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4 Crucial Financial Lessons College Isn’t Teaching Millennials

4 Crucial Financial Lessons College Isn’t Teaching Millennials

Out of all the reasons that people go to college it seems that two tend to top the list: the love and pursuit of knowledge and a means of upward financial mobility. For institutions so concerned with knowledge and money, you’d think that most graduating students would know all there is to know about their own personal finances, venturing into the world well-equipped to become productive members of society, and get a solid grasp on this “adulting” business. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t seem to reflect as much.

As it sits only 17 states currently require students to take a course in personal finance sometime in K-12 and according to one study, 43 percent of students couldn’t name one difference between a credit and a debit card. With how important tax returns, credit scores, and all other sorts of financial data are to the average adult’s fiscal life, it seems absurd that so many come out of college knowing so little about them. Whether you’re intent on amassing a small fortune or content with living simply and frugally, there are certain financial lessons you shouldn’t leave college without knowing.

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1. No Matter What, You Have to Pay Your Taxes

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    For some people, the fact that you have to pay taxes is a no-brainer–personally, I’ve had to fill out tax returns since I was about 16 years old. However, many of the people I went to college with–particularly athletes and high-performing academics who’d never had the time to hold a job throughout either high school or university–hadn’t the slightest clue about 1040s or 1099s or any of the other tax forms that income-generating Americans should.

    The good news is this: taxes usually aren’t as complicated as people make them out to be. They can be, but at the end of the year, the average citizen will be filling out a 1040EZ which has line-by-line instructions (in fact most tax forms come with a set of instructions). Difficult or not, taxes are time consuming. The Motley Fool estimates that it takes 5 hours for the average 1040EZ filer, so make sure you set that time aside and get it done. Owing the government money is never a good thing. Another reason that tax awareness is as important today as it ever was is that more graduates are going into business for themselves, either as business owners or as part of the gig economy. Without knowledge of the tax code, how do you avoid running afoul of it and owing the government money? Unfortunately, not knowing the rules doesn’t make you exempt from them, so brush up on your tax knowledge. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be.

    2. Your Credit Score is Probably More Important than You Realize

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      From car loans to home loans, finances are a huge part of everybody’s lives

      Credit scores were invented shortly after the Civil War to indicate how trustworthy a person is in terms of paying back debt, and everybody–unless they’ve never opened a bank account, applied for a loan, or owned a credit card–has one. Your credit score is going to range anywhere from 300 to 850, and the lower the number is, the less likely that somebody will trust you with their money. The higher your credit score, the better chance you’ll get a good deal on your mortgage, car loan, and basically any other major life purchase you might be thinking about. On the other hand, if your credit score is too low, you may be flat-out denied a loan.

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      A better credit score means you have more buying power, but more importantly that you’ll have to pay less interest on those big life-purchases (more on that in a moment). The weird thing here is that you have to use credit to build credit–a slippery slope if I ever saw one myself–and it’s easy to get carried away with all of that unchecked power. It’s good to keep in mind that you’ll build credit quicker by managing your debt more strictly; keeping your credit balance below 30 percent of your credit limit is recommended for building credit. It’s all about balance!

      3. Debt Compounds Quickly–So Pay It Off Just as Quickly

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        You wouldn’t just hand over money would? Only paying the your minimum amount on your installments can cost you big in the long run.

        This is one of those things that I wish I would have realized sooner. Due to rising costs of tuition ($19,548 per year on average for in-state tuition including room and board), many students are taking on massive amounts of debt with the hope that they’ll land a good enough job to pay it all off later. Unfortunately, many of these students take on that debt without fully realizing how debt and interest actually work. Whether it’s credit cards, student loans, or your car payments, it’s almost always worth it to pay off your principle sooner rather than later. Here’s a quick example to illustrate what I mean:

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        Let’s say your loan balance is $40,000 at last year’s current average interest rate of 4.29%. You’d have to pay at least $410.52 a month consistently to pay your loan off in 10 years, and you’d still be paying $9,261 extra in interest–meaning your $40,000 worth of debt is closer to $50,000 when it’s all said and done. If you commit to paying off an extra $100 a month, you’ll save approximately $2,200 overall and pay off the loan in 7.8 years. Bump that up to an extra $200 a month and you’re looking at being debt-free in 6.3 years and saving approximately $3,600 on interest charges. It’s worth noting that certain loans, specifically mortgages, may have penalties associated with paying them off early–however, the overarching lesson is this: if you can pay it off early, do it! You’ll thank yourself later on. Seriously.

        4. It’s Never Too Early to Save for Later

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          Sometimes money is too easy to spend–keep that wallet shut and save!

          Of course, the reason that we take so long to pay off our student loans and other debts is that we’re a culture focused on living in the now. We’re not great at recognizing our future needs over our current needs, and add to that economic strains and pressures and you see why young folks like Millennials put off saving for retirement, let alone drawing up a will or living trust. Beyond taxes and debt, this is probably going to be the least of most students’ concerns–but if there’s anything I’ve learned personally from paying off debt, it’s that it’s easy to underestimate how appreciative your future self will be for the actions of your past self. Any amount put away is better than nothing and will make your later years that much more comfortable.

