The Financial Guide to Adulting: Real Money Advice From Older Generations

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Generation Z, ages 10 to 25, have gained a strong reputation in the media as disruptors. As the most diverse and progressive generation to date, according to Pew Research, zoomers aren’t afraid to challenge the precedents set by their elders. 

The Future of Finances: Gen Z & How They Relate to Money
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This new era full of ‘digital natives’ is already revolutionizing the marketing, energy and fashion industries and changing the way top employers recruit talent. In fact, a recent GOBankingRates survey found that Gen Zers value work-life balance over both career passion and salary, and that seems to be the way companies are trending these days — with perks like remote work and unlimited PTO dominating job listings in competitive markets. 

Despite Gen Z’s growing influence over the economy, they’re still a young generation. The majority of them can’t vote yet, and even the oldest zoomers who have reached their mid-20s are experiencing record levels of unemployment and career stunting due to the pandemic. The prospect of financial “adulting” — that is, being an adult with responsibilities like a job, rent and car payments — is especially daunting when faced with the economic and job insecurity of today. There’s no one way to learn how to be an adult. But there are a lot of people who have managed it for a lot of years, with solid tips on where to get started. Here’s some real money advice from millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers on how Gen Z can be financially successful, even in this difficult climate.

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Invest Early and Often

Investing can be an intimidating topic to broach. After all, it’s rarely, if ever, taught in school, and on the surface it looks complicated and expensive — something better suited for rich, old people. But even if you only have $10 to set aside each month, it has the potential to completely change your finances, given enough time.

“Understand compounding interest and take advantage of it — the earlier the better! Invest in the stock market in simple and basic ways, such as buying low-cost index funds. Use something like Wealthfront if you’re intimidated by how to get started, or go open an account with Vanguard or Schwab and buy basic index funds like VTI or SCHB,” said Maggie Tucker and Mike O’Leary, co-hosts of the personal finance podcast friends on FIRE and self-proclaimed “old people” (although, at 38 and 41, I’d have to disagree).  

If you have the means, Tucker and O’Leary also recommend maxing out your 401(k) to the annual limit of $20,500 as soon as you’re able to.

If you’re a beginning investor, check out these resources to learn more:

But Invest Smart

“I would tell my 18-year-old self to be more patient with investing. It’s easy to trade based on emotions at that age when you don’t have experience handling the ups and downs of the stock market. Long term, timing the market rarely works out.

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“This is especially true with cryptocurrencies. Crypto trading is more volatile and unpredictable than stocks. If you believe crypto is the future, invest what you can afford and let it ride out. For every speculator who became a crypto-millionaire, there are dozens of people who have gone broke,” said John Pham, Gen Xer and founder of personal finance site The Money Ninja.

Take Our Poll: Do You Think You Will Be Able To Retire at Age 65?

Money Matters in Your Relationships

“Don’t get into a long-term relationship with someone who is not like-minded with you about money and what’s important to you in life,” Tucker and O’Leary said. “It’s OK if they have some different views on money, but if you can’t have open and honest communication about things like money then there’s a problem.  

“Yes, I am suggesting you potentially reconsider your relationship choices. This is the time to truly think about what’s best for you and make strong decisions. It will make your relationship stronger down the road if you have these tough discussions upfront. Also, consider a prenup, even if you think you have nothing to protect.” 

Think About Buying a House

Buying a house doesn’t have to be a pipe dream. Right now, it’s a seller’s market, and as a young person with (presumably) less capital to spend, it’s probably not the best time to buy. But the market will look different in a few years, and by then you may have the down payment you need to invest in property.

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“(First), run the math on renting versus a mortgage — it might actually be OK to rent,” Tucker and O’Leary said. “(And) think differently about your home and real estate. Buy a cheaper house than the bank might approve you for. Get a 15-year mortgage, or if you can’t afford that reconsider your home choice. Also consider what is called “house-hacking” while you can. It can be a bit easier while you’re younger. This could be buying a place and having three roommates that cover the mortgage, so you’re essentially living for free.”

Living at Home Isn’t a Bad Option, Either

“There’s nothing wrong with living at home with family for a while to save money. Of course, I realize that this option isn’t available to many people for various reasons. But if this option is available to you, consider it. It’s a way to save a lot of money at a time when you need the financial boost the most. Housing costs in the better job markets are ridiculous, so there’s no shame in putting off your flight from the nest,” said Jason Vissers, financial analyst at and Gen X-millennial cusper. 

So far, Gen Z has been heeding this advice. A survey from GOBankingRates found that one-third of Gen Z adults moved home during the pandemic. However, 13.9% have since moved out again.

Carefully Consider Your Education

“The single piece of advice I wish I had been given when I was 16-18 focuses on one of the largest financial commitments of your young life and one of the primary sources of individual debt: Decide if college is right for you. From the years and dollars committed to the relationships forged, whether you pursue a college education will be one of the most transformative decisions of your life. College is not right for everyone, it doesn’t have to be right for you,” said Kyle Crawford, personal finance blogger and owner of The Inimitable Path.

“Take a college credit or two while in high school. It will not provide you with the full experience, but it gives you a chance to see if it feels right for you. If you decide college is right for you, commit and be aggressive in seeking scholarships. Scholarship funds are available and often go unclaimed. Some are merit based, but others exist solely to support an area of interest.”

It’s also worth looking into cheaper routes than college, such as vocational or trade school, and whether your income will make up for what you invested to get there. 

Find the Right Credit Card

“Don’t get suckered into all the preapproved credit offers banks will foist upon you the second you turn 18…but, don’t completely ignore them, either. Look at the offers and see what the annual percentage rate (APR) is — this is how much interest you’ll pay. See if there’s an annual fee. Look at the terms of repayment and also any possible rewards.

“If you find a card with a low APR (below 16% is great) and no annual fee, apply for it. Assuming you get it, use it to make a regular purchase like gas. Then — and this is important — pay it off as soon as you get your credit card statement. By doing this, you’ll slowly build up your credit history with virtually no risk to you,” said Jake Hill, CEO of DebtHammer

Building a good credit score is also essential for things like signing an apartment lease and buying a car, and a credit card can help immensely with this. 

Pursue Your Passions

If you can make (your passion) your career, that’s amazing. If you can’t, make it your hobby. When you have hobbies and passions in your life, you have less need to fill your life with “stuff” and waste your money,” Tucker and O’Leary said. 

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About the Author

Levi joined GOBankingRates in 2019. He's found success in financial, political and military lifestyle writing, with work appearing on MSN, Yahoo Finance, and more. With a background in narrative writing, he enjoys turning interesting conversations into impactful content.
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