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My 2 cents

0415 storySarah Klein is a 27-year-old art teacher—and a Millennial (born 1980 through mid-2000s). It’s a generation now facing adult decisions about their finances. Sarah shares her story about coming into her own financially and learning that, even when dealing with debt, she can and should still save for her future.

I am a 27-year-old art teacher in Fontana and a Millennial.

There’s been a lot of discussion in the media about my generation, comparing us to past generations and trying to understand how we tick. It seems that from a financial standpoint, Millennials are an interesting bunch. We are the largest generation in U.S. history. We’re educated, ethnically diverse, and economically active. We are viewed as carrying significant weight in terms of future economics due to our sheer numbers. We’ve been referred to as “Boomers on steroids” and “the powerhouse of the global economy.” And we are arriving at critical points of financial decision-making as adults.

I’m not sure I can represent an entire generation. However, I am certain I share common experiences with fellow Millennials in the teaching profession as well as similar financial challenges and goals. I also think I may have some useful advice to pass along, because I’ve been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of some financial information and advice that helped me take some important steps toward financial security. So here goes.

Frugal beginnings

Just so you know where I’m coming from, I think it’s important to share that growing up I had a reputation as being frugal. One of three girls, I was the one with the frugal gene—the one who saved half her candy bar for later.

My parents gave each of us two mason jars, one for spending and the other for saving. When you are 10, you don’t know what the savings are for, but you know it’s not just for buying stuff.

At the time, I had no idea the impact this simple exercise would have, but now I know the money lessons my parents taught us prepared me for managing my money as an adult. It was important to my parents to instill a sense of financial responsibility and I’m glad.

Grown-up economics

I graduated from college with student loan debt, just like 70% of my peer group who chose to attend public or nonprofit colleges. It’s big news that our $1 trillion of student loan debt is now the largest form of consumer debt in America after home mortgages. In fact, the average borrower has $28,400 of debt. This isn’t good news for Millennial finances, but it’s a reality nonetheless.

Coming out of college with student loan payments on top of living expenses was a new experience for me. And, then I needed a car. It was overwhelming but the excitement of my first teaching job was tempered only slightly by the realities of grown-up economics.

I was determined to really work at paying down my debt. While that’s a good thing, it also meant my focus was only on the present. I was only seeing part of the financial picture.

An invitation

Even with my early initiation into financial matters, thanks to my parents, I wasn’t prepared for the additional significant financial decisions that I needed to make—saving and investing for retirement. It wasn’t even on my radar.

That changed in my second year of teaching when a veteran teacher, Rusty Wulff, invited staff to meet and learn about personal finances. To be honest, I was not super excited about it. I thought it was just another meeting on top of everything else. I also wasn’t sure it was for me. But I knew Rusty had a passion for it and I wanted to support him.

So I went and I am so glad I did.

The big surprise

I was the youngest person there, but that wasn’t the big surprise. What surprised me most was how little I knew and that I wasn’t alone. Others asked questions that I assumed everyone older than me knew the answers to, but they didn’t. A number of veteran teachers shared how important it was that I do something now to save for retirement. I think they looked at me and saw themselves—what they should’ve done or wished they had done.

That meeting really opened my eyes. I knew I’d be back for more.

0415 portraitTime is on our side

One of the most important things I learned and want to share is how incredibly beneficial time can be to your finances. Rusty used a compound interest calculator to show that if you invest even a small amount but start early, it can really pay off. The first time we ran it based on my age, the whole group went crazy. My colleagues were like, “Sarah, that could be you!” It was very powerful and I knew I needed to get started.

I sat down and crunched the numbers and realized that I could cover my expenses, pay down my debt, and put some money into savings. I couldn’t save a lot, but it was a start. So, I opened a Roth IRA with Member Benefits. It’s great because the funds are hand picked for us and the fees are low.

I don’t miss the money at all. It comes out of my paycheck before I even see it. I still can’t picture myself in retirement, but I know saving for it is something I have to do now. My IRA is like my “retirement savings” mason jar.

Just do it

I am still learning but have come a long way from where I started. I am pretty proud of myself for taking that step to do something for my future. It’s like exercise: you don’t always feel motivated to do it, but you always feel good afterwards. Challenge yourself to do it now. Because you will regret it if you don’t start investing early

I’m engaged and my fiancé Adam agrees that it’s important to pay down debt but also invest in our future. While we don’t view money exactly the same, we communicate and agree that our plan needs to focus on the now as well as life down the road.

Get a mentor, be a mentor

Millennials—chances are there’s a “Rusty Wulff” in your school that can offer advice or point you in the right direction. Seek him or her out! Or, ask colleagues if they are interested in learning more about finances and start your own group. You can figure it out together.

To the veteran teachers: Be a mentor and share your experiences with new teachers. We need your help. Need inspiration? Read more about Rusty and our group in the fall 2013 your$ magazine. Rusty even shared his contact info if you have questions.

Get help for free

Last summer, Adam and I signed up for a free financial consultation offered by Member Benefits to see if we were on track. We took everything—our debts and investments—and laid it all out. We got a few great tips about changes we could make to help us achieve our goals.

The financial planners at Member Benefits are strictly there to help you and don’t earn a commission through product sales. The security and peace of mind from talking with someone who is an expert is invaluable.

If it hadn’t been for Rusty’s personal finance group and the help from Member Benefits, I probably wouldn’t have given retirement planning a second thought…yet. But now I have a great head start.