Editor's note: We challenged all of our finalists to write a blog post. "From your own experience, what are the top 3 financial issues facing your generation?"
First off, in my experience, I have faced more than 3 financial issues! I understand, however, that not everyone has experienced the sheer panic you feel when you realize that you don’t have enough money for that $14 Special Edition Backstreet Boys magazine, or when your mother holds her hand out expecting you to pay for the flower bed you ran over while trying to back your car out of the driveway . . .
Seriously, though. Most people in the 18-25 age bracket have worried about money at some point in their lives. Here are the top 3 issues that face my generation (according to me, of course!).
(1) Understanding the Student Loan Process
Until I faced the daunting prospect of repaying my student loans, I had no idea what was going on! Interest rates, deferments, consolidation? It was all Greek to me. I relied on my mother to take care of all of that for me. Suddenly, though, I started getting bills in the mail for the interest payments. My mom realized I needed a crash course in the student loan process, especially if I was planning on going to graduate school at some point. I don’t think I’m alone in this! The student loan process can be hopelessly confusing, and although schools do their best to educate borrowers, I believe that offering workshops in laymen’s terms could help students from feeling overwhelmed by all the seemingly “free” money being thrown at them.
(2) Credit Cards = Free Money?
In the Fall of 2009, I studied abroad in England. Before I left, I figured I should get a credit card for emergencies. Because the only form of credit I had at the time was an auto loan, I had a hard time getting a card with a decent limit. My very first $250 MasterCard was a milestone for me, and I’m proud to say I’ve been very responsible with my now considerably higher limit. Let’s face it: a large percentage of our generation attend some form of secondary education, and don’t necessarily have the time or energy to work a full-time job in addition to their studies. Finances can be a source of stress, and it may be tempting to take that first credit card and rack up the charges. Getting into debt early can trash a credit score faster than Charlie Sheen can empty a theater. Advice? It’s simple: Don’t charge more than you can afford to pay off! It may sound obvious, but I think some young people in our generation apply their school-brand procrastination to their credit card payments: “Oh, I’ll pay it off later.” IT’S A TRAP! Be smart. Make your payments, keep low balances, and you won’t regret it later.
(3) Save Early, Save Often
(Disclaimer: Since I do, in fact, work in video editing, I stole this phrase from the media industry. It’s typically applied to computer projects to avoid losing data when the software crashes, but it can be applied to finances as well!) As someone who, for several years, made barely enough money to cover her bills, I did not jump onto the “save early” bandwagon. I realize now that I should have found a way to set aside some money, even something as seemingly insignificant as $10 a week. If I had been more responsible with my money starting with my first job at age 16, I could have saved approximately $3,000 for emergencies. Starting to save early, and putting aside a small amount often, can give the 18-25 age group the solid financial base that many of us didn’t have after high school.
So there you have it: three challenges facing my generation that can be addressed with simple solutions. You don’t have to be a stockbroker, economics major or Donald Trump to manage your money wisely. Pinching even a small amount of (hypothetical) pennies can pay off in the long run – and I challenge YOU to start now!