21 insights from personal finance professionals to help you make a plan for your money in 2021

millennial money plan
Investing can be right for anyone, not just the wealthy or finance-minded.

  • Over the past year, dozens of financial professionals sat down with Business Insider to discuss millennials and their money.
  • They’ve offered advice and inspiration on everything from setting goals to tackling student-loan debt to investing.
  • Here are 21 of their best insights to help you make a plan for your money.
  • This article is part of a series focused on millennial financial empowerment called Master your Money.
A comprehensive financial plan maps out all aspects of your money to chart a path to your goals.

planning finances

Start with what you want to achieve

“Let your life lead your money — that’s the first thing. What is it that you aspire to do? What do you value? What are your goals? Let’s start there. Then the money is not necessarily a second. It’s a complement; it’s a partner.”

— Preston Cherry, certified financial planner and founder of Concurrent Financial Planning

Leave some room for the unexpected

“When I see people with a financial plan, one of the things I tell them is to expect the unexpected.

“As long as you’re walking on this earth, you’re going to have an unexpected expense. I call them ‘the known unknown,’ and those are expenses that you know are going to happen, but you don’t know when.”

— Tania Brown, certified financial planner with SaverLife:

Automate your money to make progress a no-brainer

“What I like to have clients do is automate their transfers to whatever the goals are, things that they’re trying to achieve, and have those in separate accounts so that they can clearly see their progress. And it’s all just sort of set up, and it’s happening for them. So they make the decision once, and then it triggers on its own.”

— Anna N’Jie-Konte, certified financial planner and founder of Dare to Dream Financial Planning

Read more » How to make a plan for your goals, no matter how big or small

A budget might seem intimidating, but you can’t control where your money goes without one.

budgeting
A couple sits down to sort out their budget before planning anything.

Keep your goals top of mind

“The main point of financial planning is to use your money as a tool for life. As far as the budget goes, understanding what you actually want to do in your life is very important to build that plan.”

— Eric Roberge, certified financial planner and founder of Beyond Your Hammock

Find out where your money is going already

“I would say that the first step — I’m always surprised at how many people either discount this or put this off or just don’t know — is really being honest about how you’re spending your money. You have to know how much is coming in versus how much is going out on a monthly basis.

“It might sound simple, but to me that’s the very essence of what it means to start thinking about a budget. That term doesn’t have to be so scary, but if you don’t take that step back and evaluate this, you’re never going to be able to move forward.”

— Kelly Lannan, the vice president of Fidelity Investment’s Young Investors for Personal Investing

Add savings into that list

“Start tracking how much you save each year and aim to save 10% to 15% of your income as an ‘investment’ in yourself. You’ll be amazed how quickly it will add up.”

— Kristi Rodriguez, vice president of thought leadership for Nationwide Financial

Consider giving your credit cards a break

“I always suggest trying a cash diet, where maybe you take a week or a couple of weeks where you don’t use a credit card and start using cash only.

“That way we’re just a little bit more mindful about how we spend. I know we use credit cards for everything today, but this way it makes us really be more thoughtful.”

— Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, certified financial planner and board chair and president of the Charles Schwab Foundation

Find your support system

“A budget is essential, but it can be even more powerful when you have that support system of people who share the same goals. That’s what we’ve seen to be extremely effective and powerful.”

— Sunny Israni, chartered financial analyst and founder and CEO of Clasp

Read more » Money can’t buy happiness, but how we adjust 3 financial ‘levers’ can drastically affect how we feel

Debt can feel like a heavy burden. But with a plan, you can begin to tackle it systematically.

graduation cap business school

Build a personal balance sheet

“To quote my grandmother, ‘Facts are stubborn things.’ And so I think that the mistake that many people make is embarrassment, shame, bury their head in the sand.

“The best thing that anyone with any kind of debt can do is build a personal balance sheet. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can just be pencil to paper on a legal pad with your debts on one side, and your assets on another.

“And human capital is an asset, too. So, if you have a salary, if you have money coming in, certainly list that. But those facts are stubborn things, and you need to know exactly what you’re facing, what your payments are, and have an idea of how you’re going to approach it.”

— Alison Hutchinson, senior vice president at Brown Brothers Harriman

List every loan and its terms

“The biggest advice is to get organized around your student loans. Write them all down, and see what you have to tackle.

“It always seems like a bigger task at first than it really is. And once you get organized, you can kind of see the big picture a lot clearer, so you know who your loans are with, are they subsidized, are they unsubsidized, are they private loans, are they federal loans, and getting an understanding around that. And then just going and looking at your options.”

