I have two undergraduate degrees, one in Fine Arts and the other in Agriculture. In my final semester of college, I had the opportunity to take a course on Personal Finance. Even though my identified training didn’t emphasize business acumen or financial literacy, I always had an affinity for budgeting and monetary responsibility. The Personal Finance course was unquestionably the most influential in-class experience I had in college. Not only has it allowed me to get a head-start at “adulting”, it has allowed me to effectively save for my future while working in lower-earning positions at mission-driven nonprofit organizations where I can be proud of the work I am doing in my community.
At its core, financial responsibility means being in control of one’s money – having an active role in funds both coming in and going out. Responsible individuals are aware of these transactions and treat each instance as part of a system in a greater plan. This does not necessarily mean financial independence. It is often misconstrued that only financially responsible adults don’t have debt of any kind or rely on others for assistance. However, this may be our ultimate aspiration, the goal being a completely independent twenty-something in our current society with the pressures of college degrees and education inflation is hardly practical. Responsible individuals take ownership of their situation, understand the implications of their financial standing, and have roadmaps to alleviate any incurred debts to one day become financially independent. As a hobby, I utilize my passion for personal finance to assist a handful of my friends in planning their budgets. Most recently, I have helped my partner, a graduate student transitioning back into the workforce, create a budget for the first time.
My first assignment is to have them list their financial goals. More simply, to establish what they want in life, how much monetary value it has, and when they want it (e.g., solar panels, $10,000, by 2025). I make sure to stress the inclusion of creating an emergency and retirement find. We often use online calculators which factor inflation and interest to produce monthly saving estimates. Having a laundry list detailing a desired lifestyle to work towards is an effective approach in generating the enthusiasm required to remain strict with their self-imposed new budget regimen.
After goals are outlined, we itemize their essentials: rent, utilities, transportation, insurance, etc. These incurred costs largely cannot change but require some analysis. For example, we see if their rent is over 30-35% of their income. If this is the case, we assess whether these constant costs can be altered with a plan over time.
After the essentials, we assess all other expenditures and categorize these transactions. We question: How much do I spend on subscriptions? Shopping? Entertainment? Is this something that I value and want to continue? Or is the situation more aligned with “wow, I didn’t realize I was spending that much on X each month”. This step is precluded with a disclaimer about self-care, happiness, and individuality. I stress that they spend money (to the extent practicable) on items and experiences that spark joy, build self-esteem, and promote community.
After the aforementioned expenses are calculated, this is subtracted from their average income after tax. If anything, how much is left? Is this enough to cover their financial goals? Are they going into debt? If so, is this a temporary situation? Is it with the intention of investing in a higher-earning position for the future? We look at ways to make adjustments in their outlined budgets. Will they need to get a second job? Will they need to re-evaluate the timelines of their financial goals? Are there alternative, cheaper options for their current expenses? During this phase, many concessions and compromises are made between the budget-maker experiencing the pressures of their current situation.
After this session, we take a moment to reflect on the way we view our finances. It is imperative that we are kind to ourselves when we think about money. Financial responsibility is a very serious matter, but doesn’t have to be daunting or diminutive. Having negative associations with the process or feelings of failure will inevitably backfire and make one more inclined to avoid the topic altogether. Budgeting is not a box to be simply checked. Financial responsibility is a practice, a way of life, and something that we should choose to live with (rather than against) as a skill that we have the opportunity to fine-tune over a lifetime.
A graduate student at Tufts University, this scholarship will allow her to focus her attention on her studies in Environmental Policy and hone her leadership skills in an institutional setting to create a better world for the future.