Flex-Ed: How to live and save like a superhero
At the time this piece is being published, The Avengers just finished dominating the box office, the X-Men are about to start, Shazam made a brief impact, and approximately 129 other superhero films will hit the streets before the holidays.
So, with all the recent grads about to start their adult lives (and with superheroes on everyone's brains) we figured it might be good to share some scrimping and saving tips to help everyone live and save like a financial superhero.
Remember, we're not financial pros -- you should speak with one before making any decisions about your own planning. But the following tips helped us get ahead, because if you live and save like a superhero, you'll be ready to rise to the occasion and have a better endgame.
(Yeah, we know what we did there…)
Enemy #1: Debt
Debt is a sneaky villain. When you first meet debt, it seems charming, funny and even kind. It's a villain in disguise. No matter how many times debt tries to tempt you, it's important to resist because financial superheroes have to stay lean and ready for action. Even though debt might seem harmless, it actually causes superheroes to become slow and sluggish.
How to conquer debt: If you've attended college, bought a car or experienced a period of unemployment, you've probably had firsthand experience with debt. When I graduated from college, I had nearly $14,000 of student loans. Even though that's less than the national average of nearly $30,000, it felt like a huge amount, especially because up until that point, I had never earned that much money in a single year.
I used all of my human skills to pay it off as fast as possible. I lived with roommates, rode my bike to work, worked an extra job and tried to avoid lifestyle inflation as much as possible to pay off my loans. Within two years of graduating, I was debt-free. Whether you have a goal to become debt-free or to make payments on time, the most important thing is that you have a plan.
Enemy #2: Laziness
If you're anything like me, battling the villain of laziness usually looks a lot like battling myself. The lazy villain is the one that tries to convince you that financial decisions are too complicated to deal with and you're better off just ignoring them altogether. If that sounds familiar, you're not alone. Most of us have come face to face with this villain before.
How to put a stop to laziness: If you feel like you're being financially lazy, then that probably means that you left free money on the table. Depending on your employer, "free money" might mean a 401(k) match that you're not earning or tax savings that you're missing out on because you don't have a tax-free health spending account.
Overcoming laziness (and fear) around money is tough. In fact, I had to miss out on thousands of dollars in savings before I finally opened a FSA this year. But now that I'm (finally) paying for my health care costs through my FSA, I've been able to free up money for new running shoes and I'm halfway to my savings goal for a new phone.
Sometimes you have to learn from mistakes in order to change. But when it comes to overcoming laziness, I've found that the best solution is action. Sometimes a tiny first step is all the momentum you need to get going.
Enemy #3: Short-sightedness
The short-sightedness villain is the one that convinces you that life is tough and it's okay to just focus on the present. After all, the future isn't guaranteed, right? The problem with this mindset is that it's hard to resist. After all, it's tempting to live in the present, focus on your current needs and ignore the future.
How to thwart short-sightedness: Short-sightedness can look different for everyone, but for a lot of us it involves willfully ignoring our future selves. More specifically, it usually means that we aren't saving for retirement. It's hard to prioritize your future self when your current self is struggling to pay the bills, but saving for retirement is one of the ways to break the cycle of financial stress.
It might sound counterintuitive, but the earlier you can start saving for retirement (whether that's in your 20s, 30s or 40s) the easier it will be to actually retire one day, and that's something worth fighting for.
New to FSAs? Need a refresher course in all things flex spending? Our Flex-Ed column gives you a dose of FSA Living 101, offering tips for making the most of your tax-free funds. Look for it every Thursday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center.