By Cami Thomas
I’ve been fortunate enough to have some pretty financially savvy adults in my life. My grandparents and great grandparents have been spitting money knowledge my way since I was still crawling in a diaper and kente cloth baby booties. As any other young adult, I was often reluctant to such business talk. After all, what 16 year old wants to hear about the benefits of a Roth IRA or the definition of compound interest? I loved to drown out their financial lectures with the clicking of the buttons on my flip phone and blasting Nelly in my headphones, because let’s face it, money talk can be awfully boring. Boring as hell, in fact.
Then I graduated college. With a fresh diploma clutched in my hand, I was wide-eyed and ready to face the adult world. I immediately locked down a job with a company Forbes Magazine referred to as the “most innovative company in the world.” I went to the car lot with my mom and picked out a shiny sports car for me to cruise around the city in. I browsed apartments, taking preference for anything with high ceilings, wood floors, and beautiful downtown views of the city so I could appropriately plot my black girl magic dominance. I felt like a black Bill Gates in the making, with my first big girl job and some extra change in my pocket. No one could stop me.
And then, my grace period ended.
My trip on cloud nine ended the same time student loan bills appeared in my mailbox. (Click Read More)
There were taxes, insurance, and heaps of other expenses that I never would have anticipated all needed my attention and money. All my grandparents could do was shake their heads and sip their tea while looking at me wallow in my own ignorance. Surprisingly, the “I told you so’s never came. Instead, they sat me down and slid a pen and paper across the table. My grandmother raised an eyebrow at me and the look on her face said it all; it was time that I finally soak in the financial information that I’d been ignoring for 23 years.
Or in her words, “Don’t go broke child.”
I realize now how fortunate I am to have adults in my life who are so knowledgeable in financial matters who saved me from my impending self-destruction. As I watched my peers make the same mistakes I did while burying themselves in debt, I realized how urgent it is for us to spread good financial habits to our brothers and sisters. We can’t expect our families and communities to rise out of poverty and lower middle class mindsets if we continue the same money practices that have kept us there. It took me graduating college and staring in the face of student debt to realize that my family’s advice was relevant, no matter how young I thought I was. In our communities, we need to start passing down monetary intelligence the same way we pass down recipes, stories, and values.
From numerous conversations with my family, interviews with local influencers, and a few financial advisors, here is a list of six valuable pieces of financial advice for any young adult who wants to move towards financial freedom (or just not go broke, child). Relevant? Too wordy.
1. Don’t ignore your student loans:
That six month grace period will fly by, and when it does, there’s no room for error or confusion. You don’t want to wait for that massive bill to hit your mailbox before you realize that the suggested payment amount is too unrealistic. If this does happen, don’t panic. I distinctly remember the dismay that washed over my body when my student loan statement requested nearly $500/month from me, an amount that would have devastated any chance of me saving money after bills (or my chances of eating anything but ramen for eight years). Good sentence! There are plenty of options for graduates whose student loan payments are unbearable. For federal loans there are repayment plans that offer monthly amounts more fitting to entry-level salaries, or even no salary at all. In fact, repayment options can be as little as $0 if you meet the necessary requirements. You won’t know your options until you ask.
Whatever option you go with, just be sure that you are proactive. Too many months of ignoring your student loan payments as they rack up could throw you into default. So as daunting as it may seem to rip open that envelope when it lands in your mailbox six months after graduation, do it.
2. Live at home.
The exception for this is if you move to a city without family or if you live in a dangerous home environment that requires you to leave. In that case, find somewhere affordable and hopefully with roommates to lessen the blow of the rent.
Renting your own place is overrated at best, and ridiculously, crippling expensive at worst. The monthly out of pocket expense is never what it seems, especially when you’re spending money on things you never expected. Parking fees, laundry, renters insurance, and maintenance fees are just a few overlooked costs of living on your own. And don’t think you’ll get your deposit back after your landlord realizes that coconut oil and shea butter is forever engraved on the bathroom walls from your wash days. Love this!
When you land your first job out of college, resist the urge to search for high rise penthouses or condos by the marina. It’s best to grasp a comprehensive understanding of what your true budget will be before committing to a lease. Waiting at least a year will give you a better idea of how much you actually need to survive on. Think about condensing this whole paragraph.
