Making money tends to be the number one focus of adulthood, but it’s what you do with the money after you’ve made it that’s the most important move. Millennials may be the most educated generation, but we earn less on top of having crippling student loan debt and providing financial support to aging parents. And, according to a TD Ameritrade survey, 76 percent of young millennials (ages 15-24) said they know little or nothing about how to invest.
With so many conversations centering on Black wealth and the need to break generational cycles of poverty, we decided to break down the money moves millennials should be making at various stages of adulthood.
- Banking it: At this age, you should have an emergency stash socked away in the bank. “As a general rule of thumb, you should be working towards having three to six months of your expenses in an emergency fund,” explained certified financial planner Jennifer Li, a Senior Financial Planner with EP Wealth Advisors, Inc. “Start with working towards having one month.”
- Getting ready for retirement: It’s never too early to start thinking about retirement. After all, you’ll want to live good when you stop working–and you want to have the ability to actually retire. “Start by taking advantage of an employer’s matching contributions to your 401(k). Some employers will match an employee’s salary deferral up to a certain percentage. By not doing so, you may be leaving free money on the table. If your income is going to be higher in the future, consider checking if there is a Roth component to your 401(k). This may not give you a tax deduction, but may allow the funds to grow tax-free and come out tax-free after reaching age 59 ½,” offers Li.
- Making money off of money: One of the best ways to make your money work for you is by investing. And while millennials have been found to be good savers, they aren’t too keen on investing. According to a Charles Schwab & Co. study of client data, Millennials held 25% of their investments in cash, compared to 19% of investors overall. “The problem is, some Millennials may be putting their retirement security at risk by shying away from stocks now,” Forbes reported.
- Handle your debts: “Pay off any high-interest credit card debt. This may require you to temporarily stop using your credit card and go on a cash diet so that the balance and interest do not continue to accrue. Once you have paid it off, be sure that you pay off the balance in full each month,” advises Li. Check into special programs that help with student loan debt. “Some grads may even qualify for a student loan forgiveness program, so check out the details at The College Investor. Ultimately, a loan provider is willing to work with grads on repayment plans,” says personal finance expert Andrea Woroch.
- What not to do: It’s easy to waste money and make financial mistakes at this stage of adulthood, especially if you’ve been scrambling to get by. “College grads who spent years eating ramen noodles and living in tight quarters are tempted to go on spending binges upon landing their first job. With a steady paycheck coming in, they feel rich! However, this can cause you to go into debt and derail savings and debt pay off goals. Recent grads should continue living like they are in college to keep costs low. Ultimately, a cards goal should be to pay down debt and start saving up for future financial goals, like a downpayment on a house or condo,” said Woroch.
- Banking it: “As a general rule, women in their mid-to-late twenties should have three months of living expenses in the bank,” said Li. Woroch recommends double that number. “An emergency fund ensures you have money to cover unexpected life moments like a car accident, broken water heater or job loss to keep you and your family financially protected. By having up to 6 months of living expenses saved in a separate online account, you will worry less when emergencies strike knowing you have cash to cover it. Otherwise, you may have to rely on high-interest credit card debt or borrowing money from family and friends—all of which can cause much more stress.”
- Getting ready for retirement: At this age, start looking for new ways to add to your retirement fund. “After you have maxed your employer’s matching to your 401(k), If possible, I would increase your savings to five percent and continue to add one percent annually or every time you receive a boost in your income,” Li said.
- Making money off of money: Don’t be afraid to take a risk in growing your money. “A common mistake for this age group is sitting in cash. There may be opportunities to earn interest or allow your cash to grow by investing,” Li pointed out.
- Handle your debts: By now you should have a paid off a chunk of your student loan. “Women at this age should work toward chipping away at any student loans and starting to outline a list of your short-term (less than a year), mid-term (within in the next five years), and long-term financial goals (anything more than five years),” Li said.
- What not to do: “Control FOMO (fear of missing out)—those who constantly feel anxious and worried about missing out on a more exciting event or gathering with friends or family, whether it’s a weekend getaway, Sunday brunch or shopping spree, may end up trying to keep up with a lifestyle they may not be able to afford,” Woroch warned. Giving in to FOMO regularly can hinder a person’s ability to stay on budget, pay down debt and reach financial goals—it may actually result in deep credit card debt. While it’s okay to take part in the occasional party or weekend getaway, just make sure it’s in your budget,”
- Banking it: Your savings account should be relatively stable at this point and blanketed for any life changes you may go through. “At this stage in life, a good general rule for women is to have at least six months of living expenses in their account,” Li advised.
