Even in your 40s, there’s still time to master your finances
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In an ideal world, we should learn about money in school or in our early 20s. But in reality, many Americans go through life puzzled about how to manage their money effectively. For Generation X – those born from the early-to-mid 1970s to around the early 1980s – a lack of financial knowledge has proven to be costly.
It’s not that many Americans don’t want to learn more about how to properly manage their finances. However, 42 percent give themselves a C, D or F in knowledge of personal finance, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s 2017 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey.
And Generation X is most likely of all generations to carry credit card debt, with 61 percent doing so, compared to 48 percent of all Americans, according to a 2016 Gallup analysis.
If you’re a Gen Xer who believes you still have a lot to learn about money, you have plenty of company. But there is still time to do something about it.
The plight of Generation X
A number of factors could impact Generation X’s handling of money. Some Gen Xers, like Martha Souder of Silver Spring, Maryland, grew up when credit cards were freely handed out on college campuses.
“My parents are from the generation where you didn’t do that kind of spending. They didn’t grow up with credit cards,” says Souder.
Souder also came from a family that did not talk about money, so the 51-year-old learned about finances through trial and error. That didn’t always work out so well. By the time she was 19, Souder had maxed out her first credit card, and by 2002 she was nearly $60,000 in debt.
Also, many in Generation X were latchkey kids, children who were home alone after school while their parents worked, “so they were taught to be super-independent and take care of themselves” says 39-year-old Gen-Xer Kylie Delgado, outreach coordinator for Baltimore-based credit counseling organization Guidewell Financial Solutions. That often led to a “figure it out myself” mentality that carries over in the way they handle finances, Delgado says.
Some Gen Xers realize they need help when a life crisis happens. Others discover they’re not prepared for major goals or life transitions, such as raising a growing family or buying a larger house. Whether you’re in financial crisis or just want to create a better future, here’s how Generation Xers can improve their finances today.
1. More income does not equal less money worries.
Many people assume that the more money you make, the fewer financial challenges you’ll have, so members of Generation X who are typically further along in their careers should have fewer worries.
However, “Our money problems are not necessarily solved as we make more money,” says Kimmie Greene, a consumer finance expert at Mint.com. As people make more, they spend more. Costs also rise as rents and mortgages go up, car payments increase and vacations get longer.
Instead of focusing solely on making more money, learn how to better manage the money you currently have.
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2. Get some help.
When it comes to managing finances, “It’s never too late to catch up, but with less time, you have to make sure your money is working as hard as possible for you,” says Nick Holeman, a certified financial planner with Betterment, an automated investing service.
That might mean seeking out professional advice from a financial adviser who can help you to figure out ways to put away more money for retirement. Services such as Betterment can also provide investment advice personalized to your financial goals, Holeman says.
3. Don’t be afraid to seek credit counseling.
If you’re already experiencing a financial crisis or you’re having trouble keeping up with debt payments or building your savings account, consider credit counseling.
When Souder tried to pay off her debts on her own, it took her 10 years to pay off $10,000. After seeking counseling with a nonprofit credit counseling agency, she was able to pay off another $50,000 in just three and a half years.
4. Talk to others.
While Gen Xers likely grew up staying mum about money, it’s never too late to start talking. Discuss finances with trusted family and friends, Delgado suggests.
While you don’t have to tell them how much money you make or how much debt you’re in, trusted family members and friends might have some insights that can help you get through some rough spots.
5. Make the most of apps and tools.
There are apps and websites that can help you budget, save more and even pick out stocks.
“Not only are these tools bringing different ways to approach our money, but they’re educating us in the process,” Greene says.
At 43, Greene is a member of Gen X and admits she made mistakes with her finances in her 20s and 30s, but she says she believes the financial tools available now could have helped her to avoid some of her missteps. “I only wish that something had existed when I was first graduating from college to give me a better framework to understand what to do with my money.”
6. Note your learning style.
If you prefer to learn on your own, there are many options.
If you enjoy reading, personal finance publications can be a wealth of knowledge. Those who like interacting with others may prefer a personal finance class at a local community college. If you don’t have time to read or take a class, you can listen to a personal finance podcast while commuting to work, Delgado says.
What’s most important is finding financial education tools that appeal to you and make managing money easier. Also, don’t waste time scolding yourself because you didn’t learn how to manage your money better when you were younger, Souder says. “The better thing to tell yourself is, \u2018I need to learn about this now.’”