3. Invest in your retirement.
Retirement seems so far away. Frankly, it is. At least for a 20 something with endless possibilities and the world at our disposal. To put it simply though, you have two options. You can ignore the fact that time will pass and that at some point, you won’t be 20 something, and end up working well into old age to make up for the lack of funds in your 401k and Roth IRA. Another option would be to start putting money aside early, retire when you want (possibly early), and spend your golden years traveling the world and having your daily expenses covered. I was tempted to neglect the retirement plans that my company offered and worry about my retirement later. Then I watched as my grandparents took off on planes and cruises across the world, bringing back trinkets from Cuba and beyond. If your company offers retirement options, take them and don’t look back. You’ll thank me when we’re both retired, happy, toasting our piña coladas in Copacabana letting our melanin pop.
4. Walk away from the new car.
It’s understandable that you don’t want to pull up to your new job on your sister’s old Razor scooter. That said, it’s not a good idea to go straight to the car lot and pick out a brand new car, especially if you just got a new job. For one, it could make you look impulsive and irresponsible to your senior managers and co-workers who park their 10 year old Toyota Camrys next to your shiny new, expensive car. My personal experience showed me that my seniors who made triple my salary, tended to drive the modest vehicles on the lot. This made me rethink my ambitions of pulling up to the office in a brand new Camaro, and forced me to consider a more humble transportation option.
Hidden costs of a new car purchase are taxes, down payment, insurance, and repairs. Not to mention that taking out an expensive loan just adds more debt to your name and could have a negative impact on your debt to income ratio.
Take a page out of Alfred Morris’ book. Morris is a millionaire runningback for the Dallas Cowboys, who can be seen whipping around Texas in his ‘91 Mazda.
Use that money that you were going to use as a down payment on a new car, and find a cheap reliable vehicle to take you from point A to point B. Some Febreeze and an AUX cord (or one of those cassette player AUX plugs) is all you need to make it yours.
5. Watch your credit.
For the love of Beyonce, please check your credit. There are too many free websites out there for a person to not know what their credit score is. It’s not an arbitrary number that’s only relevant when you feel like buying a house in ten years. It’s what will determine whether or not you can even have the house or car that you want in the future. Luckily, keeping track of your credit is relatively simple.
Don’t go crazy with credit cards. This is not to say that credit cards are forbidden; in fact, having some line of credit is beneficial because it increases your credit history. But a credit card isn’t free money, and it’s not a golden ticket to filling your closet with the latest digs and taking a Eurotrip every three months. If you do decide to get a credit card, pay off the balance in full every month. If you want to build your credit up, I suggest getting a credit card for small recurring purchases such as a Netflix account or gas costs. This will make it easy to pay off the amount in full every single month.
There will be endless opportunities for you to take out more lines of credit. When I couldn’t afford four new tires, I took out a Goodyear Credit Card to cover the cost, while I worked in overtime to have it payed off before the six month no-interest grace period ended. Sometimes, taking out a line of credit might be the most responsible option, and that’s okay. Just be incredibly picky, read the fine print, and never charge anything that you don’t trust yourself to pay off immediately.
6. Enjoy your life.
Right now, you’re the youngest you’ll ever be. Following the tips above will save you plenty of money in your first few years out of college. Sit down with a financial advisor to determine where you’d like to place your money, and how much you should save out of every check. He or she should point you in the direction of high yield savings accounts, stocks, and other decent investment options.
Once you have a financial game plan, you’re free to spoil yourself in a few of your most cherished indulgences. Take advantage of flash flight deals and travel to a city or country that you’ve only seen on Instagram. Go to happy hour on the rooftop with your best girlfriend and throw your head back in laughter as she catches you up on the juicy details of her life. Reward yourself to those sneakers you’ve been eyeing for a few months.
Saving money and making smart financial decisions doesn’t need to be painstakingly boring. Having exciting, reasonable, rewards for your hardwork and dedication will serve as a reminder to what financial freedom will offer you in the future.
I learned a lot from my family, and from my community. I can detangle my curly ‘fro in a matter of minutes, whip up some decent gumbo, and make the quick distinction between Nu jazz and neo-swing jazz. In addition to the other rich parts of our culture that we pass down through generations, we millennials are responsible for pouring useful financial information into our communities as well. Access to the information can make the difference between a paid off house and a relaxing retirement, versus struggling and working well into old age. It’s necessary that these basic principles are communicated just as often as wiping our feet at the door and saying “yes ma’am” to our grandmothers. “Good with money” needs to be just as synonymous with our people as “good at sports” and “aging like fine wine”. As young people armed with knowledge, education, and a certain unmatched swag, it’s our duty to set the new standard for what it means to be a successful young adult. Take it seriously, and in the words of my grandmother, “don’t go broke child”.