Today, Millennials are increasingly negotiating salaries, paying off student loans, and paying rent or a mortgage. Some are also beginning to save for their children’s college educations. All of this makes budgeting paramount, yet the overwhelming majority of Millennials fall short when it comes to financial literacy. In a study conducted by the National Endowment for Financial Education and George Washington University, 75% of Millennials gave themselves high marks on financial knowledge and financial literacy. However, when asked a set of questions meant to test financial knowledge, only 7% scored high marks while less than 25% could demonstrate basic financial literacy.
“Millennials were asked questions tied to basic concepts, like interest rate, inflation and risk diversification,” says Andrea Hasler, assistant research professor at the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center (GFLEC) at George Washington University. “We were surprised at just how much they didn’t know.” She explains that a look at millennials and their money shows a stark divide. While they are highly engaged in their finances and believe they have a lot of financial know-how, the “alarmingly low levels of financial capability don’t match the levels of financial responsibility.”
In the survey, a quarter of Millennials reported they had overdrawn their checking account in the past 12 months, and more than 70% have at least one long-term debt, such as student debt, a car loan or a home mortgage. More than one-fourth have unpaid medical bills.
If that sounds overwhelming, it shouldn’t be. The first step to a better budget could be understanding what you don’t know—and working to improve that. But that’s just the start. Here are 10 tips to better manage debt and stick to a budget.
1. Understand what you don’t know—and work on changing that. The first step to better budgeting, Hasler says, is understanding that you might be overconfident in your ability to manage your finances. To put yourself on course, identify areas that you don’t understand—whether that’s what type of debt you should pay off first or the best way to consolidate student loans—and then educate yourself on your options.
2. Set financial goals. It also helps to set both short-term and long-term financial goals, from building an emergency fund to eventually paying off a loan. Then, set aside money from your paychecks and set actionable goals when you can. “Rather than resolving to pay off debt, agree to pay an extra, say, $300 a month on the credit card with the highest balance,” says Kimberly Foss, founder and president of Empyrion Wealth Management.
3. Keep a log of your spending (for several months). Hasler suggests writing down all of your expenses over the course of several months to get a comprehensive view of your finances. Then, weed through the list and try to eliminate expenses that you don’t really need. There are also plenty of electronic tools, like Mint or Quicken, which can help manage your day-to-day expenses. Dave Geibel, managing director at Univest Wealth Management, suggests tracking your spending for a full six months. “There are some expenses that don’t hit the books right away, and it’s helpful to have a full picture,” he says.