- Getting ready for retirement: As retirement is getting closer, it’s a good idea to make sure you have a plan and work toward retiring early. “As a general rule, women 30-33 should try to save 10% of their income. If you have maxed your 401(k) at $18,500 (for 2018), consider looking to opening a Roth or Traditional IRA. You may be able to make an additional contribution of up to $5,500 (for 2018) depending where your income on your tax return falls,” Li said.
- What not to do: Not knowing your financial health is a no-no, especially at this age. “Check your credit score at least annually. You can request a free copy of your credit report at each of the major credit bureaus on the federally authorized site annualcreditreport.com. Be sure to check that the information is correct and that your identity has not been compromised. Free sites like creditkarma.com and creditsesame.com can help you not only monitor your report, but also contains helpful tips on how you can improve your score,” Li suggested.
- For married couples, it’s important to make sure you don’t give your partner too much control over your finances. “Another potential issue is letting your husband or partner manage the finances without your involvement. If something should happen to your spouse, you do not want to find yourself in the situation of having to deal with the emotional stress and not being in control of your finances,” Li advised. Woroch pointed out that you should also be prepared for “life inflation.” “By this age, women may begin experiencing a substantial boost to their income, whether through a raise, bonus or a new job that pays more given their growing experience. With a bigger paycheck, often comes bigger expenses. This is what is called lifestyle inflation—when you spend more because you make more.”
- Real estate investments: At this age you might be thinking of buying a home or an apartment, but make sure you’re prepared to do so. “Keep your living costs low. Whether shopping around for a new home rental or one to buy, don’t max out the monthly loan or rental rate just to get that bigger, better place. Your rent or mortgage should only be about 25% of your take-home pay,” Woroch offered. “By keeping this payment within this range, you will have more flexibility to do the things you love while reaching your various financial goals. This may mean searching for a place to live that isn’t in the hottest part of town or getting a roommate to help pay the mortgage/rent.”
- Saying I Do? Compared to white women, Black women, on average, marry around age 30 (versus age 26). With marriage comes debt, and since by this time most Black women are on their own, most of that debt will fall on our shoulders rather than our family’s. “According to a recent study on wedding costs from StudentLoanHero.com, 74 percent of couples plan to take on debt to pay for their wedding bills, with 11 percent planning to borrow more than $50,000. Taking on this huge financial burden will cause major money issues for you and your honey,” Woroch said. “Not only is high-interest debt hard to manage and pay off, but it can keep you from reaching other goals like traveling to Europe together, buying a home or starting a family. Consider this seriously and ask yourself if that dream wedding is really worth it. There are plenty of ways to host a fairytale wedding on a budget.”
- Banking it: Not only should you have at least six months of living expenses saved at this point, it is a good idea to increase this emergency fund to nine months’ worth of expenses, said Li.
- Getting ready for retirement: Your retirement contribution should increase significantly during these years. “These women should save 15% of their income and possibly continue to increase savings by one percent each year until they reach 20 percent by the time they reach 40. If they have maxed their 401(k) and Roth or Traditional IRA, save the excess to a taxable account,” Li explained.
- Handle your debts: By this time in a woman’s life, it’s an excellent idea to begin working with a financial planner to develop a plan that can help you stay on track for meeting financial goals.
- What not to do: Not talking about money with your spouse is a huge mistake, Li explained. “Money cannot buy love, but it can hurt a relationship. According to a study, 35 percent blamed problems in their marriage to money issues.” Make sure to communicate about money with your partner. Set time aside each month to go over your accounts and the state of your financial affairs. “You and your partner should set spending rules. Commit to reviewing any purchase over $X (this can be $100 or $300, based on your budget) to help each other make sound financial decisions. At the same time, it’s a good idea to give each partner some fun money every month that they can spend however they want with no judgment,” Woroch suggested.
- Children in the mix: If you have children, it is time to not only save for your future but for theirs. “Instead of getting toys as gifts from friends and relatives, consider opening a 529 education saving account for your child and ask that the money they would have spent be deposited into this account. The money can help go towards college tuition in the future,” Li said. And start thinking about their college funds now. “It’s a good idea to open a college savings account like a 529 plan right away,” added Woroch. The same principle as retirement savings plans applies here–the earlier you begin investing, the more savings you will grow through compound interest. 529 plans are set up similar to 401k plans where you can choose different investment options and you can set up monthly contributions and even share a link to your plan with family and friends and encourage education savings for gifts.”