Sitting in the presence of my dearest friends, a mammoth amount of sushi, and an over-sized BB-8 plush (thanks, Chels), I came to the realization that there was no discernible difference between 32 and 31. Just another birthday, just another year gone by. Somewhere around 25, everything seemed to slow to a snail’s pace. Even the milestone 30 was anticlimactic. I don’t feel transformed, or wiser, or any more “adult” than before.
Of course, despite this vague feeling that life is increasingly static, things really do change. I’m starting to get some fine lines around my eyes that concealer loves to settle in. I have more and more grey hairs appearing at my temples every day. And let’s not forget the time I sneezed and threw my back out. I am definitely aging, and with that passage of time, I’ve become aware that there are things I need to be focusing on.
If you, like me, are a Millennial in their early 30s, here are some things you may want to turn your attention to.
1. Going Green
A lot of people view going green as a complete lifestyle change, wherein all of their decisions and actions absolutely must be aimed toward saving the planet. Such a colossal undertaking is so overwhelming that they end up forgoing the idea altogether. However, going green can be incredibly easy, and you don’t have to change your entire life to do it. It’s all about those baby steps. Believe it or not, even the smallest of changes can have a huge impact — and not just on the environment.
For instance, you can save precious natural resources and increase the overall value of your home by adding solar panels to the roof, or installing water-saving toilets, showers, and faucets. You can reduce your energy consumption and save hundreds of dollars on your utility bills by purchasing Energy Star appliances. You can decrease pollution and get some sweet tax credits by purchasing an electric or hybrid vehicle.
There are an endless number of reasons to embrace a greener lifestyle. There are the obvious ones — e.g. preserving natural resources, reducing pollution, and creating better future for generations to come — but there are also secondary reasons, such as improving your health and saving a ton of money. In the end, it doesn’t really matter why you choose to go green because ultimately, you’re doing the right thing for the environment.
2. Nursing Your Credit
Whether you like it or not (Dave Ramsey, I’m looking your way), your credit score influences the course of your life in more ways than one. Lenders use your credit report and score to determine your risk as a borrower. This impacts whether or not you’re approved for loans such as a mortgage, car loan, or credit card. It’s a deciding factor in what interest rate you get. Landlords may use your credit score when weighing your application for a rental. It can also affect how much you pay for home and auto insurance. Simply put, your credit score is insanely important.
The three bureaus that issue credit reports and scores have different evaluation systems — and they’re not exactly forthcoming with information regarding said systems. In an interview with WalletHub, William J. Chambers, Associate Professor of the Practice Emeritus of Administrative Sciences at Boston University Metropolitan College, points out, “The lack of transparency and the inability to link actions (e.g. maintaining an ongoing outstanding balance on a credit card, missing payments, taking on additional debt, etc.) with the resulting score is perhaps the weakest link in the chain. I suspect many individuals somehow believe that the scores just magically appear or drop from the sky, and fail to link the scores with their own actions. Providing this kind of transparency would, at least, provide some incentive to consumers to avoid situations where they unknowingly harm themselves.”
The good news is that you do have some control over your credit score — and if it needs help, there are things you can do to build it back up. Since your credit score is (generally speaking) based on your payment history, how much you owe, how much credit you have available, the length of your credit history, and the types of credit you have, carefully managing these factors is the most effective thing you can do. Start simply — plan your payments and get a handle on your total debt. Once you have your debt paid down:
- Strive to keep a balance of less than 30 percent of your available credit limit.
- Check your credit report and at least once a year. Look for errors, and work to correct any you find.
- Establish solid credit accounts, such as personal loans or major credit cards. Aim to get cards with high limits, but keep a low balance.
- Even if you no longer use the card, don’t close out old accounts. Long standing accounts are good for your score.
- While this may seem obvious, it bears repeating: Pay your bills on time.
Building or rebuilding your credit history takes time. Be aware that it may be awhile before your report reflects the positive work you’ve done. Patience is key!
3. Taking Care of Your Health
Chances are, you, or someone you know, is struggling with an illness — be it physical or mental. That’s why it may come as no surprise that a survey from Transamerica Center for Health Studies found that 54% of Millennials say they have been diagnosed with a chronic illness. That being said, the same report found that more than a quarter of Millennials state they do not have a primary care provider. This is incredibly troubling.
Preventive care, such as periodic screenings, reproductive care, and adult immunizations, are essential to your overall health. For new mothers, preventive services like breastfeeding support and counseling, as well as contraceptive coverage are also much needed. The Affordable Care Act has provisions that help cover the cost of these services, and we should be taking advantage of that for as long as it exists.
