Did you grow up sitting down with your parents and talking about finances, what a good investment is, or how to balance a check book? If your answer was no, then welcome to the majority of young women’s realities. Even though most of our parents were functioning members of society contributing to the economy, the conversation of ‘personal finances’ was virtually non-existent. I have spoken to dozens of women who are just now discovering their financial wisdom in the later part of their 20s, some even rectifying years of bad financial choices.
Learning how to manage my finances has always been a pillar in my adult life, even though I resisted the idea until I graduated college. I was very fortunate to grow up with a CPA as a mother. At age 10, I opened my first savings account. At age 15, I had my first checking account. College marked the true milestone in financial education. The week before I left, my mother sat me down and made me write out a budget. All I wanted to do was ignore the importance of finances, like the rest of my friends. I thought the cool thing in college was to have a credit card, not a budget. After my own set of minor ups and downs, I can thank my mother’s financial persistence to the success that I have today. The great news that I learned is that no matter what financial foundation you have, you can always change your current situation.
Our chats always boiled down to two things: money is both a tactical and emotional matter. The tactical is fairly easy to navigate and implement. There is an entire industry built around educating people on managing their finances. The irony is that we still see dozens of people in debt, living beyond their means. That is why it is so important to understand the emotional side of money. That is the wisdom that my mother passed on to me.
I think we are taught to treat our finances like that chemistry class that you had to take to graduate with a degree in Fine Arts. Boring, unnecessary and confusing. Rather than delve into the 3 things you need to do now, before the dooms day of your finances is upon you, let’s have that talk about the emotional side of money. That is the talk that no one has and is central to your peace as a young adult. Yes. I said money brings you peace. When you learn about how your finances play a role in your life, then things like investments, budgets, credit card debts, even buying a home, will not stress you out. So taking us back to that table chat (with a glass of wine because we are all adults), “Here’s to the start of relieving that stress.”
1. You are not your money.
2. Treat your finances like a game.
Your finances are not like the class you had to take to graduate. It can be fun if you make it fun. The key to that…play reverse psychology on yourself. When I decided to go on a gap year after college, the first thing I did was investigate how I could make the most amount of interest on the money that I was going to save. Going through that process and knowing that in a year I could make several extra hundreds of dollars, just by researching, made the whole experience exciting, not laborious. I even went as far as making a thermometer chart where I would fill in how much I saved every month. Next thing I knew, I hit my goal in under the time I expected. Find at least 1 way to play that game with yourself. Maybe it’s figuring out how much you need to save to get that new thing you’ve wanted to for months.
3. Know your magic comfort number.
We all have thresholds that help us stay calm about our money situations. Our bottom-line is how much we need to have in the bank for those just in case emergencies, self-treats or simple peace of mind. Unfortunately, we are not taught to find that magical number. There is no right or wrong answer, only what feels comfortable for you. Just remember, no two people will ever have the same number.
4. Your debt will eat away at you.
Having debt is like having a cold that won’t go away. You want it to, but it feels out of your control. Luckily for you, you control your debt and not the other way around. The first step is knowing how much you have in debt. That includes credit cards, car and student loan payments, mortgages, friendly IOUs. Once you know how much that is (don’t be scared by that number, even if it’s high), starting building a game plan to pay it off. You can treat your debt like a game too. Maybe make a thermometer chart filling in how much you are paying off each month.
5. Know your monthly fixed costs.
You know your bottom-line and how much you have in debt. Now it’s important to know how much you are spending on a monthly basis that is fixed. That means writing down how much you are paying for rent, utilities, phone, internet, groceries, car payment, etc. That will give you an understanding of how much you need to make per month to cover your costs and how much of that money left over is for savings (always first), debt payment and fun.
6. Learn to splurge – wisely.
You work hard for your money. There is no reason to not treat yourself! The whole trick is knowing how to splurge. The $400 purse you want may not be the best idea if your debt is $10,000. However, buying yourself a nice shirt at the end of the month after having paid off $1,000 of that debt, awesome idea. Keeping track of your successes, whether it is growing your savings or paying off your debt, helps you to tangibly see your progress. That is your greatest sense of accomplishment.
7. Know your end goal.
Just like with any other accomplishment in your life, know where you are heading with your finances. It could be a long-term goal like a house or a short-term goal like a new dress. There is no goal too big or too small to start planning for. It’s a good thing to know both long and short-term goals so that you can save for both right away. A little trick: most banks let you set up ‘virtual savings accounts’ where you can virtually partition your money for long and short-term goals.
8. Find a financial mentor.
Personal finance seems scary because we feel like we are out there in the financial world alone. It doesn’t have to be that way. Find someone who you respect as a person and has the financial position that would like to have. Take them out to coffee, lunch, whatever fits your budget. Ask them how they got to where they are now. Ask them to give you some tips and tricks that they’ve learned along the way. Ask them to hold you accountable for achieving your financial success. When you have someone who is cheering you on, it builds skins in the game.
9. Treat your personal finances like a business (Rock star move!)
I really sound like my mother here. If you run your finances like you would run a business, then you can numerically see where there you are succeeding or where there is room for improvement. Use resources like Mint.com or Quickbooks to build that perspective over your finances. The key in financial savviness is have hindsight. Trust me, you won’t be cringing when you get a bill in the mail. You know exactly what to do and how you are going to do it.
10. Tactical Tip Added Bonus!
Everything written in this post is about the emotional side of money. This is my one and only tactical tip: Always have a beneficiary on your accounts (must be someone you trust). I have seen too many people have to go through mourning and battling with the government to get accessing their loved ones accounts. Regardless if you are married or not, having a beneficiary will ensure that your money is safely held by your beneficiary who can act on your behalf and not the government.
If you want to read more and learn more tactical tips from financial gurus, check these guys out: Dave Ramsey, Suze Orman, Ramit Sethi. Even the government has a special website called Wi$eUp dedicated to helping women increase their financial knowledge. Another great resource by the government is called MyMoney.gov.