When people think about their financial wellness they are often thinking about the nasty four letter word D-E-B-T. I could tell you all about “good” debt vs. “bad” debt but I want you to read the entire blog post without your eyes glazing over. I’d much rather provide tips on how to manage, save, and invest, despite being in debt. I also want to put a little disclaimer that while I do have a background in finance, I am NOT an expert. I have a bit more knowledge than the average Joe but these are just tips and tricks I have picked up along the way, so please talk to your financial professional before making any changes.
My post may register more with Millennials and Generation Zs, but I think these tips can be helpful for everyone. Millennials and Generations Zs debt structure looks very different than their parents’ and grandparents’. A significant portion of our debt is student loans, and the numbers are staggering—there are currently about 44.7 million Americans who hold about 1.56 trillion dollars of student loan debt. With this much debt it’s much harder for our generation to buy a house, save for retirement, and even get married and/or start a family. Many employers, including PRA, are now including student loan repayment in their benefits package. Regardless of the type of debt you may owe, the end result is the same: you have less discretionary income for other things.
The first place you should start is with your paycheck. Take advantage of the IRS withholding calculator to make sure you are optimizing your tax benefits. Most people like to get a large tax refund, however, it may be better to take the money throughout the year and invest it. By doing this, you can earn interest on it all year long rather than receiving the large lump sum later.
Another tip for paying debt is to split your payment in half and make bi-weekly payments rather than one monthly payment. By making bi-weekly payments, at the end of the year, you will have made one extra payment without even realizing it. Also, if the interest on your debt is calculated at a daily rate, the daily balance will decrease at a quicker rate. This means you will pay less interest and save yourself some money all while paying the debt off sooner. Another great strategy is the snowball method. This method is simple, you pay off your smaller debts first by paying the minimum balance on larger debts and making larger payments towards the smaller ones. Paying just the minimum balance isn’t something that should be done over the entire life of the debt but as a short-term solution, it can save you money (less interest) and make debt more manageable. I think a visual example might be best here.
You can also do the inverse of this—the debt avalanche method—and pay more on your larger debts first. This method will pay down your debts faster but can also be harder to do. Use any of these methods, one of them, or find something that works for you.
Saving is the hard part. I know this all too well as my “savings” account is usually depleted because my car is needier than my child. You cannot predict the future and things happen, but isn’t that why we save? For rainy days? Although it may be hard, it is possible. It takes discipline and a realistic budget. It may mean that you ask yourself more often if you really need that special morning brew from Starbucks, or perhaps you make your lunch instead of buying it. Only you can decide what you can and cannot live without, but it means being honest with yourself. If you hop on good ol’ Google you will find plenty of articles out there on how to save money, but in my opinion, the only thing you really need is a realistic budget and time. There are quite a few apps and programs you can use to get a visual look at where your money is going and help you reach your goal. I use Excel because it is simple and easy to manipulate, and many banks and credit unions allow you to download transactions and will often categorize your spending habits for you. Once you sit down and determine exactly how much you can save, stick to it. Set up a direct deposit to your savings account so you don’t see the money moving. Out of sight out of mind. I’m also a believer in having more than one checking account. Have one account for monthly bills and expenses and one account for everything else. It’s especially helpful if you have an interest-bearing checking account. Pay yourself first.
Investing may be easier than you think. Back in the days of yore, you needed quite a bit of money to invest in stocks, bonds, and real estate. With apps like Robinhood, Stockpile, and Acorn you can invest with the change left over after purchases. These apps are especially great for those of us that just need to get our feet wet and start somewhere, but as many financial professionals will tell you the key to investing is diversification. I want to share two little-known investment tools you can use. The first one is a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). This is a passive investment vehicle that allows you to invest in real estate without spending a fortune. I recently found Fundrise.com, which allows you to participate for as little as $500. I do realize $500 can be a lot of money for some people, so a second option can be peer-to-peer angel investing. Angel investing is a bit riskier because you will only see a return if the company you choose succeeds. A great resource is Republic.co. You can research the companies, pick from those that are already established to startups that really need the funding and invest as little as $10. These are good options if you are looking to do things on your own.
Financial advisors are great resources, as they have a wealth of knowledge and can tailor investments to meet your specific needs. XYplanningnetwork.com is a great resource that allows you to search for financial advisors based on niche specialties. You can search based on faith, interest and hobbies, gender identity, ethnicity, career stage, business planning, etc. Whichever route you choose at least you’re starting somewhere.
I hope you find these tips and resources useful. There are plenty available and it can be overwhelming, but I am open to answer any questions you may have. I can also answer questions about traveling frugally but that’s a whole separate blog post.
 If possible; not all creditors allow you to do so.