Saturday morning cartoons worth waking up for.
Those were the '90s, and today, society has evolved into a digital revolution that changed the way Americans live, interact with each other, and do business.
The economy has rapidly changed in the wake of the modernization of the U.S. There are jobs that didn't exist before, opening up doorways for niche Millennials specializing in things like computer programming and coding, one of today's hottest occupations. However, many Millennials have been left behind, and struggle to find jobs.
There's no going around it, growing up in today's world is different. However, the steps to financial freedom largely remain the same, though they may feel more challenging to tackle. Here are ten things Millennials should keep in mind as they become financially responsible adults.
1. Set goals
Think about your dreams. If you can't wait to start a family, want to travel abroad, or want to make sure you'll always be protected from an economic downturn or job loss, you'll need money for all of the above. Setting short-term and long-term goals can give you something to aspire to. Here are a few examples of goals you might make:
- Pay off your student loans in ___ years.
- Get your credit card debt paid off in ___ paychecks.
- Build a nest egg of $10,000 in ____ years.
- Build a savings account you can periodically withdraw from for lifestyle and recreational expenses, like a vacation.
- Become financially independent in ___ years.
2. Make money
Money is a scarce resource in your twenties, but that certainly doesn't mean you need it any less. In 2013, a study revealed that 45 percent of graduates with a bachelor's degree were working jobs that did not require a four-year degree.
Temp work is exploding now, with 12 percent of the American workforce currently working temporary, freelance, or contractual jobs. These positions can vary from being gigs that last a few days, or assignments that last months. Some temporary workers become a permanent member of the team if their managers are impressed with their skills and their budget allows for another person to be brought onto the team full-time.
Aside from submitting your resume to online recruitment firms, many other side gigs are also available online, such as freelancing, marketing your services on online marketplaces like Etsy or Fiverr, completing human intelligence tasks (like on Amazon Mechanical Turk), becoming a user tester, or conducting consumer research. You can also opt for more creative and unusual methods of earning money, such as becoming an online chore runner, taking in a tenant, or selling your goods.
If you're an entrepreneur with a million and one ideas, consider trying one of these seven methods to get financial backing for your projects.
3. Tackle your debt
Seven in 10 college graduates last year had student loan debt, and the figure on average was $29,400 per borrower. Add credit card debt and IOUs to parents and families, and that figure shoots up to $35,200.
Getting rid of that debt is easier said than done, but once you've secured consistent work, focus on eliminating what you owe. Many experts advocate paying off the highest-interest debt first, or the highest amount to the lowest amount. However, others advocate creating a sense of momentum by paying off the smallest debt first in order to gain some motivation. Both sides make compelling cases, but in the end, the choice is up to you.
4. Review your loan options
There are a lot of options available in paying off your student loan debt. For instance, if you have multiple loans, consolidating all of them into one means getting just one bill every month, and on top of that, that bill will have one set fixed interest rate for the remainder of your payments, regardless if interest increases or decreases.
If you're broke, you can put off making payments for the time being by turning to an Income-Based Repayment Plan, known as IBR. This unique plan allows your repayment amount to be based on your income at the time. Sound too good to be true? It's not. If you're making $0 right now, you'll owe $0. The loan is longer than most, ranging from 15 to 30 years, but if you're out of luck and can't pay your student loan debt, it's the best plan for you (though you will pay more over time in interest).
See a previous article on student loan debt consolidation for more details here.
5. Pay yourself
Paying yourself simply means putting some money away in savings before doing anything else with your hard-earned paycheck. Though it may not feel fun to do in the moment, you will be glad to have savings when life takes an unexpected turn and money is tight. After paying yourself, pay your bills, and then use the rest wisely.
6. Manage your overall cash flow
There are many online and mobile tools available now for tracking your financial transactions and help you keep maintain a budget. It's important to know your spending patterns so you can see where you can cut corners and save money.
7. Keep an eye on your credit
Credit impacts everything these days -- your chances of being approved for a loan, a mortgage, a car, and the list goes on. You're entitled to get your credit report for free from the three major credit bureaus, so review it to make sure all the information is correct.
8. Contribute to a retirement fund
With the economy being the way it is, not many Millenials are financially secure and stable enough to even think about putting money into a retirement fund. After all, there other expenses that come first -- rent, food, utilities, savings, transportation, and recreation. However, there is a simple way of saving for both retirement and emergency fund in one account.
A Roth IRA can house money for short-term funds and long-term saving goals. Anything in a Roth IRA can be withdrawn at any time, both tax- and penalty-free.
9. Talk about finances
Everyone has different degrees of financial knowledge, so it's essential to speak to others about the steps you should be taking right now. If you want to be pointed in the right direction, the more people you talk to, the more helpful it can be.
Struggling with huge debt? Don't have enough money to feed yourself and your family? Problems like these are hardships no one wants to go through, but there are always options. You may not be able to eliminate your debt, but you might be able to go to a nonprofit credit union that provides small-dollar loans instead of turning to a payday loan, which may aggravate your debt even more. Or, you can haggle with creditors for more time.
Being a Milennial is tough -- you're branded by employers and the media as self-centered, incapable of doing a hard day's work, and addicted to social media. However, despite being plagued by the post-recession economy and tough criticism from third parties, you can build the American dream for yourself.
You're resourceful enough to figure out a way to make ends meet, and have what it takes to push through all the adversity in your way. You are a Millennial, after all.