“It’s fine. I’m only 21. I don’t really know what to do with money.” This soundbite is courtesy of my late-night HGTV binge watching this weekend, and this sentiment is alarmingly common among young adults. Have a lot of debt? I didn’t know better. Spending more than I earn? No one told me not to. No plan for retirement? I’m a millennial, I’ve got lots of time.
If you think excusing financial illiteracy is fine because you’re young, it’s not. Your age is not an excuse. Every year you hide behind that number amounts to an untold number of decisions or inaction that your future self will have to battle. No matter your age, you can–and should!–learn about finances.
Own Up To It
I will be the first to say that I did some pretty wasteful things with my money. But I’m not blaming my age, society, or even my favorite fictional characters and their droolworthy closets. I can’t even say I didn’t know better. I knew I had more than I needed; I had more than I could fit in one closet or even one room. Even if you aren’t guilty of wasteful spending or have managed to dodge debt, you’re not off the hook. If you don’t have a method to monitor your spending and a way of articulating short-term and long-term financial goals, you could be doing more for your future self. Having never been taught about money might explain the sweeping prevalence of financial illiteracy. But it doesn’t make it any less of a problem.
I’m not advocating that every millennial go back to school and take on more debt to get an MBA in Finance. You can start much smaller than that. There is an abundance of financial resources; you just have to start looking. Swing by your library to pick up some books. Download a few podcasts. Bookmark some blogs from the personal finance community. And never underestimate learning from yourself.
Even if you feel like you do not know anything about money, you’re interacting with it on a nearly minute-by-minute basis. Every time you save or spend, you have an opportunity to learn about finances. More importantly, you have a chance to learn about yourself and your priorities.
An effective actionable way to start increasing your financial literacy is to track your spending for a month. Every penny you spend or save should be accounted for. At the end of the month, you’ll have some really eye-opening insights that unveil your priorities.
Keep learning. Reading about an IRA or an EFT once isn’t enough to make you financially literate. You’ve got to stick with it. Make it a point to build financial literacy into your routines. Read a personal finance blog or two on your lunch break. Subscribe to your favorite finance podcast and dedicate one commute a week to listening to it. Carve out 15 minutes of time on the weekends to evaluate your spending. Once these routines are part of your schedule, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your confidence and understanding grow. If you are uncovering problems or mistakes, that’s great. You cannot fix anything until you have identified the cause of the chaos.
Never Underestimate Teamwork
It has always amazed me how we tend to shop in groups but save in private. If you would enlist a workout buddy or consider recruiting a friend to start eating healthier, why should saving be any different? Consider sharing savings tips, swapping books, or even discussing goals with a friend. If talking with friends about finances feels too personal for you, explore the various blogs, forums, and other internet resources that are available. Chances are not only do you have something valuable to learn about finances, but you also have something important to teach as well.
*Hello, 8 years ago. Womp womp.
So Tell Me…Do you feel financially savvy? How did you boost your financial literacy? What do you wish you knew more about?