Adulting 101

Good financial habits can lead to a high-impact future.

Millennials are known for their compassionate nature. They want to change the world.

It’s a great quality. But you have to be able to take care of yourself before you’re going to help everyone else. So we’re going to offer some sound financial advice that could make a big difference in your life. Then, someday, you’ll be in position to improve the lives of others.

First, let’s review how you got to where you are. You likely went to college, ran up a sizable student loan debt (the national average is $37,000), earned a degree and landed a pretty good job. We’ll move forward from there.

Second, you’re probably not going to change the world at your first job. Sorry. Bide your time, get some valuable experience and earn the respect of your supervisors. If you do, those promotions and interesting assignments will come. In the meantime, enroll in your company’s 401(k) plan. It may seem counter-intuitive to cut your own paycheck by 5 or 10 percent, but you’ll be glad you did when, inevitably, you grow older and have some money for life’s necessities.

Let’s move to the home front. It might be time to refine your spending habits. You’ve probably “invested” in a big flat-screen TV, a cutting-edge laptop and fancy smartphone. We understand these have become near necessities in our digital world. But try to refrain from buying every new gadget that comes out. Really, you’ll live just fine with fewer pixels in your life. Speaking of spending, statistics show your generation dishes out a lot of cash for restaurant food. Perhaps it’s time to learn how to cook a few tasty dishes at home.

What should you do with that money you’re saving on electronics and food? First, aggressively pay down your student loans. Go online and sign up to make automatic payments to your loan account. Try to go well beyond the minimum payment. You don’t want this debt hanging over you forever. You already have better ideas for how to spend your money. Next, arrange for a few dollars each month to be automatically transferred from your checking to savings account. The job market is fickle. Your employer could announce layoffs next week or next year. You’ll need a cushion of cash to survive the hard times.

One last web-based chore: Sign up to pay your monthly bills through automatic deductions from your checking account. None of us likes sitting down with a stack of paper bills and checks, so it’s easy to procrastinate that chore. But if you don’t pay on time, your credit rating will nosedive. That will matter to you when you want to buy a new car or house or take out a loan when you launch your own business. As for your credit cards, maxing out is a bad idea, as financial companies usually charge young folks really high interest rates. There’s no point in paying extra interest money and getting nothing back. Pay down your balances as fast as possible and then use the cards sparingly.

A final, out-of-the-box idea. Spend a little time volunteering. Pick a cause you believe in and help people who are truly down on their luck.

That will give you a head start on changing the world. It will also give you some idea of how you might someday put your money to good use.

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