By Barry Glassman
WTOP Financial Contributor
WASHINGTON — For millennials, the “American Dream” of having a good job, owning a home and saving for retirement is more like a nightmare.
This generation faces unique struggles, making it harder for millennials to get on their feet, much less thrive financially.
And it’s no wonder.
Millennials came of age when the tech bubble burst, and they continued growing up during the collapse of the financial industry and housing market.
They have racked up more student-loan debt than all preceding generations combined. In fact, there’s more outstanding student-loan debt (some $1 trillion to date) than credit-card debt.
Since 2008, weak economic growth has left many millennials searching not for their dream job, but for any job at all.
Some who purchased homes at the market’s peak struggle to make their mortgage payments and now owe more than what their homes are worth. Others declared bankruptcy or walked away from their homes to get out from under those payments. And those who did not buy are now priced out of the recovering housing market.
When you add all of this up, it’s easy to see why so many millennials believe they’ll never dig their way out. But this story can have a happy ending. To start accomplishing big things, begin with a plan and start small.
Step 1: Set some goals
It’s easier to get where you’re going if you know where you want to go.
Prioritize what you want to accomplish and give yourself a time frame. Maybe it’s buying a home in five years, paying down student loans or contributing something, even if it’s only $50 a paycheck, to a 401k account.
Need some encouragement? If you are able to save $400 a month starting at age 25, you’ll have $1 million by the time you’re 65, according to a recent article in U.S. News Money.
Conversely, if you wait to start saving until you’re 40, the yearly savings requirement bumps up to $15,240 a year (or $1,200 a month). Think about that and remember: It all starts with just one small step.
Step 2: Cut expenses
You have to know how you’re spending your money to know where you can make adjustments. Technology makes it easy to track expenses — such as those $12 lunch salads — and covert them to savings.
One of the best apps is Mint.com, which links all of your online accounts and automatically categorizes your expenditures. You can set budgets, and it will alert you when you are close to your max budget, say for clothing or eating out.
For more suggested apps on managing money, read Glassman Wealth’s article, “Top 3 financial apps for managing money.”
Step 3: Pay off the most evil debt first
If you have any high-interest debt, pay that off first.
If you’re relying on credit cards to make ends meet, consider other ways to increase income, such as taking in a roommate, or even getting a second part-time job. This is tough, but depending on credit cards will put you even further behind. You have to stop digging the hole deeper.
Step 4: Review your student-loan debt
Many lenders are willing to be flexible and might consider how much income you’re making when reviewing your loan. But you have to take the initiative and ask. If your income is low, they may waive the interest on your principle for a few months or more.
Step 5: Get help
It’s OK to raise your hand and get help with your finances. It can be hard to prioritize all of your financial goals, let alone have the discipline to cut Starbucks out of your life a few times a week.
Consider hiring a personal financial advisor from an organization such as Garrett Financial Planning Network, which is made up of people who can help you create your financial wealth-building plan. It’s a small investment to make that will pay off for years.
Another great resource is Millennial Invest. Portfolio manager and author Patrick O’Shaughnessy is an expert in investment strategy and investor behavior. His book, “Millennial Money: How Young Investors Can Build a Fortune” is a must-read.
While millennials face unique challenges, taking some small, but meaningful, steps begins the path to financial freedom.
For more financial tips, read Glassman Wealth Services’ article, “Millennials and money: The best ways to cut debt and save more.”
Editor’s Note: Barry Glassman, CFP