I spent the first few months of my last semester in college living it up and being pretty reckless with money. I was preoccupied with school, keeping up a busy social schedule and trying not to think too much about life after graduation, and I spent a lot: on nights out, on overpriced lattes, on fast food I stocked up on for late nights in the library. For months, I even avoided checking my balance or bank statements. I was too worried I wasn’t going to like the number I saw.
Then, of course, the coronavirus pandemic changed everything. My post-grad internship was postponed, my graduation was canceled and I found myself confronted with a new job search, an uncertain future and… a depleted savings account. I panicked.
Thankfully, in the past few months I’ve managed to get a hold of my finances and combat my anxieties with concrete steps to improve my situation. I’m 21 years old, so I don’t have a stock portfolio to manage or a retirement fund to worry about yet — just a small nest egg built up from internships, dog-sitting and a waitressing job I kept through college. But for any other Gen Zers out there who may be worrying about the uncertainty of their own fledgling financial lives, here are my tips:
Keep saving. If this weren’t incredibly obvious, keep putting away a portion of your income into savings, if at all possible. It’s reassuring to watch that number grow, even by a small amount.
Take a complete inventory of your current financial situation. Like I said, I often avoided taking a serious look at my finances because I was worried it would confirm that I was spending wayyyy more than I had been making (to be fair, I was right). But taking a full inventory, as unpleasant a task as it may be, is one of the best ways to start feeling a little more level-headed about your finances. What does your savings account and income level look like right now? How much are you spending? What are your financial goals, and are you on the right track to achieve them?
Since graduating in May, I’ve taken some of the time spent stuck in my apartment to thoroughly analyze my spending (in the form of a handwritten list of every dollar I spend in a month) and make a list of financial to-dos that will help me build credit and start an emergency fund, among other goals. It may be unpleasant in the moment, but a pragmatic evaluation of your own finances can quell irrational fears and leave you feeling much more grounded, self-aware and level-headed.
Appreciate the little things. Good advice for life, and good advice for your wallet.
As I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, life is different these days. I don’t go out with friends anymore, and I spend much more time cooking at home than I do eating out. Of course, I miss concerts and clubs and traveling, but I’m so grateful for the small (coincidentally cheap) things that bring me joy these days: a cup of hazelnut coffee in the morning, a homemade dinner with my roommate, a walk in the park at sunset. Those tiny moments make my day, and they cost almost nothing at all.
If you can pay your rent, purchase food and call or see the people you love today — you have a lot to be grateful for. If you put time and thought into it, the money thing will work out. It’s a scary, uncertain time to be a young adult. We’re gonna get through it, together.
But maybe start by checking your balance.