Yes, You Can Be A Boss With Your Money At Age 21. Here’s How I Did It.

Updated: October 12, 2020
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It was only a few weeks after my 21st birthday that I started realizing how much I didn’t know about how to handle money. It started slowly after I received my first credit card bill in the mail and realizing I had no idea how to pay it. A few days later, while transferring my Venmo balance over to my bank account, I realized I would never see that money again, and that I had no clue where it even goes after I press transfer. I also realized with total embarrassment that I didn’t have the slightest clue how to place a trade, what I was currently invested in, or even the accounts I currently had under my name with the money I had saved over time from babysitting, interning, tutoring, and part-time jobs. While letting my parents run my finances for 21 years was certainly convenient, it had left me clueless. I knew I needed to fix it, and stat.

At first, I felt overwhelmed, unsure of where to begin. When there is so much to learn, so much to be fixed, how do you start? I didn’t want to take actions blindly, guessing, and risking making even more money mistakes.

1. My first step was to start filling in my knowledge gaps.

For a few weeks, I ditched Netflix and my usual beauty videos and instead opted for Youtube videos on personal finance. My new knowledge made me curious and I began asking my parents questions I had never bothered to before. What accounts did I have? What’s my bank? How much money do I even have?

2. Once I felt solid in my knowledge of personal finance and my own money situation, I took the first step towards control, by downloading every money app onto my phone.

I downloaded the apps of my bank, debit card, credit card, and discount brokerage firm. I needed to be able to see the “flow” of my money, including where it goes when I transfer it out of Venmo, or onto my debit card. I started taking note of the stock market’s effects on my accounts, which, in turn, motivated me to track the market daily and familiarize myself with it.

3. Now that I had control of my accounts, I was playing in a whole new field and had the ability to invest on my own.

The idea of investing or placing a trade wasn’t just theoretical anymore, I knew exactly where my money was and how to access it, and that knowledge empowered me to start investing on my own. I had been hearing for years about compound interest, and the power of investing  when you start young. It was time for me to make that happen. When I first attempted to place a trade, I found out very quickly that it was literally a matter of six seconds. I could not believe I had put up a wall for myself when it came to investing for so many years when it had been so simple all along.

4. While now able to invest on my own, I had to sit down and establish financial goals for myself.

I knew where I was now, but where did I want to be in a year? In five? 30? Having control of my money was empowering, but I needed goals to guide me and motivate me to improve my spending and saving habits.

5. Finally able to see the full picture of my finances and where I wanted to be, it was time to take action and make my goals a reality. Time to make a budget.

I realized that given my monthly income teaching part-time and tutoring (I do this while in college), I could start saving for my goals, instead of viewing it as “free money” to be spent at Sephora. I taught myself how to walk into Zara and walk out empty-handed, or fill up a cart online and then click out. I stopped eating out regularly, made my coffee at home, and began saving more and more, getting closer to hitting my goals.

These five steps transformed me from a clueless college girl into a financially empowered young woman. My money journey is far from over, but every money decision I make is now calculated and thought out, even if that thought out conclusion is to go for the Starbucks.

Tali Goldman is a cofounder of Like a Girl Academy, a free online learning platform aimed at educating the next generation of women in personal finance. Find her on Youtube and Instagram.

Feature Illustration: Laura Caseley For The Money Manual