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Broke Millennial by Erin Lowry

May 15, 2017
AUTHOR: Emilie
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Reading Time: 7 minutes

I received Broke Millennial for free for review. I was not otherwise compensated for this post. Thanks for supporting the brands that support Burke Does!

“I can’t.” I catch myself saying these words a lot lately.

“I’m sorry. I can’t go out with you all to dinner because I’m working to pay down my debt.” I say this to the women in one of my social circles at least once per month and they are always incredibly supportive and understanding. One of the women of the group, the owner of a thriving business that I really admire, always reaffirms to me that I’m doing the right thing. I know that it’s the right thing. That doesn’t make it the easy thing to do.

“I’m sorry. I can’t do that Crossfit competition because it’s outside of my budget this month.”

“I’m sorry. I can’t come hang out tonight; I have a babysitting gig.”

All. the. time.

Turning things down isn’t easy. Saying no is much harder, and at times embarrassing, in a way that saying yes wouldn’t be.

I was only in the first chapter of my most recent read when I figured it all out. In fact, less than 10 pages into Erin Lowry’s Broke Millennial, I found myself up and scrambling for a pen to underline a powerful line:

“Money gives you choices” (8)

Yes, yes, it does. Now, while I feel like I’m sometimes winning with money and other times suffocating under it, I’ve come to realize that money gives you choices. If I didn’t have debt, I would have my income freed up to do whatever I want (within reason) or buy whatever I want (within reason) or turn down whatever extra money I want.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love babysitting. I enjoy tutoring. I get a sense of pleasure from earning a couple of extra bucks. Almost all of the gas in my car gets paid from my “cash budget” earned from these side gigs.

Part of the reason I’m in this situation, though, is because I have debt. There are lots of things I wish I had known about money two years ago. Whether you’re confused about money for yourself (admitting it is the necessary precursor to addressing it), are doing just fine and want to know if there’s anything left for you to learn (hint: the answer is yes), or are somewhere in between Erin Lowry’s Broke Millennial is a must read.

Money Mindset

Your relationship with money is not just about the money you have in your bank account right now. It is the culmination of all your experiences with money throughout your life to this point. Lowry repeated references how her interactions with her parents affected her understanding with money. Through one particularly traumatic (life-changing) experience with a couple dozen Krispy Kreme donuts, Lowry learns from her dad the difference between gross and net profit, laying the groundwork for the financial knowledge she would accumulate over the rest of her life. By the way, Lowry talks about those Krispy Kreme donuts on The Financial Ginger with Jacob Johnson, Her Money with Jean Chatsky, and Afford Anything with Paula Pant– all podcasts I strongly recommend!

Lowry highlights that your actions with money are mostly the results of your money mindset “which is shaped by a number of things, such as your relationship to future thinking, how your parents related to money, and your financial fears” (9). Through the questions in the book (there are spaces to actually fill out the answers right in the book! this is not a theoretical exercise, folks), you can start to understand your own money mindset and what hurdles might be in your way to getting your financial life together- also known as #GYFLT.

Common Mistakes

Being not-that-far-out-of-college, I’ve seen tons of people screw up with money. Lucky for them, we’re still young enough that a money screw up now does not translate into ruining-your-life. There are, for the most part, no kids in the picture and few-if-any mortgages at play. If there’s a time to screw up, well, this is it.

The most common issue I see: No Budget. Lowry writes:

[N0] matter how you feel about the B-word, having a budget puts you in control of your money. At the very least, you need to understand how much you have coming in and how much is going out each month. (30)

The best way to know where your money is going is to tell it where to go. It’s that simple.

Have a budget.

While there are lots of other common money mistakes out there, so many of them are rooted in a lack of a budget. For example, accumulating overdraft fees is almost always a result of not knowing how much money you should have.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in December 2015, banks earned 11.6 billion… dollars in revenue from overdraft and NSF fees (51)

When I read this my jaw dropped. That just seems like SO much money to me. That $30 NSF fee is a date night out! It’s a Lyft to and from the bar. It can buy you so much that you should really not ever in the entirety of your life pay an NSF fee. Despite all of that, it happens all the time.

In high school, I used to work at Dunkin Donuts, the delicious breakfast chain for those of you unfamiliar with it. We had a customer who used to come in and order $6 worth of breakfast every day. He would wake up in the morning, open the bank app on his phone, and check his balance. When he saw that he had more than $6 in his bank account, he would order his breakfast. He would do the same thing before he spent any money throughout the day- check that he had that amount before swiping. For about a week, though, apparently our registers were in a semi-state of processing where the credit card was swiping and showing as “approved” but not immediately sending it to the processing companies. Well, when he had a week’s worth of transactions, clocking in at roughly $50, hit his account at the same time, he got stuck with not just one NSF fee, but one for every transaction that he couldn’t afford. That $50 of Dunkin Donuts turned into $115 of expenses because he had no sense of how much money he had in the bank. Don’t be that guy.