Furthermore, finding a primary care doctor and getting those regular checkups is of utmost importance. While seeing an urgent care doctor may seem quicker, you end up sacrificing continuity of care. Regularly visiting a doctor who’s familiar with your medical history has a number of benefits, including the fact that they’re always able to take your past and existing conditions into account before giving you a new diagnosis.
4. Saving for Retirement
Very few Millennials are actually saving as much as they should be for retirement — and there’s no real mystery as to why. With the majority of us struggling with unemployment, outsized housing costs, and hefty student loan debt, retirement is an extremely low financial priority. But that doesn’t mean we’re not aware of the dangers. A recent survey by Bankrate.com found that, when it comes to retirement, Millennials’ biggest fear is running out of money.
Unfortunately, life isn’t making things easy on us. For years, the rule regarding retirement saving was to set aside 10-15% of each paycheck. However, according to investment firm BlackRock, future returns suggest that Gen Y-ers may need to save 25% of our pay to get the same result that was available to boomers saving half that much.
The good news is that this number comes from the assumption that Social Security will disappear before we can draw from it, which is unlikely to happen. Still, it’s a point worth considering. Our boomer predecessors were lucky enough to enjoy a rather prosperous period for market gains — and it’s doubtful that we’ll be seeing the same good fortune during our saving years. Since most 401K plans are split between stocks and bonds, we’ll need to supplement our retirement savings with something other than investments.
The best thing we can do is to start saving as early and consistently as possible. Much like green living, every little bit counts! Don’t put off retirement savings unless you absolutely have to, because the best thing we have going for us is time. With about 35 to 40 years until retirement, we really are in the best possible place to begin saving.
5. Buying Life Insurance
Life insurance is one of those things that we usually don’t think about until something major — and unfortunate — happens. Though we’re still young, life insurance is something we should all be considering, especially if we have children. There are two reasons in particular why life insurance is so important:
- You’re not immune to death. Depending on whether you opt for cremation or burial, the average funeral costs between $6,000 and $11,000. Without life insurance to cover these costs, your family would be left holding the bill. If you are otherwise unburdened by debt, a small life insurance policy will relieve the financial strain.
- If you have a large amount of debt — student loans, credit cards, mortgage — it could fall on your parents or partner to pay up after you pass. Buying enough life insurance to offset this debt will prove to eliminate additional stress on your loved ones at the end of your life.
Life insurance is surprisingly affordable. Premiums are based on several factors, including your age and overall health — that means that the younger you are, the less you’ll pay for coverage. This is especially true if you don’t smoke or have any preexisting health conditions. The longer you wait, the higher that monthly cost will jump. Since life insurance rates are locked in once your policy goes into force, it makes good financial sense to buy now and pay a lower cost for the duration of your plan.
6. Writing a Will
Speaking of death, there’s another thing a lot of Millennials fail to consider — estate planning. Yes, we’re young, have a full life ahead of us and not much of an estate to speak of, but we’re actually surprisingly vulnerable. Since Gen Y-ers are far more likely than older generations to have unconventional family situations, we’re less likely to be covered by the legal protections afforded to married couples. To put it plainly, if you’re not married to your partner, they’re not entitled to anything when you die.
Another thing to contemplate is what happens to your pets when you’re gone? And will your parents instinctively know who to give your valued possessions to? Basic planning is essential to make sure that the people, pets, and things that matter most to you are taken care of when you pass. Good estate planning goes beyond a will. You’ll also need to plan for the following:
- Power of attorney — Authorizes a person of your choice to make financial decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated.
- Health-care proxy – Authorizes a person of your choice to make health care-related decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated.
- HIPPA release form – Permits access to your medical information on your behalf should you become incapacitated.
- Advanced health-care directive – Outlines your healthcare decisions (e.g. do not resuscitate, do not incubate, organ donation, etc.)
While death and disability aren’t exactly the most uplifting of things to dwell on, they are, nevertheless, something that should be planned for. Not only do these arrangements ensure your wishes are met when you’re unable to make the decisions, they also save your family a lot of sorrow.
So many of the struggles of adulthood can be avoided with a well thought out plan. As the old adage says, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” So, let’s plan for the future by living green, watching our financials, taking care of our health, saving for retirement, and making end-of-life preparations today. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
Do you have any additional tips for Millennials settling into adulthood?
Also by Liz: Millennials Are Under Crushing Stress, Science Says. Here’s How To Cope
15 Genius Home Hacks that Save Water–and $$$
Related: How to Adjust Your Budget and Save Money
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