Millennial Money: Create financial stability in shaky times

Sean Pyles

AP/NERDWALLET — In a year that has thrown a pandemic, natural disasters and economic calamity at us while we lurch closer to a presidential election, stability can feel elusive. No matter how well laid your plans, some new crisis might be lurking around the corner, waiting to upend your life.

While it’s never been more clear how much is out of our control, you can still take steps to improve your financial stability. And it’s not just about cash flow.

Financial stability is both a state of money and a state of mind, said Ed Coambs, a certified financial planner and certified financial therapist near Charlotte, North Carolina.

On the money side, stability is straightforward. “You have a budget, you know where your money is going, and you know how much you should be saving to meet your bigger goals,” Coambs said.

“What’s a little harder is more the state of mind,” Coambs said. This financial peace of mind is subjective and looks different from one person to the next.

Do some self-reflection to pin down what stability means for you. Maybe you don’t want to feel anxious when you check your bank balance, or you hope to save enough for retirement so you won’t have to worry about the future. Whatever your focus, feeling stable means you won’t have to constantly worry about money. If you find yourself overwhelmed because the pandemic has destabilised your finances, follow the advice of Tara Tussing Unverzagt, a Torrance, California, certified financial planner and financial therapist. She advises people to think through the worst that could happen rather than avoiding the topic out of fear.

File photo shows a man looking at his phone while sitting in a park at twilight in Kansas City, Missouri, in the United States. PHOTO: AP

“This often helps people open up a way to reframe the situation from, ‘There’s no way out of this’, to ‘I have some choices — this isn’t my preferred path, but I can move forward with this’, “ Tussing Unverzagt said.

Once you’ve defined what personal financial stability means to you, you can build a sense of control through proactive money management.

You can probably rattle off half a dozen serious issues to worry about right now. But how many of them can you do anything about?

Rather than hand-wringing and doom-scrolling through social media when you feel anxious, focus on actions you can take. Namely, work to improve your financial basics.

Pin down a budget, if you haven’t already. The 50/30/20 budget is an easy tool for this. Half of your take-home pay goes to necessities, like housing, groceries and utilities. Then, 30 per cent of your budget takes care of wants, like takeout from your favourite restaurant or home decor to spice up your pandemic shelter. Lastly, 20 per cent of your income goes to debt payments and savings.

If you find that your debt payments or housing costs eat up more than the allotted percentage, you could increase financial peace of mind by getting them back in line. That might mean concentrating on paying down debt or looking for less expensive housing.

Tackling one or two big expenses does more for your budget than cancelling a handful of
streaming services.

Increasing your savings helps you cover an unexpected expense, like your car breaking down.

“People should focus on creating a safety net, which is the emergency fund,” said Jovan Johnson, a certified financial planner in Decatur, Georgia. Start with a goal of USD500 to USD1,000, which is enough to insulate you from common emergencies, then keep building over the long haul.

“A rule of thumb is three to six months of non-discretionary expenses, and I like to include maximum out-of-pocket healthcare expenses in that,” Johnson said.