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          Of course, there are more obscure things that college students might want to know about finances, and this list is by no means definitive–but the lack of rhetoric in high school and university concerning the financial aspects of everyday life is somewhat concerning. At least here you’ve learned the basics, and can take fiscal agency over your own life.

          Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com

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          Andrew Heikkila

          Owner-Operator of Earthlings Entertainmnet

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          Last Updated on August 20, 2019

          How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

          How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

          Finances can push anyone to the point of extreme anxiety and worry. Easier said than done, planning finances is not an egg meant for everyone’s basket. And that’s why most of us are often living pay check to pay check. But did anyone tell you that it is actually not a tough task to meet your financial goals?

          In this article, we will explore ways on how to set financial goals and then actually meet them with ease.

          5 Steps to Set Financial Goals

          Though setting financial goals might seem to be a daunting task but if one has the will and clarity of thought, it is rather easy. Try using these steps:

          1. Be Clear About the Objectives

          Any goal (let alone financial) without a clear objective is nothing more than a pipe dream. And this couldn’t be more true for financial matters.

          It is often said that savings is nothing but deferred consumption. Therefore if you are saving today, then you should be crystal clear about what it is for. It could be anything like kid’s education, retirement, marriage, that dream vacation, fancy car etc.

          Once the objective is clear, put a monetary value to that objective and the time frame. The important point at this step of goal setting is to list all the objectives, however small they may be, that you foresee in the future and put a value to it.

          2. Keep Them Realistic

          It’s good to be an optimistic person but being a pollyanna is not desirable. Similarly, while it might be a good thing to keep your financial goals a bit aggressive, going out of the line will definitely hurt your chances of achieving them.

          It’s important that you keep your goals realistic in nature for it will help you stay the course and keep you motivated throughout the journey.

          3. Account for Inflation

          Ronald Reagan once said – “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman”. And this quote sums up the best what inflation could do your financial goals.

          Therefore account for inflation whenever you are putting a monetary value to a financial objective that is far away in the future.

          For example, if one of your financial goal is your son’s college education, which is 15 years hence, then inflation would increase the monetary burden by more than 50% if inflation is mere 3%. So always account for inflation.

          4. Short Term vs Long Term

          Just like every calorie is not the same, the approach towards achieving every financial goal will not be the same. It is important to bifurcate goals in short term and long term.

          As a rule of thumb, any financial goal, which is due in next 3 years should be termed as short term goal. Any longer duration goals are to be classified as long term goals. This bifurcation of goals into short term vs long term will help in choosing the right investment instrument to achieve them.

          More on this later when we talk about how to achieve financial goals.

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          5. To Each to His Own

          The journey of setting financial goals is an individualistic affair i.e. your goals are your own goals and are determined by your want to achieve them. A lot of times we get on the bandwagon of goal setting only to realize later on that it was not meant for us.

          It is important that your goals are actually your goals and not inspired by someone else. Take a hard look at this step at all the goals you’ve set for after this step, you will be on the way to achieve them.

          By now, you would be ready with your financial goals, now it’s time to go all out and achieve them.

          11 Ways to Achieve Your Financial Goals

          Whenever we talk about chasing any financial goal, it is usually a 2 step process –

          • Ensuring healthy savings
          • Making smart investments

          You will need to save enough; and invest those savings wisely so that they grow over a period of time to help you achieve goals. So let’s get down to ensuring healthy savings.

          Ensuring Healthy Savings

          Self realization is the best form of realisation and unless you decide what your current financial position is, you aren’t heading anywhere.

          This is the focal point from where you start your journey of achieving financial goals.

          1. Track Expenses

          The first and the foremost thing to be done is to track your monthly expenses. Use any of the expense tracking mobile apps to record your expenses. Once you start doing it diligently, you would be surprised to see how small expenses add up to a sizeable amount.

          Also categorize those expenses into different bucket so that you know which bucket is eating the most of your pay check. This record keeping will pave the way for cutting down on un-wanted expenses and pump up your savings rate.

          2. Pay Yourself First

          Generally, savings come after all the expenses have been taken care of. This is a classical mistake which almost everyone of us do. We pay ourselves last!

          Ideally, this should be planned upside down. We should be paying ourselves first and then to the world i.e. we should be taking out the planned saving amount first and then manage all the expenses from the rest.

          The best way to actually implement is to put the savings on automatic mode i.e. money flowing automatically into different financial instruments (for example – mutual funds, retirement corpus etc) every month.

          Taking the automatic route will make us lose control of our money and hence will compel us to manage in what’s left with us thereby increasing the savings rate.

          3. Make a Plan and Vow to Stick with It

          Budgeting is the best to get around the uncertainty that financial plans always pose. Decide in advance how spending has to be made.

