I read a tweet a month or so ago from a millennial asking Generation X and Baby Boomers for financial advice. I answered the tweet without actually answering the question. I told her that I felt like most financial advice that I’ve seen given in the media is usually geared towards people with fairly high incomes so I can’t advise anything without knowing her situation.
I’ve often been frustrated by financial advice given through the media because it is usually unrealistic for people who make less than $70,000 annually. Suze Orman expects people to have tens of thousands of dollars in retirement by thirty five. I remember her telling someone on her show once that they just need to make more money as if it was that easy.
Most young Americans spend their youth paying back debts and have no opportunity to save for retirement or a home. I’ve heard financial advisers tell their audience how to get the best interest rates on a mortgage. Well if you are in the market to buy a home or retire you’ve already crossed a certain income and savings threshold. There isn’t much advice out there for people that need it most.
But I have some financial advice for those with modest incomes. I’ve never made a great deal of money but I’ve managed to accomplish a lot with what I have. I got a second Bachelors degree. I’ve travelled out of the country twice. I’ve taken my mom on a few nice vacations. I’ve bought a few cars. And it’s not a problem for me to treat a friend to dinner once in a while. I’ve never really been broke.
I will start with the only financial advice I’ve ever heard on TV that anyone can follow. Many years ago Oprah aired a series on financial responsibility. She had a man on the show who simply said, “Pay yourself first”. He said no matter what you make or what you owe take a bit of your earnings and save it for yourself. It really does work and we can all do this.
Learn to cook. I’m far from a culinary expert but I have some skills in the kitchen. If you don’t know how don’t worry, if you can read and follow a recipe I promise you that you can cook. Cooking saves you from eating out which is very expensive. Even fast food and convenience items from the store is expensive. Learning to cook simple meals will save you money and will probably improve your health.
Clip coupons. People kind of laugh when they see the coupons in my purse but I have learned that there are certain items that you never, ever have to pay full price for. The Sunday newspaper consistently has coupons for toothpaste, body wash, cosmetics, feminine hygiene products, toilet paper and paper towel. Retailers like Walgreens and CVS have their own coupon programs which can be coupled with your newspaper coupons. The savings over time are significant.
Coupon with a purpose. Coupons can be a double edged sword. I am on the coupon list for a few retailers that I frequent. I’ve saved money at clothing stores because of the coupons they send me. Some retailers send coupons regularly and I feel like I need to use the coupon or else I am wasting money. But the truth is I could save %100 by not buying that item. Coupons only save you money if you were going to buy the item anyway and you can apply savings. If you are just buying something so you can use the coupon you are wasting your money.
Shop with a purpose. I’m an impulse buyer and I rarely have regrets. So my personal policy is not to window shop because I can’t. I will always find something I like and I won’t want to walk away from it. Even if I leave the store without whatever item caught my attention I’ll come back for it next week. I stay out of stores unless I am prepared to buy something and have the discretionary income to do so.
Don’t waste money buying money. ATMs often have fairly high fees to get cash from their machine. Use your own banks ATM or get cash when you shop with your debit card at the grocery or drug store. Avoid charging more on your credit card than what you can afford to pay in a month. Paying the interest on a credit card is a real drag especially if you only make the minimum payments.
So there you have it. There are a few of my thoughts on maintaining a budget and saving money. You can make a little go far with a good game plan. Good luck. Go out there and prosper.