In 2014, we learned that money is a subject many young adults are still trying to master.
The good news — no matter your income or starting balance — is we have 365 days to get it right, or at least try to do better than last year. Becoming financially fit is "definitely attainable," Certified Financial Educator Tonya Rapley told BuzzFeed Life. Rapley managed to raise her credit score by 130 points in a year (and some change.) And she did it as a twentysomething living in uber-expensive NYC.
Now she's author of the blog My Fab Finance. Who better to offer some advice to fellow young adults? Here are nine simple tips to implement if you really want your wallet and credit to be in better shape come 2016.
1. Take time to reflect on what went well in 2014 and what didn't.
Most people don't make poor financial decisions for lack of knowledge, Rapley said, but because of poor behaviors. So look for both the positives and negatives over the past year. Maybe there are some practices you started that you need to keep up! And maybe there are some teeny tiny things you did that hurt your bank account more than you anticipated.
Try using a site like Mint.com (a popular one for young adults thanks to its handy smartphone app), which will track your spending and show you where your money ~actually~ goes. It may surprise you to see how much you really spend on Seamless and Uber. Take financial inventory.
2. Get organized.
If you are already organized, reorganize and purge. Tax season is next month anyway, so doesn't it make sense to start getting all your documents in one place?
Getting organized also includes checking your credit report. "Criminals are becoming more and more sophisticated and you need to make sure your identity is intact," said Rapley. You want to make sure that all accounts listed are accurate and that the debts actually belong to you!
By law you receive a detailed, free credit report every year at annualcreditreport.com, however it does not show your credit score. Other free sites to check your credit score include Quizzle.com, CreditKarma.com, and CreditSesame.com.
The truth is there are three major credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax — that track your credit history, which is why your score may differ depending upon what site you visit. If you want a more accurate score and are willing to pay for it, Experian and Equifax can provide your credit profile from all three bureaus, giving you a more full picture. Or you can use a third party site, such as Myfico.com, of which Rapley is a fan. Credit scores range from 300 to 850, and if those three digits are less than ideal, at least you know where you stand, and that should only empower you to take action.
3. Assess your job situation.
The national average wage in 2013 was less than $45,000, according to data from the Social Security Administration. Of course, money isn't the only factor, but now's a good time to ask yourself these questions: Are you growing professionally? Do you feel appreciated? Are they paying you what you deserve?
If you answered no to any of these, you might want to consider making a career switch and taking steps to make it happen.
4. Calculate how much your life costs.
It's easy to do this when you have a budget. If you don't have a budget, create one! "Be familiar with how much it costs to live as you are," said Rapley.
Mint.com (which you previously used to track your spending, right?) helps you create an online budget for free, or you can use good ole Microsoft Excel to make as detailed a spreadsheet as you need. It might seem like a budget is restrictive, but in reality it makes you the boss of your money. In the words of author John C. Maxwell, "A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went."
5. Try to eliminate a nonessential item from your budget.
The new year brings a tendency to want to buy all new everything! But instead of adding more clutter and/or more debt, Rapley says you should actually do a life cleanse. Think of ways to downsize your lifestyle this year.
"Last year I eliminated weekly manicures and cable TV," she said. "That decision alone saved me nearly $1,200 a year."
6. Set solid financial processes that you want to make a habit of.
Do you want to increase your retirement contributions? Do you want to contribute more money toward your debt? Maybe you just want to establish a real savings account. Ask yourself what habits can you adopt to improve your financial health in 2015.
Rapley advises that young adults focus on creating good habits, which are more attainable than "goals." How so?
"When you focus on a goal, if you don't attain it, you tend to get down on yourself and give up," she said. It's much more manageable to say, "I want to set aside X amount biweekly," than to obsess over hitting a BIG number by saying, "I want to have XYZ in my bank account." Again, it's about changing your ~behaviors~, so think in terms of long-term habits you can practice instead of big, scary one-off goals.
And if you want to make this habit even easier, try automating it. Set your bank account so that a certain amount of your paycheck is deducted and added to your savings account automatically. Even if it's as low as $10 per check, let your bank roll it over for you so that you don't give yourself a chance to opt out of saving.
7. Find a way to create or strengthen additional revenue streams.
If the recession taught us anything, it's that you shouldn't depend on one revenue stream. "It's easier to pay down debt when you have multiple revenue streams, and it provides extra security," Rapley said.
This doesn't have to necessarily entail the time commitment of picking up a part-time job, either. Is there a skill or hobby you have that you can monetize? How about remote work, like consulting or being a virtual assistant? Or for the truly bold, dig into books like The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube or Never Get a "Real" Job: How to Dump Your Boss, Build a Business and Not Go Broke to whet your appetite for entrepreneurship.
8. Invest in learning something new about your finances.
Your relationship with money will last the rest of your life — why not get to know it better?
Try to brush up on a financial topic or subject that you are interested in learning more about. Even if you consider yourself a money whiz, there has to be a financial principle that you can dig deeper into. From the stock market to the 401k versus an IRA, the economy is vast, and to some, vastly confusing.
Check out The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke by Oprah's girl, Suze Orman.
9. Participate in at least one financial challenge.
Most important, make it fun! It'll be easier to stick with your new habits if they don't feel like a chore.
Whether it's giving, saving, investing, or an all-cash challenge, there are fun ways to energize your financial plans. One incredibly popular one via social media is the 52-Week Money Challenge, where you save the dollar amount that corresponds to the week of the year. (i.e., Save $1 in Week 1, $2 in Week 2, and so on.) There are also no-spending challenges, or ones where you leave your debit card at home and only spend cash. Pinterest has some other great options if you search the term "money challenge."
Your future self will thank you for it!
Now go forth and prosper!✌️💰
Experian and Equifax also allow consumers to pay to review their credit reports and FICO scores from all three credit bureaus. That was omitted in a previous version of this post.