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          Nowadays, several money management apps and wallets can help you do this automatically. It’s easy and who knows, you may just end up doing what people fail to do.

          At first, you may not be able to stick to your plans completely but don’t let that become a reason why you stop budgeting entirely.

          Make use of technology solutions you like. Explore options and alternatives that let you make use of the available wallet options and choose the one that suits you the most. In time, you will get accustomed to making use of these solutions.

          You will find that they make it simpler for you to follow your plan, which would have been difficult otherwise.

          4. Rise Again Even If You Fall

          Let’s be realistic. It’s not like the world will come to an end if you made one mistake. This isn’t called leniency but discipline.

          If you fail to meet your budget for a month, don’t give up the entire effort just like that. Instead, start again.

          Remember that flexible plans are the most realistic plans. So go forward and try to follow your financial goals as planned but if for some reason, the plan gets out of hand for you, do not give up on it just yet. This has a lot to do with your psychology rather than any material commitment.

          All you have to do is to stay on the road and vow to stay on it, no matter how much you fall down.

          5. Make Savings a Habit and Not a Goal

          In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate that in order to achieve any goal, it should be broken down into habits since habits are more intuitive for people to adapt to.

          Make Savings a habit rather than a goal. While it might seem to be counter intuitive to many but there are some deft ways of doing it. For example:

          Always eat out (if at all) during weekdays rather than weekends. Usually weekends are expensive. Make it a habit and you would in turn be saving a great deal.

          If you are travelling buff, try to travel during off season. Your outlay will be much less.

          If you go out for shopping, always look out for coupons and see where can you get the best deal.

          So the key point is to imbibe the action that results in savings rather than on the savings itself, which is the outcome. Focusing on the outcome will bring out the feeling of sacrifice which will be harder to sustain over a period of time.

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          6. Talk About It

          Sticking to the saving schedule (to achieve financial goals) is not an easy journey. There will be many distractions from those who are not aligned with your mission. And it would be rather easy to lose the grip over your discipline.

          Therefore in order to stay the course, it is advisable that you keep yourself surrounded with people who are also on the same bandwagon. Daily discussions with them will keep you motivated to move forward.

          7. Maintain a Journal

          For some people, writing helps a great deal in making sure that they achieve what they plan.

          So if you are one of them, maintain a proper journal, where you write down your goals and also jot down the extent to which you managed to meet them. This will help you in reviewing how far you have come and which goals you have met.

          Use this journal to write down all essential points such as your short term, mid term and long term goals, your current sources of income, your regular expenses which you are aware of and any committed expenses which are of recurring nature.

          When you have a written commitment on paper, you are going to feel more energised to follow the plan and stick to it. Moreover, it is going to be a lot more easier for you to follow you and track your progress.

          At this point, you should be ready with your financial goals and would be doing brilliantly with savings; now it’s time to talk about the big daddy – Investments.

          Making Smart Investments

          Savings by themselves don’t take anyone too far. However savings when invested wisely can do wonders and we are at that stage where we will talk about making smart investments.

          8. Consult a Financial Advisor

          Investments doesn’t come naturally to most of us therefore rather than dabbling with it ourselves, it is wise to consult a financial advisor.

          Talk to him/her about your financial goals and savings and then seek advice for the best investment instruments to achieve your goals.

          9. Choose Your Investment Instrument Wisely

          Though your financial advisor will suggest the best investment instruments, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about them.

          Just like “no one is born a criminal”, no investment instrument is bad or good. It is the application of that instrument that makes all the difference.

          Do you remember we talked about bifurcating financial goals in short term and long term?

          It is here where that classification will help.

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          So as a general rule, for all your short term financial goals, choose an investment instrument that has debt nature for example fixed deposits, debt mutual funds etc. The reason for going for debt instruments is that chances of capital loss is less as compared to equity instruments.

          10. Compounding Is the Eighth Wonder

          Einstein once remarked about compounding,

          Compound Interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… Pays it.

          So make friends with this wonder kid. And sooner you become friends with it, quicker you will reach closer to your financial goals.

          Start investing early so that time is on your side to help you bear the fruits of compounding.

          11. Measure, Measure, Measure

          All of us do good when it comes to earning more per month but fail miserably when it comes to measuring the investments; taking stock of how our investments are doing.

          If there is one single step where everything (so far) can go wrong, it is at this step – Measuring the Progress.

          If we don’t measure the progress timely, then we would be shooting in the dark. We wouldn’t know if our saving rate is appropriate or not; whether financial advisor is doing a decent job; whether we are moving closer to our target or not.

          Do measure everything. If you can’t measure it all yourself, ask your financial advisor to do it for you. But do it!

          The Bottom Line

          This completes the list of tips for you to set financial goals and actually achieve them with not so great difficulty.

          As you can see, all it requires is discipline. But guess that’s the most difficult part!

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          Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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