How do I plan for the future financially while maintaining a social life?

Illustration: Nadia Snopek

@AskPeaches: I’m six years out of college and work as an urban planner. I make decent money but living in NYC makes it a challenge to pay bills, save and go out. I want to start planning for my future, but I also want to be able to have fun and travel, especially when the pandemic is behind us. What suggestion do you have to set yourself up for financial success while maintaining an enjoyable life?

@Gary: I’m happy to hear that you are thinking so far ahead. You’re in good company, as a recent study showed that about 71% of Millennials want to learn how to manage their finances. 

I’ve synthesized various points that many financial experts recommend are ways to become a better money manager. Adopt these four simple ideas: save more income, generate new income, dial back debt, and stretch existing resources. These four concepts will take you a long way on your quest for the right life-money balance where they apply to your individual circumstances. In all cases, set goals and work toward them. 

Save More Income

  • Put 10% or greater of your take-home pay in a savings account that you do not touch.
  • Keep at least $1,000 separate from your savings for emergencies only.
  • Lower your tax burden and save with an IRA or 401K, if your employer provides it. 
  • Reduce discretionary spending, like clothes, coffee, or cable TV etc.
  • Save your yearly tax refund, or immediately apply it to your debts.

Generate More Income

  • Invest in the stock/bond market. Read Eric Tyson’s Investing for Dummies to learn how.
  • Start a side hustle or put in some weekend hours to make extra cash.
  • Generate passive income. This may be unique to your circumstances.
  • Ask for a pay raise.
  • Sell items in the secondhand market you don’t use or need. 

Dial Back Debt

  • Distinguish between good debt (student loans) and bad debt (credit cards).
  • Minimize or pay off bad debts in full.
  • Refinance debt for better payment terms.
  • Clear your smallest debt first, then repurpose those payments on the next highest debt.
  • Or, pay the debt in order of highest to lowest interest rate. 

Stretch Existing Resources

  • Consume alcohol at home before going out.
  • Prepare and pack lunch for work. 
  • Use air miles or loyalty points to defray travel expenses.
  • Stay at an Airbnb instead of a hotel, especially for group trips to cost share.
  • Cook or pack items you can eat to reduce food expenses when traveling. 

Here’s some additional resources that will go a lot deeper to help you achieve more financial literacy, security and flexibility. 

  • A free guide from the National Endowment for Financial Education that has information, tips, stories of real people, and worksheets to help you on your way.
  • Bankrate has a good guide on investing, with five things you can do today to get you on your way.
  • Erin Lowry’s book: Broke Millennials Take on Investing: A Beginner’s Guide to Leveling Up your Money. (Also check out her YouTube channel and website).

The @AskPeacheas column is prepared by committee but written from one person’s experience. Send emails to askpeaches [at] freshfruitinc [dot] com with “@AskPeaches” in the subject line. Be sure to give enough background, so the advice can be more specific and relevant.

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