With the world of finance still dominated by men, it’s easy to see why women – especially those just getting started with their careers and adult lives – often feel intimidated when it comes to seeking thoughtful pointers tailored for them.
Fortunately, we have access to one smart lady: Amy Podzius, a financial consultant with TIAA-CREF’s Field Consulting Group in Chicago.
Money Under 30 asked her what kind of advice she’d have for young women who have entered the world of adulthood. Here she provides eight steps prepared with women in mind, though they sound like wise words for all our readers just getting their financial lives in order.
1. Start by reflecting on how you view money.
“Everyone looks at money differently – and that’s OK,” Podzius says. “By understanding what money means to you, you’re that much closer to building a plan and sticking to it.” Don’t be afraid to discuss money with your friends, family, colleagues or significant others. “Women can be each other’s best assets, so be sure to ‘pay it forward’ every chance you get,” she says. “You never know what good tips you may pick up along the way.”
2. Single? Do NOT put off long-term financial planning until you are in a relationship.
It’s tempting to think financial adulthood doesn’t start until marriage or a committed relationship commences.
“Putting off financial planning until your love life is in order is a mistake that can be easily avoided,” Podzius says. “Even though it seems like you have plenty of time to build up your savings, starting early makes the job much easier.”
And if you are in a relationship, Podzius encourages you to have open discussions with your partner about money – especially if you find yourself utilizing your credit card for joint purchases. “Keep in mind how that may impact you or your partner financially if the relationship ends.”
3. Create a (realistic) budget.
Whether you have a lot of newfound money from a corporate job, or barely enough for groceries and rent, it’s easy to dismiss a budget as unnecessary. But as Podzius notes, “Creating a budget can help put you on the right path toward taking command of your money.
By following a budget, you become better able to spend within your means while at the same time saving for long-term goals and finding ways to pay down debt.” So if you haven’t done so already, map out your current financial situation and realistically, what a budget looks like for you.
“Also, don’t forget to include your desired savings goal. While it may take time to get there – especially if you have a significant amount of debt – your savings plan should be factored in right from the start.” If you’re having trouble getting started, there are a number of online tools (including this worksheet at tiaa-cref.org) and personal finance software to help ease you into the budgeting habit.
4. Spend wisely on luxuries.
“While it’s not realistic to deny yourself certain luxuries, you can be more mindful of which luxuries you choose to spend your money on and how frequently,” Podzius says. “For example, you may have been eyeing a new laptop – and have the money to purchase it. But at the same time, if your friends have planned a last-minute weekend getaway, it’s up to you to figure out which is more important and which you can actually do without de-railing your savings effort.”
In either instance, the ability to pay in cash, or with very short-term credit, versus building up a big credit balance, should be a deciding factor.
5. Save for emergencies.
As Podzius points out, “By the time an emergency happens, it’s too late to save. Therefore, as a part of any budgeting strategy, pay yourself first so you can have at least six months of living expenses tucked away in an emergency fund.”
The easiest money to save is the money you don’t see, so consider using direct deposit and automated banking to help you squirrel the money away. “If you build it into your monthly budget, you won’t need to think twice about putting the money aside or find yourself using your credit card to help cover an unexpected expense (which in turn, can help keep you from acquiring more debt).”
6. Tabulate (and pay down) debt.
Nobody likes to add up their bills, right? But to get control of your finances, you need to sit down and examine all of your current debt – from credit card statements to student loans – to help determine how much you need to pay it all off.
“Don’t forget to factor in interest,” Podzius says. ”Add up the combined total you owe to creditors to gain a full understanding of how much debt you have. Once you’ve done that, focus on paying off the smallest debt and pay the minimum on all the rest,” provided interest rates are low. “This will give you immediate gratification as you see that number get smaller.”
7. Start to think about retirement.
Retirement may seem like a lifetime away, but using this time to your advantage gives you power.
“If your employer offers a matching funds program for retirement account contributions, be sure to participate,” Podzius says. “That match is additional compensation given to you just for socking away money for your retirement. Similar to an emergency fund, it’s about paying yourself first – and if you start early, you won’t notice anything missing from your paycheck.”
8. Get help.
“Planning your own path to achieving financial well-being is a lifelong process. A good financial advisor can help shorten your learning curve when it comes to money management and investing.” Podzius says.
If you’re not sure where to start, check with your employer – or, ask friends and family for recommendations. “But if speaking to someone on a personal level isn’t for you, consider attending a workshop or seminar where you can also benefit from hearing the stories of other women in the room. Don’t forget to also ask those around you for tips on books they may have read about saving and investing, which can also get you started on the right path.”