By Amy Lin
April is here! You know what this means: spring, allergies, and tax season. April also means something else very important: Financial Literacy Month. Since I’m young, single and a woman, my worrying about financial literacy extends well beyond April. I constantly read financial blogs, articles about saving, and websites that write about money, and I worry. I know other people my age are worried, too. The young adult unemployment rate is twice the national average, and for African Americans, three and a half times the national average. Women earn just 81 cents for every dollar men earn, which affects the amount of student loans we borrow, our paychecks, and our Social Security benefits.
Most advice is on savings, budgeting, and paying off debt. Some articles specify how much money to have saved by a certain age for retirement, or they offer tips on paying down credit card and student loan debt. Some articles are interesting and helpful, and others leave me anxious about my lack of progress toward goals that I didn’t set for myself. I try to remember that many of these goals for retirement, emergency funds, and future houses are unrealistic, given how much debt this generation is in from just trying to go to college, how many of us are unemployed, and how much we’ve been struggling since the Great Recession.
The thing is, no one, not Suze Orman, not your parents, nor any type of financial advisor can tell you what works best for you. For different individuals, the oft-heard advice of cutting out that cup of coffee, cancelling your magazine subscriptions, brown bagging lunch, or getting a roommate, just won’t work. There are many who already do those things or are living in situations that are so irrelevant to that advice that reading it just makes us laugh.
It seems like the key to good financial planning includes two main things: Earning more money than you spend and being informed and educated about your money decisions. How you decide to move forward is entirely up to you. Maybe earning more than you spend means working three jobs instead of two, or working weekends in addition to weekdays. Maybe it means making a case to your supervisor for a raise you deserve, babysitting, cleaning houses, or freelancing. Maybe it means forgoing certain things in return for more peace of mind each month.
Being informed means doing as much research and information gathering as possible before going to college, buying a car or a house, or spending any significant amount of money. It means knowing what a significant amount of money is for you – $20, $200 or $2,000? Being informed also means checking your wallet, bank balance, and debt levels on a regular basis, to keep track of your cash flow.
Sometimes the harder part of being informed means asking others for advice and help. Find that person you trust who can give you the best advice for your life — a mentor or older sibling, family member, or teacher who knows what your daily struggles are like and has been through it all.
The last piece for me, at least, is about forgiving myself for past financial transgressions. A key part of moving forward is allowing ourselves to be as happy as possible with the progress we’ve made, and celebrating the time we still have to keep moving toward economic stability.