These are the steps to financial independence

Personal Finance

Queen Elizabeth II, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex watch a flypast to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force from the balcony of Buckingham Palace on July 10, 2018 in London, England.

Max Mumby | Indigo | Getty Images

Royals aren’t the only ones leaning on family.

As Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, struggle to become financially independent and forgo public funds, they are even more like the rest of us.

More than half of millennials over 21 are receiving financial help from a parent or guardian, according to a 2018 report by Country Financial.

One-third of the more than 1,000 adults polled still got money from their parents every month to cover expenses such as gas, groceries, rent and their cellphone bill, while nearly two-thirds received financial help a couple of times a year, the report said.

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In part, millennials face financial challenges that their parents did not as young adults. On top of carrying most of the $1.6 trillion in student loan debt, their wages are lower than their parents’ earnings when they were in their 20s.

A 2017 study of Federal Reserve data by advocacy group Young Invincibles showed that millennials earned an average of $40,581 in 2013. That’s 20% less than the inflation-adjusted $50,910 earned by baby boomers in 1989.

In addition, rents continue to rise even as housing prices outpace wages, making it even harder for those just starting out to go it alone.

A separate report by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave found that 58% of early adults, which Merrill defines as those between the ages 18 and 34, said they would not be able to afford their current lifestyles without parental support.

That’s true for Whitney Fields, 33. Fields graduated from college in 2007 and received a master’s degree in advertising in 2009. Now she works three jobs, including two side hustles, while also managing a local women’s networking group to make ends meet.

Altogether, Fields estimates she makes between $36,000 to $38,000 a year.

In 2017, Fields moved into her own apartment in Austin, Texas, and pays roughly $1,200 a month, including utilities. But she still receives regular support from her parents to cover her cellphone, internet and insurance, to the tune of about $250 to $300 a month.

“While I’m very appreciative of the support, there’s a little bit of embarrassment that goes along with that,” she said. Many of her friends, however, are in a similar boat. “You don’t want to admit that our parents are still helping us.”

Whitney Fields, 33, works three jobs to make ends meet and still relies on her parents to some extent.

Source: Alisha + Brook Photographers

“People forget the value of financial independence, and therefore it hinders them from making it a goal,” said Kate Ryan, a director of financial planning at TIAA in New York.

For young adults, that’s a mistake, she added. “Financial independence gives them the opportunity to really dream about what they want their life to look like and the freedom to live their life the way they want.”

Learning to take charge of your money requires discipline and planning around finances. Prince Harry and Meghan are doing it — admittedly, with a little more of a head start — and you can, too. Here’s how:

Step 1: Create a budget

Most experts start by differentiating between discretionary and fixed expenses. “Then you are able to pick areas that are non-negotiable and areas where you can reduce your expenses,” Ryan said.

“I’ve never had a client make a budget and discover they are spending less than they thought,” she said.

Step 2: Cut spending

Once you’ve mapped out your budget, start cutting a few expenses that you just want and really don’t need — at least temporarily.

For Fields, that means reigning in impulse purchases. To accomplish this, she now relies on a debit card instead of credit.

“It’s difficult,” she admitted. “You really have to watch your finances on a daily basis.”

Step 3: Boost saving

Many financial advisors recommend stashing some cash in an emergency fund, which will keep you from reaching for a credit card when something unexpected pops up.

Aim to have at least six months’ worth of expenses, or more, set aside if you are the head of a household.

You also want to contribute at least enough money to your workplace retirement account to get the company’s full matching contribution. “That’s free money,” Ryan said.

Step 4: Increase income

Often, changing jobs is the key to giving your income a boost, particularly in the face of stagnant wages, and that can go a long way towards independence, Ryan advised.

People who switched jobs saw their wages rise 4.3% last year, versus 3.2% for workers who stayed in the same job, according to an analysis of wage data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Alternatively, negotiate a pay increase at your current employer. It’s usually up to employees to take the initiative, experts say — but they are also often successful.

“Know your worth,” Ryan said.

Step 5: Pay down debt

If debt repayment is holding you back, figure out what you owe, then decide whether to use the “debt avalanche” or “debt snowball” method to chip away at those revolving loans.

The avalanche method lists your debts from highest to lowest by interest rate. That way you pay off the debts that rack up the most in interest first.

Alternatively, the snowball method prioritizes your smallest debts first, regardless of interest rate. The idea is that you’ll gain momentum as the debts are paid off and that will motivate you to keep going.

“Money directed toward paying down debt is taking away from other areas of your life,” Ryan said.

“Once the debt is paid down, you have the opportunity to direct that money elsewhere.”

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