Have a budget. Avoid bank fees.

Don’t be that friend who takes out a credit card to “build credit” and then finds yourself maxed out on the card. If you’re looking to actually build credit, Lowry lays out everything you need to know about Credit Reports in an easy-to-follow and even easier-to-understand guide.

Have a budget. Avoid bank fees. Build a strong credit score.

If you are that friend who has maxed out some credit cards or maybe just spent more than you should have,

Stop feeling shame, because you’re not the only one. (98)

Money shame is real. It’s something I struggle with often. I’ve now paid off all my credit cards but I still have 26K of other debt, most of which is my car. Sometimes being in debt can make you feel like you did something wrong, especially when you’re surrounded by people yelling at you GET OUT OF DEBT. I promise that even if you’re surrounding yourself with those voices- through podcasts, TV, books, or blogs- it can be hard to not let that turn into shame. The best way to do that? Well, I’m glad you asked: address the source and get rid of the debt.

Have a budget. Avoid bank fees. Build a strong credit score. Get rid of all that debt, especially if it’s credit card debt.

Taboo Money Topics

Somewhere along the development of society, we decided it was more socially acceptable to talk about sex that it was to talk about money. It doesn’t take that long to flip through channels on the television (which I no longer can do because we cut cable) for you to see a channel rated “MA”- for mature audiences only. It will take you much longer to find a social group that you’re pretty down to talk money with.

This is an area where I consider myself actually pretty lucky, as I do feel comfortable talking money with my friends. In fact, because people know I’m really into talking about money (duh), they just have accepted it as something we’re going to have to talk about at some point. I want to talk about the newest coolest app that I’ve found to do this or that with your money or a new budgeting tool that I’m testing out. And I probably want you- my less-into-money-than-me friend- because I want your perspective on it, as someone who isn’t super into money.

I promise that if we’re friends, we’re probably going to talk about money at some point.

Not everyone is down with this. Yet there are a lot of social situations that would be made a lot less awkward by just talking about it before putting yourself in those situations. Going out to dinner or drinks, a potluck at a friend’s, ordering grubhub, and dealing with venmo bills are just some of the socially awkward situations where we need to cross social settings and money. Lowry lays out step-by-step the taboo money topics you need to address and exactly how to address them- yes, even the money conversation you need to have with your significant other.

Investing and Retirement

These are two different things. At this age, I think a lot people forget that investing and retirement are different things. Yes, you should be investing, in addition to investing for retirement. If you’re not there yet in your financial journey (I’m not), that’s okay. If you’re just piddling around though and always wearing the newest designer fashions, out of debt, and not investing, though, I want to let you know that you’re doing it wrong. Just look at this example:

At age 25, I put $3,000 into an S&P 500 index fund. Using a conservative estimate that I’ll receive an average 8 percent interest rate each year (some years will be higher and some lower), I can expect the investment to have grown to around $6,476.77 by the time I’m 30. Let’s say I leave it alone until I’m 60. That initial $3,000 investment would be worth $44,356.03 without me continuing to contribute a single penny. If I waited until I was 35 to invest $3,000 and received the same 8 percent return, I’d have $20,543.43 by age 60. Ten years of waiting to invest $3,000 would cost me nearly $24,000. (197)

Investing can be intimidating. It’s okay to ask for help here. Maybe even read a book, like Broke Millennial, or two to get your feet wet. Get a financial advisor if you think it’s best. Before you do that, make sure you understand how that advisor is getting paid. No fretting though! Lowry walks you through everything you need to keep in mind.

Where to Go From Here

Now you’ve got the knowledge. You’ve been following Burke Does for a while. You’re on the super special email list that fills your inboxes with all the information you need to know only a couple of times per month. You’ve already ordered Broke Millennial on Amazon Prime or Prime Now and it is on its way to your home already.

There is always more to learn about your money and how to manage your personal finances. Don’t forget, most importantly, that personal finance is personal! There is no right or wrong answer- there is just the answer that is right for you. As Lowry writes,

[The] variety of voices and techniques should help you find the options for budgeting, paying down debt, building and maintaining a strong credit score, investing, negotiating, and saving for retirement that are ideal for you. (248)

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

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