Check yourself (and your sources.)
While young adulthood is often marked by exciting transitions and increased independence, it’s also a period marked by many new, and daunting, responsibilities—including managing personal finances.
People emerging from college or just entering the workforce are eager to strike out on their own, but many feel ill-equipped to make financial decisions—all while facing plenty of strain. They’re entering a workforce that’s more unpredictable than the one their parents faced, and they’re starting their careers with more debt than any previous generation. And studies show these burdens are deeply felt by millennials, with roughly two-thirds of young people reporting feeling significantly stressed about money.
While these issues are widespread and our worry is endemic, most of us suffer in silence, muzzled by the stigma that usually surrounds discussions of money. According to Kristen Euretig, certified financial planner and founder of Brooklyn Plans, this discomfort can lead to denial. Euretig specializes in advising people in their 20s and 30s in navigating their finances and says that, for many, facing up to the topic of finances is the hardest part. “Many young people see money as a complex, overwhelming, impossible thing, and because they feel they’re in the dark, many prefer to not to address finances at all,” she says. The result is a lot of stress and seemingly nowhere to turn.
This sense of isolation can be toxic, and Euretig says her initial consultations with clients often feel like a one-sided vent session. “By the time people seek financial advising, they’ve got a lot of pent-up anxiety to get off their chest,” she says. “Sometimes, their meeting with me is the first time they’ve voiced any of their concerns out loud … and it can be pretty intense.” While Euretig says she’s happy to lend an ear to her clients, she hopes to see a shift toward more frank conversations about money in daily life. “The truth is, finances are a complicated thing, especially in this day and age, and it can be almost impossible to get it right on your own. We need more straight talk about money.”
Of course, after breaking the silence on the issue, it’s important to make a plan—regardless of how low your bank statements are. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, Euretig suggests thinking about your finances as manageable pieces. “There are steps everyone can take toward financial stability,” says Euretig, although she’s quick to add “there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.” That’s why Euretig recommends making time for some personal reflection. “I work with my clients to find out what’s most important to them, and we plan their budgets accordingly.” For example, some people are willing to spend more for a nicer apartment, while others prefer to save more money for recreation. Regardless, Euretig recommends paying special attention to “fixed expenditures” like rent or transportation. “It’s actually easier to make positive changes with a frivolous spender—someone who shops too much or eats out all the time—than with someone who has stuck themselves with a high-rent apartment or car payments they can’t afford.” So, says Euretig, think twice before committing yourself to long-term expenses.
Lowering fixed expenses can relieve the anxiety that comes with being stretched too thin. Another important practice is “automatic saving,” says Euretig, meaning you set aside a minimum amount each month. While not everyone is able to put away much, a little can go a long way. Conversely, Euretig is wary of apps like Uber and Seamless, that automatically deduct cash from your account. The convenience we love so much can actually be detrimental to our financial well-being, she says. “I had a client who was spending $700-800 a month on Seamless,” she says. “It’s dangerous because you don’t feel the effect of the money you’re spending.” On the other hand, there are many apps that can be useful tools for managing personal finances.
Student loans are a major concern for many Americans, and the majority of young people today graduate with debt—the average amount owed is $27,000. As with other aspects of financial planning, Euretig says that misinformation can lead to hang-ups: “Lenders do not clearly communicate the options available to borrowers,” and this sense of uncertainty can give rise to panic. Overwhelmed by large balances, young people avoid facing the issue at all, hurting both their bank account and mental well-being in the long run. Instead, Euretig recommends setting aside a block of time to examine your loans, discuss options with your lender, and create a payment plan. Then, she says, let it go. “Learn to live with the total you owe. Focus on the monthly payment.”
On a larger scale, flexibility is important; current trends show that people are switching jobs and moving cities more than their parents or grandparents ever did. Change is constant, but many people interpret instability as failure, says Euretig, who urges her clients to be easy on themselves. “A lot of people are constantly wanting to know if they’re doing the ‘right thing,’” she says. Young people, especially, are anxious about being “real adults,” and many look to their bank accounts for reassurance that they’re “making it.” But Euretig warns against falling into the comparison trap, especially when there are many types of career paths available to young people today. “A lot of people are freelancing, starting their own businesses, or working multiple jobs,” says Euretig. “There’s no one way to measure success, but people can get hung up on comparing themselves to others.”
In the end, acceptance is key—first by acknowledging our financial responsibilities, and then by letting go of what we can’t control.