Despite studying personal finance all my life, when I became an adult in the "real world", I was still really scared of it. Here's how I figured out how to do it.
Do you ever have one of those days where you just can’t adult? I do. I had one earlier this year when I realized I had no idea what I was doing with my financial life. But I decided it was time to figure it out, and I thought maybe some of you could relate.
But really, I've been a personal finance nerd for most of my life. There were a LOT of indicators that I was a weird kid 🤓, but two major ones were that: 1) I listened to Dave Ramsey on the radio and 2) I read books about compounding interest. In middle school.
(You probably can't relate just yet, and that's totally fine. Good for you. I wish I couldn’t either...)
Fast forward to when I graduated college and actually had an income. I knew how to earn money (go to work) and I knew how to spend money (do anything other than work), but even after all those years of Dave, I still didn't know what to do with my financial life. All those books made sense in middle school, but not now. I don't know how to invest this money... they say pick out a "growth" fund, but what does that actually mean? And which button do I click to do that?
I guess I knew one thing: Saving for retirement is important. I didn't have an option for a 401k at work, so I just opened up a Roth IRA on E*trade and started moving money into that each month.
Can I tell you a secret? I thought that was it. I was like, "I'm investing now!" .... It took me several months to realize I wasn't investing at all. I had essentially created another savings account since I didn't actually pick out funds to put that money into. Oops. If only there had been a button! Oh, wait… there was. If only I had known to click the button!
Earlier this year, I decided that it was time. It was time to figure out what to do with my financial life and here are the stages of financial grief (trouble, not sadness) I went through.
1. I'm going to get my financial life together and do all the things!
I decided that I was going to pick out funds for my Roth IRA. I was going to look at a Health Savings account. I was going to aggressively pay off my debts. I was going to cut back on all my spending - no more eating out! I was going to give more to charity. I was going to have a better emergency fund saved up. Let’s get more side projects and increase my income! No goal was too small!
2. Why is this so damn hard.
I love spreadsheets, but this one was telling me I had to give up Starbucks. I like Starbucks, even more than spreadsheets. Did I really have to give it up? Where is my money going? 😭When I wrote this on paper I had so much more? Does anyone even care what I’m trying to do?
I thought I would just have to click a few buttons on E*trade, but alas, I still don't even know what buttons to click. 😞I just want compound interest!!
3. I don't have enough info, so let me Google.
I started furiously googling everything I could.
No, seriously. Every term I came across, every question I had... and everything I read only produced more questions so I continued to Google.
I got all the books I could find at the library. (Including Investing in Your 20s & 30s for Dummies and America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money: Your Guide to Living Better, Spending Less, and Cashing in on Your Dreams… Yes that’s a real book.) Surely this would help but...
4. I have too much info!
Sometimes the internet is awesome. Like when you want to know "What would a chair look like if your knees bent the other way" or "why is my reflection inverted in a spoon". 🤔
But sometimes, if questions are too open-ended, it's not helpful because there's TOO. MUCH. INFORMATION.
It's like more isn't always more... sometimes it’s closer to nothing. Now instead of knowing "what's a Roth IRA?" I see some articles that say "10 reasons why to use traditional over a Roth IRA" or "Here's why you should never use a traditional IRA".
So do I do it? Or nah?!
5. Halp. please.
I continued to read and started to recognize some terms and set general strategies, but I realized I still needed help. I wasn't any closer to actually doing what I needed to do. I just wasn’t making progress.
So I reached out to my friends. It's weird to talk about money... I hated it. But I knew that Google was only going to confuse me more, so I knew what I had to do.
And you know what?
I got help and I found answers. And it wasn’t even that bad! I talked to people who were where I wanted to be and they said things like "you click this button" and "here's what this means and why it makes more sense for you to do it this way".
6. I clicked the buttons, still scared.
I felt much better and had more confidence, but I was still kinda scared. I clicked the buttons anyways, because I started to realize that doing nothing was hurting me more than if I picked the "wrong" thing to do.
I had friends around me encouraging me, helping me make sure I wasn't doing something stupid, and encouraging me on my financial goals.
7. I put one foot in front of the other.
I still don't entirely know what I'm doing, but now I'm surrounded by people I can talk to who are encouraging me to make better financial decisions and help me answer my questions.
Honestly, it's kinda fun too. We've started talking more about personal finance and ways to save money, different ways to invest it, and we're encouraging each other as we work to get out of debt. It's been really fun.
I've started having more conversations about money with people and it's not so bad. In fact, it's helped me make some of the best financial decisions in my life and this year I've paid off more of my student loans than in all prior years combined! I'm even seeing a return on my investments already! 💸
You might not care about my story, but my guess is that you probably did, at least a little, because it might sound like yours.
Since I've started having more conversations with people about money, I've realized it's something that's really plaguing our generation. We're faced with some of the worst financial situations - low unemployment and high debt - and we're asked to deal with it, but not given enough support to figure out how.
Well, I think it's enough and I've decided to change that.
That's why I'm creating Penge. It's a way to help people like me connect with others to have more productive conversations about money and help each other make better financial decisions.
If this sounds like something you’re into, here’s a couple ways to get involved: