A College Grad’s Biggest “Adulting” Challenge: Managing Money
This article is a guest post by Frater Kenny Soto. You can find more of Kenny's work on Linked In.
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[Note: I am not a financial expert nor a certified financial advisor, so please take this article as sheer anecdotal evidence. These are the resources I used to get out of debt and manage my finances. What works for me will be completely different for you.]
You are the only one responsible for your financial education.
Managing a budget, knowing the difference between stocks and bonds, setting up a retirement plan—all of this can be overwhelming when you graduate college. However, we are ultimately the only ones responsible for our financial education. The good news is that we have a tool that can help us: Google. There are thousands of resources (books, articles, videos, and podcasts) available to us that are either free or of little cost. The way I started on my personal finance journey was by reading books, but you can use any number of resources to teach yourself. Below is a list of recommended resources that I used to get started:
Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! by Robert T. Kiyosaki
Rich Dad Poor Dad is the first book I read on personal finance. It helped me get a better understanding of why financial education is so important. I had no concern for learning about money while attending college. It was a taboo subject and I, being a first generation citizen, believed that focusing on school and getting my degree was enough to get by. But no one was going to provide me the tools I needed to manage my finances. The main takeaway I got from this book was the importance of managing the four pillars of my budget: Assets, Income, Expenses, and Liabilities. Understanding the differences between these four budgeting categories will give you a better sense of where your money is going and how your spending is affecting your circumstances in the long term.
Charles Schwab's Guide to Financial Independence: Simple Solutions for Busy People By Charles Schwab
When I was ready to start investing, a fraternity brother of mine gave me this book (I'm forever indebted to him for this). This book covers the basics of mutual funds, ETFs, how stocks and bonds work and basic tips on how to get started in investing (with just $25 a month). It's a short read and makes investing seem very practical. There are definitely other books out in the market that can teach what's in this one, but Charles has a way of distilling information into simple and actionable advice.
How The Economic Machine Works by Ray Dalio
I really wish I saw this video when I was a freshman in college. College students are prime targets for credit card advertising and it's important for us to understand the ramifications of opening credit cards. This video by hedge fund manager Ray Dalio covers how the American economy works. It's a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, taking the time to get the basics of how debt runs the economy, the basics of how transactions work and what it means to leverage credit. Using credit is paying for the convenience of buying things you can’t afford now, in order to take money away from your future-self. That's what I internalized from watching this video. It also helped me find the motivation for getting out of debt (the actual steps on how I did this are below).
Ramit Sethi’s blog on personal finance: I Will Teach You To Be Rich
If you're not a fan of reading books or long videos, this blog by author Ramirez Sethi provides tips on how to manage your personal finances and setting up systems for automating all of the heavy lifting of saving and investing. He also has tactics you can use to negotiate the amount of money you pay towards your current bills. It's updated on a regular basis so I highly recommend subscribing to his newsletter too.
Personal finance podcasts: The Scott Alan Turner Show and The Payoff by Mic
These are two financial planning and credit card management podcasts that were recommended to me by my Mother. I love how practical both of these podcasts are. You don't need a million dollars to be financially independent and happy. You just need tips to manage your debt and income, which these podcasts can help you do. I learned about the difference between closing and freezing a credit card from these podcasts, I didn't even know that was a thing I could do.
Lastly, I also suggest having conversations with your friends and family about their philosophies on spending, saving, and investing. Find perspectives that challenge your own opinion and seek what works best for you. I would have never learned about the resources I just listed without actively seeking advice from people I knew - and by Googling what I wanted to learn. The most important thing to remember is that this just my personal list of resources.You need to explore and create your own, that's the key to making sure you continuously educate yourself.
Related: Creating Your Own Curriculum For Self-Education After College (6 min. read)
Set up systems to manage your finances
The first time I set my budget I was nineteen years old. I didn't follow my budget until I was 22. The reason being, like many of my peers I fell into the trap of believing the heavy lifting of managing my money was simply by listing all of my monthly expenses. What I didn't know was that I needed to set up a system to track all of my money coming in and out. I didn't understand what it meant to manage my cash flow. More importantly, I didn't set time to regularly check my budget and ensure I wasn’t overspending.
So let's start with the first step to creating a personal money management system: adding a budget review to your calendar. You don't need to check your budget on a weekly basis. Bi-weekly is fine, so long as you make sure you always have a sense of where your money comes and goes.
Only after setting time to regularly review your budget should you create one. I use a visual dashboard for not only tracking cash flow but, for setting saving and investing goals. Budgeting apps can help you do this. They help you discover where you are overspending, how much you need to allocate for your savings goals each week, and if your bills are on track to getting paid. There are many options to choose from, so when deciding which one is right for you, just go for ease of use.
Two other apps I recommend you use, specifically for hitting your savings goals and paying your bills on time are both Olivia and Digit. Digit allows you to set up mini-savings accounts for each monthly bill you have and it automatically takes money from your checking account and gives it back to you one business day before your bill is due. Olivia is a new personal finance assistant that allows you to know how much to spend on a daily basis so you can stay on track for your saving goals. When you combine these two services, alongside a budgeting app, you'll start managing your money better (automation is the best).
Related: Time Management: A 6-Step Guide to For Millennials
The fastest way to paying off debt
One of the biggest concerns one could have when starting their career is tackling debt. Whenever you take out a loan or set up a credit card you aren't losing money off of the principal (the money you borrow). What keeps you in the hole of debt for months, even years on end is the interest that pays on top of the principal - this is commonly understood by most. However, what we don't consider when paying the minimum payment on these loans and cards is how the minimum payment is designated. By paying the minimum, you are maximizing the amount of time the creditor loaning you the money has you as an asset. This means that you need to pay more than the minimum monthly payment in order to pay less at the end of your payment period. My approach was paying double the minimum payment in order to get out of my debt faster. And whenever I got the chance, I would also make lump sum deposits to further shorten my loan repayment periods.
Related: 5 Tips To Use When Surviving Life After College (6 min. read)
Spending habits are what get you out and are what keeps you out of debt
Everyone's situation is different. Some of us only have one student loan and maybe one credit card with a small balance when graduating. However, there are extreme cases where we graduate having six credit cards and over sixty grand in student loans with no hope in sight. The only way out is not only by setting up systems to audit our finances but also by considering how we approach money. How do we approach personal finance?
You don't need multiple credit cards so you can collect those fancy points that they provide. Creditors use reward points to gamify debt, and debt isn't fun when you have to pay it back (no matter how many "points" you have). When it comes to buying food, I try my best to bring lunch from home for at least 2/5 meals I have a week. One of the biggest expense categories I have is food. It's important to save every penny by sacrificing up front so that your future-self has less stress and fewer bills. Once you create money-saving habits and pay off all of your debt, your final challenge is staying out of debt.
This is the point where my personal story ends, for now. My current approach to staying out of debt is by keeping my current monthly payments, what I paid to get out of debt, Only now I'm allocating them to my emergency fund and my investment accounts (50/50 split accordingly). I truly believe that paying off your debt is an achievable goal, but it all starts with education and creating systems that automatically allocate your money across accounts for you.