— Carmen Perez, personal-finance blogger at Make Real Cents

Lean on your partner

“Irrespective of whether you decide to take on your partner’s debt or not, that debt is going to affect your relationship. Because it will either limit your partner’s ability to do certain things or it’ll limit your ability as a team to be able to go out and do future things together.

“So what I recommend to couples is to tackle debt as a team, even if you’re not taking over that person’s debt, or paying, or contributing to the payment of that debt. The best part about being in a relationship is you have a partner to help you navigate all that.”

— Aditi Shekar, founder and CEO of Zeta

Check up on your credit

“Review your credit reports regularly. They provide a complete record of your debt-related financial relationships, can be used as a resource for working with your creditors on payment planning, and are a critical tool in managing your debt through difficult financial situations.

“Keeping your debts as low as possible will put you in a better financial position when the economy emerges from this crisis.”

— Rod Griffin, senior director of consumer education and advocacy at Experian

Read more » How to pay back your student-loan debt, no matter where you start or what type of loans you have

Investing can be right for anyone, not just the wealthy or finance-minded.

millennial investor

Leave your emotions out of it 

“Active investing is a skill that can be learned and developed over time. For those that do it successfully, it is not an emotional exercise. In fact, successful active investors put measures in place to protect themselves from emotional decision making. If one lacks either the will, skill, or time, passive investing is likely a better strategy.”

— Wilson Muscadin, a financial coach and founder of The Money Speakeasy

Don’t be afraid to start small

“You don’t want to be silly about how you invest and incur costs that are perhaps not necessary, but I don’t think there’s any amount that’s too small.

“I’d rather you do something than nothing, especially with a 401(k) when your employer will match whatever you put in. That’s basically a 100% guaranteed return. You don’t get a lot of free lunches, as we say in finance. That might be one of the few, and you’re giving up on an incredible opportunity if you don’t put any money away at all.”

— Scott Pedvis, financial advisor at Wells Fargo

Follow your plan and readjust when you need to

“It’s very important to stick to your game plan, to understand what you’re going to be using the money for, and really know that there are going to be points where the market is not doing so great.

“But if you have a long-term game plan that you want to stay in with a risk associated with your investment portfolio, it’s best to stay the course. And if you can’t stomach the risk the portfolio you’re in might be subject to, then reevaluate and determine whether it makes sense to scale that risk down.”

— Joseph Edmondson, certified financial planner at Equitable Advisors

Ignore the day-to-day market movements

“One of the big things you want to know is to take comfort in the context.

“You don’t want to focus on the 30 to 45 worst days we have seen in 10 years and let it make you forget about the good times that we had for 10 straight years. You want to have that context and know that long-term investors almost always win.”

— Kevin Matthews, a financial advisor and founder of Building Bread

Read more » The smart investor’s toolkit: 7 tips from personal finance professionals for building wealth through investing

Managing your money is an ongoing task, and you’re better off striving for consistency than perfection.

millennials friends celebrating

Take a long-term view

“We’re living through extraordinary times. While each of us is learning to persevere through this moment, don’t anchor your vision of the future to the current environment.”

— Sandi Bragar, certified financial planner and partner and managing director in planning, strategy, and research at Aspiriant

Identify what you can control

“What I find people do is they focus on a thing that they cannot control and ignore the things they can.

“For instance, if someone loses their job, they had no control over the job loss, but you have 100% control over calling your creditors and letting them know you may not be able to pay the bills. You have 100% control of going in your budget and cutting out unnecessary items, like cable.”

— Tania Brown

Stop comparing your situation to others

“My biggest piece of advice, and this is hard, OK, I’m not saying it’s easy: People have to stop comparing yourselves to others, especially over social media.

“You have to define your own goals, because we all know what makes us happy. You have to start to align your money to your values, to the things that make you happy. That can be at least an important first step in trying to not compare yourself too much to others.”

— Kelly Lannan

Don’t wait until tomorrow or next month to get back on track

“When you’re looking at your spending for the month, if you go over on a category and then you say, ‘OK, well, I’ll just start over next month,’ I always tell people that’s not the way to go about it.

“It’s the same with nutrition or health goals. It’s not like, ‘OK, I’ll just start over next month’ or ‘I’ll start over next year,’ but it’s ‘OK, what can I do for the rest of the day to make this better?’ Or ‘What can I do tomorrow to make this situation better?’ So maybe it’s ‘OK, if I overspent on this category, is there another category that I can cut back on for the rest of the week or month?'”

— Katie Oelker, financial coach

Aim to be good with money, not perfect

“Being good with money doesn’t mean you’re perfect with money. None of us are. I think that’s one of the things that we have to tell people to come to grips with: You will do things that you’ll look back and wonder why. But no one’s perfect with money.”

— Rod Griffin

Read more » 5 steps to take control your money — even when it feels like everything’s gone sideways

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