A Peek Into the Upside-Down Financial World of Millennials

By: Dayana Enriquez
Fellow Millennials, this is a sneak peek into your future and a plan to change your destiny. It’s also a glimpse into our generation’s world for those who have forgotten what they once faced as 20- and 30-somethings. At least once during their lifetime, most adults encounter what they feel is a losing battle with managing finances wisely. If you fall into the “it’ll never happen to me” category, I commend you for your optimism. All others can keep reading.

My first financial flop occurred when I was in elementary school. Every week, my parents gave me two, crisp dollar bills for my piggy bank. As soon as I heard the ice cream truck cruise by our house, I ran to the piggy bank, uncorked it and tapped into my budding savings account.

I failed to realize I was training myself to make terrible financial decisions an adult. I hadn’t learned the term “instant gratification,” but I had mastered the habit. My childhood piggy bank later became a savings account at a real bank. But, as the saying goes, “Bad habits die hard.”

Hopping off the Runaway Train
The runaway train that we call the economy has been with us for a decade, and as adults, we must roll with the punches. As ambitious and eager as we appear to be, it’s very easy to be discouraged by the current corporate climate. It’s all too common to find ourselves stuck in jobs rather than careers. In a world where we are either too experienced or not experienced enough, it’s easy to fall into a trap, to settle for an uninteresting and underpaying job.

It took me three years to realize my value. I kept going from jobs I hated to jobs I hated even more than the last one. When I let go of that “a job is a job” mentality, it gave me the clarity to pursue jobs in fields for which I was, frankly, unqualified. But here’s the thing—I wanted those jobs! I finally began to understand the value of my work ethic. Regardless of the industry, your mindset can propel you to new heights. It’s simple, but it’s not easy—change your mindset, and you change your life.

The first step to breaking these self-corrupting patterns is to recognize them and to accept that changing your “luck” is a process. As you change your habits, your luck miraculously changes. The odds are that you’re going to go through your fair share of minimum-wage jobs—and that’s fine. That’s why they’re called entry-level jobs. Even on my worst days those jobs always gave me something new to learn.

Jobs that drain you can build character and create a burning desire to launch a career. No one can take away your experiences, and those are what make you valuable to employers. Experience plus burning desire equals opportunity.

In the meantime, update your resume, go back to school, learn a trade; baby steps are better than standing still—more like sinking into quicksand. Don’t sell yourself short; instead, apply yourself because no one else will do it for you. In your spare time, hang out (in person) with a positive, motivated crowd.

Be True to Yourself—Make Your Own Rules
In high school, they tell you, “Go to college! Get an education! Be successful!” They make it sound like cause and effect, but one thing they don’t tell you is that you’ll probably be drowning in debt when you start your “real life” after college. I constantly find myself debating if it’s all worth it, and with good reason.

I hear horror stories from my peers in college. They can’t get a job in their field; they’re in debt long after graduation, and the endless stress leads to sleepless nights. All this for following the rules.

I can’t personally give you any insight into the college experience, but I do know two things. If you’re motivated and can’t afford college, education is free on the internet if you’re self-motivated. I also know that calculating your debt can give you a starting point from which to make a financial game plan—especially if you’re in school and facing overwhelming bills and long-term debt.

Put the Brakes on Spending
Add all your assets and subtract all your outstanding credit card balances, student loans and other debts. If your debt is substantially more than your assets, then it’s time to take a step back and re-access your spending habits.

Set up a budget with one of the free budget apps, and stick to it—no excuses for impulse buying. You must learn the difference between wants and needs, luxuries and necessities. My biggest avoidable expense is eating out. I am a repeat offender. Recently I began cooking meals at home and keeping the lunch and dinner dates to a minimum. And it’s had a big impact on my bank account.

You have to rein in an out-of-control social life to reduce your debt. It’s easy for me to spend $50 when I’m out and about, but a little self-control reduces my deficit by $50. The problem is that many of us have problems disconnecting from the world. Try it for a brief period, just to get your finances back on track. Weigh the pros and cons of your spending habits. I bet you’ll find at least once expense you can cut.

The Other Side of the Equation—Income
Our reality is that we might need to work two jobs to accumulate one decent paycheck—at least for a while. Some do it out of necessity; others do it for extra spending money. A side hustle is a great way to breathe easier on the personal finance front, and it offers an opportunity to go in a totally different direction—gain more experiences.

Working a minimum-wage job is a struggle. If you find yourself a couple of days away from payday with less than $5 in your checking account and bills waiting to get paid, find a side hustle—like yesterday. Occupying some of my free time with a part time job was the best move I could have made. It helped get me out of the recurring nightmare of living paycheck-to-paycheck, barely making ends meet.