We’ve all been there before. You know, that first taste of adulthood that has you questioning why you were ever in a rush to grow up. Whether it be the first time you file your taxes, or the very first credit card you apply for, it’s quite easy to feel like you were catapulted into the depths of adulthood when these commonplace skills weren’t apart of your academic curriculum. And when you think about it, it’s extremely asinine that we were never formally educated on skills that are imperative to effectively navigating our way through adulthood. I mean, how often do you find yourself actually using the pythagorean theorem in your day-to-day life? Or referencing the periodic table of elements? Granted, there are absolutely those people who ended up in career fields where this kind of knowledge would be fundamental to have, but that certainly was not the case for a lot of us. And even if it was the case for you, I’m sure that you too would’ve appreciated properly learning these crucial life skills, and not feeling ambushed upon your coming of age. Luckily for you, class is in session and the MEFeater curriculum is as follows:
Budgeting Your Money
Responsibly handling money is easily the most valuable skill a person can learn, and one of the primary things we wished we learned in school. Accounting, finance, or business, are some money-related courses offered to us but—for whatever reason—most institutions don’t bother covering your own personal finances. An efficient way to track your spending is by utilizing a budget spreadsheet or apps like Mint, Pocket Guard, or Simple. These allow you to get an accurate snapshot of your financial picture, and ensure that you know exactly where every dollar spent is going.
A lot of us are guilty of blowing through money and wondering where it all went, and how it went so quickly. That $6 coffee you get every morning before work, or the $14 dollar salad that you buy every day for lunch adds up over time. That’s $400 a month right there, which is not an insignificant amount. Your bank statements also typically show where most of your money is going; whether it be food (my weakness until I started cooking at home), entertainment, or services. This, coupled with the budgeting spreadsheets or app, will allow you to see which areas you need to cut back on spending.
The Bitter-Sweet World of Credit
Ah. The credit card. I remember getting my very first credit card at 19—because of course I wanted to start building my credit early like a “responsible adult” should—and being flooded with all the adolescent memories of my parents telling me not to completely screw up my credit because of how hard it is to revert. Even though they never really went into depth on how to avoid doing this, I pretty much got the gist of it. “Credit isn’t technically your money, so don’t use it frivolously if you aren’t in a position to pay it off in a timely manner or else your credit score will be nonexistent and, in such a capitalist society, so will you.” At least, that was what I heard. I kept this in mind and, at my 23 years of age, manage to be on the right track with a pretty decent credit score. Although, some people weren’t as lucky. Several habits have allowed me to sustain good credit:
- Always pay more than the minimum payment. This amount is usually very low and will definitely cost you in the long run. Avoid it at all costs!
- If you can, pay off the balance in full each month. Interest is not your friend. You don’t want to end up paying 1,000’s of dollars for something that was originally $100.
- Never be late with a payment. Why bother spending more than you need to with late payment fees? Trust me, you don’t want those problems!
- Stay under 90% of your credit card limit to prevent from “maxing out” your card. This helps you steadily build your credit, so that more can be extended.
- Pay your bill at least twice a month to contribute to a notable increase in your credit score.
Finding Your Own Health Insurance
Health insurance, car insurance, home insurance… with all the different categories of things providing us protection against a possible eventuality, you’d think that schools would prepare you on how to shop for at least one of them. Most young adults don’t particularly need to worry about health insurance until they’re 26 although, that was not the case for me––and I’m sure, many other people entering adulthood. At just a tender 22 years of age, not only was I plagued with having to find my own health insurance, but I had to pay for it too. It was extremely frustrating, and nearly a month long process. And little did I know, as if paying for my own health insurance wasn’t enough, dental and vision plans were not included. I felt like I was watching one of those toy infomercials I’d see growing up with most of the necessary parts being “sold separately”. Premiums, co-pays, and in-network providers might as well have been a foreign language to me.
When searching for health insurance plans the second time around, one of the things that I found most useful to look for in a plan was one that offered co-pays for both primary and specialty visits. I was unlucky enough for my first plan to be with a company that did not offer co-pays for specialty visits––and after visiting CityMD urgent care, I was stuck paying double of what I would have for that month in health care fees because of it. Do your due-diligence, read the fine print, and compare-and-contrast as many plans as you need to before rushing into one that you’ll hate in just a couple months.
How to Avoid Owing Uncle Sam
Every year that tax season rolls around, I’m overwhelmed with feelings of both optimism and genuine concern. On one hand, I could get a considerable amount of the money taken out of my pay checks for the previous year back, but on the other, I could owe even more. Nearly every tax season, I’ve owed Uncle Sam money, as if enough isn’t taken out of my checks as is. I thought that I would be safe as a college student, but not even then.
With this being the case, I’m almost 100% sure that upon filling out the W-4’s for the positions I’ve held, I’ve completely butchered them. It was only this past tax season, courtesy of my tax guy, that I learned to claim 0 exemptions for both state and federal, to avoid owing next year. Better late than never I guess right? Had I been taught every step of the tax filing process––from filling out a W-4, to having the option of filing my taxes myself instead of simply paying a stranger to worry about it––these were all things that could have been avoided. Now, I’m doubtful that I’ll ever fully understand how taxes work, as this topic seems to befuddle even the most well-intentioned adult.
Granted, it’s traditionally a parent’s duty to teach civic responsibility, but given how little we actually need to know about the topics that were covered in school, there could certainly be more of a balance. And, when we finally enter parenthood, how is it considered sensible for us to be tasked with teaching our children something we never even officially learned ourselves? We were forced to discover how to do most of these things, if not all, through trial-and-error. Experience should not have been our teachers when it comes to matters that can make or break our quality of living. Until the schools actually implement courses that teach these crucial life skills, I suppose we’ll just have to continue to seek out the information ourselves.