Do you ever wonder where you stand among your peers when it comes to money?
It's safe to say that most — if not all — people are curious as to where they stand.
Kelley Long, CPA/PFS, is a volunteer spokesperson for the Feed the Pig campaign. Safe to say, she spends a lot of time talking to people about money. She sat down with us to offer some of her own perspective when it comes to the youngest generation coming into financial maturity — millennials.
First, the good news: Young people know a lot about money.
"It's really interesting — research shows that the generations after me are much more financially literate than my own," she said.
Long credits this with a lot more access to information and resources on the Internet. Even employers are introducing these concepts to millennial employees, providing counseling and other financial wellness benefits.
In this way, financial literacy is working — people know the right things to do in terms of saving, living within their means, and so on.
But they're getting in their own way, in two ways.
She explains that there are two problems setting young people up for failure.
First, they're not actually doing the things they know they're supposed to do. And that's because they're entering a new normal when it comes to what financial priorities should be in terms of how much and where.
Living through recessions and financial crises has caused some uncertainty in terms of figuring out how to apply financial literacy to everyday life.
"But the size of the millennial generation is creating a demand for change," says Long. "New business models will be borne out of that."
And as for the second thing? Stressing out.
Long says there needs to be a shift in the way people feel guilty about student loans — yes, she's a financial planner advising people to stop feeling so bad.
Because they're more aware of what an ideal financial situation looks like, a lot of young folks have "unnecessary stress about the present reality."
"It's not that they can't make the payment, it's often just the big number and the fact that they have student debt causing stress," she explains.
High student loans are a big source of stress — but should they be?
"One of the things I coach is that you have to remember that this is an investment you made," says Long. "Every monthly payment is a payment toward your career, much like your mortgage is toward your house, which is often a bigger number and yet people don't freak out about that number!"
"Not all debt is 'bad' debt, some debt is considered 'good' debt!" she says. "If you have it for the right reasons [like getting an education so you can earn money in a career], that's OK. There needs to be a mind shift away from that kind of guilt. If you didn't have the degree your debt bought, where would your finances be then?"
So, if you're worrying about the mere amount of your total student loans but are comfortably able to make the payments — don't stress or feel ashamed.
"They payoff plans are designed to get them paid off [unlike credit card minimum payments] — just make the payments and try to remember it's an investment in your future."
She shared three pragmatic tips to help young people get started toward financial health.
First, if you're deciding whether to pay off your loans or put money away, examine your job's 401(k) plan. If they have a matching plan, prioritize it — it's "free money" you're just throwing away otherwise. Then prioritize the loans you have with high interest rates.
If you're looking for a service or consulting company to help you figure out your financial health (such as during this coming tax season), pay attention to any perceptible biases. Think about their motives. If they're selling you stuff right out the gate, they might not have your interests in mind. And if your workplace offers a financial wellness benefit, take advantage of it.
And one pro tip that seems obvious but is great advice: Once you pay off a big debt, keep budgeting the payments but put them into your savings account. Use force of habit for good!
But her biggest piece of advice? Everyone needs to talk about this stuff way more.
"Money is still taboo," says Long. "We all want to know where we stand in comparison to other people, and we use money to buy stuff to make us look rich, but we don't talk about where the money came from. There's this desire to be rich because we don't want to worry about money. But we also tend to have almost a bias against rich people. Like we want to be them, but we also feel disdain for people who appear to be doing well."
"Just talking about it and the ability to be totally honest will help all of us get better about money because we'll realize we're all more alike than we think."
For more resources, check out Feed the Pig!
Feed the Pig is a national public service campaign sponsored by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and The Ad Council. They have tons of resources created specifically for people in their late-20s and early-30s — what a relief!
And if you use the program IFTTT — you're in super luck. They just rolled out a bunch of new recipes to incentivize savings in slightly embarrassing or socially motivated ways. If that sounds provocative, it's because it is — be sure to learn more.
Young people may feel lost when it comes to finances, but they don't have to be. And they're already on the right track.
It's just about putting all that knowledge to use. If you know someone who could benefit from a pep talk, why not share some resources and tips? It's all about starting a conversation!