5 Millennial Money Mistakes That Are Keeping Us From Our Dreams

If you ask the average millennial a basic question about their finances, they’ll go blank.

That’s what happened in one college senior’s finance class at Purdue University when the professor asked who knew what the Dow Jones was—only twenty-five of the one hundred students raised their hand.

It’s no secret that the majority of millennials miss the mark when it comes to financial literacy. Terms like “401K” and “ETF” sound like gibberish, at best ringing a vaguely familiar bell.

With millennials now at the age of financial independence, this is a big problem. The average 18-24 year old has less than $1,000 in their savings account, and over $30,000 in student loans.

It’s no wonder that so many millennials experience anxiety about their finances, more so than baby boomers did at the same age. They’re more cautious about spending, and less able to make their dreams like owning a home and saving for retirement a reality.

Meet Rohan Thakkur, the senior in the finance class at Purdue University. Looking around at his classmates, he couldn’t believe that so few knew such a basic financial term. He realized there was a huge need to bring financial awareness to kids his age, and decided to do something about it.

That story was the inspiration for Thakkur’s company Orca Financial, a hub for straightforward, easy-to-digest financial education intended to bridge the disconnect between young people and finance. With article topics like “Emoji Finance Friday,” “How The Dow Jones Is Like Your Favorite Instagram Influencer,” and “Mutual Funds: As Explained Through Dating,” Thakkur is on a mission to break down financial concepts into a language millennials can understand. He’s also a writer for Thrive Global and AOL.

This week on the Unconventional Life Podcast, I picked Thakkur’s brain for financial “hacks” that anyone, no matter their financial literacy, can put into play immediately to save money and begin to make their financial goals a reality.

Make five of Thakkur’s financial fixes below to start seeing improvements in your financial life today.

1. You’re Not Using The 50-20-30 Rule. According to Thakkur, the “50-20-30 Rule” stands for 50% spending, 20% saving, and 30% investing. It’s a guide to keep you on track to compounding your money over time.

With each paycheck you earn, commit to spending just half of it on living expenses like food, rent, bills, Netflix subscriptions, Uber rides, and nights out with friends. Set aside 30% of each paycheck to saving, until you have enough of a cushion to last you 2-3 months worth of pay “for a rainy day.” With the final 20%, consult a financial advisor about making entry-level investments that will help you raise money towards long-term goals like buying a house, starting a business, or attending grad school much quicker.

2. You’re Not Maxing Out Your 401K. Here’s the breakdown: a 401k is a retirement savings plan sponsored by your employer. According to a recent survey, 4 in 10 millennials don’t have a retirement income strategy in place.

Each year, you have the option to put a percentage of your income into your 401k savings account, and the money you put into that account is deducted from your taxable income. So if you make $50,000 a year and put aside $10,000 into your 401k account, your taxable income is only $40,000. Thakkur recommends maxing out your 401k by contributing the upper limit of $18,000 each year. “Why not pay less money in taxes? It’s more money you get to keep,” he says.

3. You’re Not Tracking Your Spending. Do you ever feel like money seems to drain out of your bank account? Chances are you aren’t tracking your spending. 38% of Americans don’t track their spending, and more than half of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

When you track your spending, you can bring awareness to nasty habits that are draining your money, and replace them with wiser spending decisions. “Track your expenses,” Thakkur says. “It’s ok if you spend your money. I’m a firm believer about having fun. But we don’t have to be stupid about it. Think about it, if you want to go to Coachella next year, why not invest that money and have that money pay for your Coachella ticket?”