PRIORITY ONE: SET PRIORITIES

The good news is, millennials are better savers than any other generation. The bad news is, you aren’t really into creating a financial master plan to fund your future. Studies indicate that for many of you, today’s lifestyle takes precedence over tomorrow’s security.  If you’re expecting to retire on Social Security, here’s a wake-up call: today’s benefits top out at less than $200 a week for an eligible individual. After rent, insurance, food, heat, light, etc. there’s not much left for the Ubers, lattes and weekend getaways you’re currently enjoying. Even if you were guaranteed that there’d still be Social Security when you’re ready to retire, are you willing – and able – to live on so little? You need a plan, and it has to be built on specific goals. While everyone’s priorities are their personal choice, here are the most compelling goals your peers are setting:

1. It’s all about you

First, you must assume you are entirely responsible for supplying all the money you’ll need in your lifetime. It’s a daunting thought, but by taking action now you can ensure a comfortable future. And if extra money comes your way from Social Security or other sources, it’s gravy that’ll make life even tastier.

2. Unload those loans

It’s no surprise that paying down debt is a top priority, when there’s about $1.4 trillion to pay back. This adds up to about 9 million borrowers repaying an average of $26,700 per student. This debt, coupled with the lower salaries of today’s workforce, are putting many other priorities out of reach, such as buying a car, homeownership, getting married or having a child. Many young earners can’t even afford to move out of mom’s house and into their own place.  This debt’s got to go, so you can get on with your financial life. Tip: there are resources out there to help make repayment easier, and even to reduce what you owe. See our section on Student Loans for details.

3. Expect emergencies

Build a financial cushion to ease the pain of unforeseen problems. Rule of thumb: your nest egg should cover six months’ worth of living expenses. It’s your safety net if you lose your job, develop health issues or have unexpected expenses. Tip: arrange to have a small set amount of every paycheck auto-deposited into a special emergency account. It’ll grow quickly, and enable you to handle emergencies without touching any retirement savings you may have.

4. Start funding your future

If you begin saving in your 20s, you’ll maximize the benefits of compound interest, and build a sizeable nest egg. The easiest way to do that is by getting a job that offers retirement benefits. Employer contributions to a 401(k) equal free money that compounds quickly. Matching programs deliver a 50% return. Tip: get vested. Find out when your employer starts contributing to your 401(k) then stick with the job long enough to take advantage of it. If your company doesn’t offer benefits, set up your own retirement account and have a little money sent to a direct-deposit IRA, Roth IRA or investment account. You won’t miss the money and you won’t miss a payment to yourself.

5. Help is not a four-letter word

It’s not easy creating a blueprint for your financial life.  But it’s a lot easier with guidance. According to a recent study, developing a financial plan was a priority for 39.7% of respondents. Yet only 8.2% have used financial planning software. Tip: take advantage of the wealth of information out there. Find a program that resonates with you. See if your employer offers resources. Or speak with an advisor who specializes in the challenges and goals of millennials.

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