Like the phrase suggests, personal finance is only 50% about money. The other major factor is you. How do you feel about your finances? Are you confident you can set money goals and achieve them?
The average American woman not only earns less than the average man, but tends to be less satisfied with and less optimistic about her finances. There are plenty of reasons to feel less than stellar about your financial situation: underemployment, high student debt, low income, living with your parents just a bit longer than you’d like. These conditions are the new normal for many of us Millennials. What else would you expect for a generation that launched their careers in the midst of a global financial crisis? Caught in the winds of economic change, it can be tempting to leave your finances to chance. Why plan for a home or retirement when you’ll probably never emerge from the sea of student loans, right? Wrong! People with far less money than you have achieved far more than you currently think you can.
The first step toward better personal finances is acknowledging that you can move toward better personal finances. You have power. Yes, power. It might seem that your friend who makes twice your annual income or your neighbor who just inherited a generous sum is better off than you, but in the end everyone’s in the same boat. Whether you have a little or a lot, whether you feel in control or inept, the truth is that you’re a boss. You control the tiny kingdom of your wallet.
When you acknowledge the power you have over your finances, you can decide to become a better money manager. Here are five nuggets of financial wisdom you can use to tame your finances right now.
1. Create a budget. It’s so cliche, it can be easy to miss: make sure you spend less than you make. Two thirds of Millennials say that impulse buying gets in the way of their savings. Don’t be a statistic! Planning for those weekly cappuccinos or your next backpacking adventure will create a less stress-inducing experience. Countless templates and apps exist to help you create budget that makes sense for your personal situation. One common model suggests putting 50% of your income toward necessities, 30% toward lifestyle, and 20% toward long-term savings.
2. Set financial goals. The majority of Americans don’t have $500 in savings to cover a sudden expense; a full third have no savings at all. You don’t have to create a 20-year financial strategy to start setting and achieving simple goals that will benefit your bank account and mental health. Great first-time financial goals include paying off debt, setting up an emergency fund (3-6 months of expenses), and putting a percentage of your savings away for retirement (while you can still take advantage of employer matching and compound growth).
3. Talk about it. Recruit people to be be your financial health partners. Your best friend can keep you honest about your budget and goals. Your significant other can celebrate financial successes and complement your weaknesses if you keep them in the loop. Advice from your parents or a financial advisor could make the difference between wise risk-taking and just crossing your fingers when you buy stocks for the first time.
4. Monitor your credit. The first step to raising your credit score (which translates to more trust and better terms from bankers, lenders, and landlords) is knowing your credit score. Many people don’t realize that they can check their credit report for free online. Use your credit report to correct errors and late payments, both of which lower your score. Pro tip: keep your credit availability high and your usage low.
5. Love what you’ve got. When it comes to money, more is not always better. In fact, research suggests that “buying into” the messages of consumer culture negatively affects your personal well-being — and that more money doesn’t increase happiness once our basic needs are met.
You don’t have to be a millionaire to feel great about your financial situation. You don’t even need to be debt-free next month or next year! A little knowledge and diligence are all you need to reign effectively over your wallet and become a better money manager for life.