Finding financial freedom: A bucket list for Millennials and Gen Z

You’ve heard the term “bucket list,” right? It’s a list of all the once-in-a-lifetime places you’d like to visit, sights you’d like to see, and experiences you’d like to have before you “kick the bucket.” A lot of people think of things like skydiving, swimming with dolphins, or visiting the Taj Mahal when compiling theirs. But did you ever consider that there might be another way to approach your bucket list?

Even if they’re not of the thrill-seeking variety, there are many vital life experiences that can still help you round out your vision of the person you’d like to become. For example, everybody should know what it feels like to move to an unfamiliar area, start a new job, and control their own finances.

The tips below can help you combine touchstone life experiences like these with a plan for moving yourself toward financial freedom (and achieving the more far-flung items on your list).

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Master the art of the budget

Before anything else happens, it’ll be helpful to figure out how much you make, how much you have to pay each month, and how much you might be able to save. Once you know what kind of margin you have, you’ll know what else might be possible. Give a thought to these factors when figuring your budget:

  • Knowing why you want to budget
  • Calculating how much money you make (and bring home) every month
  • Compiling a list and total amount of essential expenses you cover monthly and devising ways to minimize them
  • Generating lists of all of your non-essential wants and ways to cut down on them

Making a budget — and sticking to it — can be tough. Nearly everyone who does it, though, finds the sacrifice worth it. Knowing where your money comes from and where it goes is deeply satisfying, as is the security of building up a financial cushion for the future.

To jumpstart your financial “bucket list,” adopt one or more of these cost-cutting moves at least once in your life:

  • Live with roommates. When you’re young, living with roommates is a rite of passage and can give you lots of stories for later. It’s also a great way to save money so you can eventually get off the paying-rent hamster wheel. And if you find yourself single later in life, it’s worth considering again. Companionship and saving money are great benefits.
  • Be an early bird. Eating on the cheap is an art form, and the “early bird special” is a great way to do it. Forget any hang-ups you might have about it and dine at 5:30!
  • Stay at a youth hostel. You don’t have to backpack across Europe to stay in a hostel. If your adventures take you to New York, Key West, or other touristy cities, give it a shot.
  • Go thrifting. Buy an entire outfit at a secondhand store or find some awesome kitschy decor. You’ll find crazy stuff — and see how poverty can ramp up your creativity.
  • Give up meat for a while. Meat is easily the most expensive part of any grocery trip. Try going vegan or vegetarian for a while. It’s better for your health, you’ll save a lot of money, and you’ll be able to say you tried it.
  • Try extreme couponing. It takes a lot of planning, and you might not want to do it every week, but try it at least once: Go to the grocery store and walk out with a bunch of bags, having paid nearly nothing. It’s a thrill!

Create an emergency fund

A major key to staying fiscally stable is understanding that you’ll likely experience at least one of these emergencies in your lifetime:

  • A medical incident (or a veterinary one)  
  • Family issues that require an influx of cash
  • An unstable work environment or sudden firing
  • A vehicle breakdown
  • Home repairs that need to be addressed right away

Check off some of these proven methods to build up your emergency fund:

  • Save coins in a large container. It can be a massive water jug or maybe a ceramic piggy bank that you have fun smashing down the road. Everyone at some point should experience rolling a ton of coins and cashing them in.
  • Sell something online. Whether you offer up your gently used clothes, old cell phones, unused gift cards, or hand-crafted jewelry you make yourself, this method can net you some serious cash and let you experience the online marketplace.
  • Have extra money deducted from your paycheck. You can use an online tax calculator to figure out the amount you’ll need deducted every month to result in a bigger tax refund, then deposit the whole chunk into your emergency fund.

Reduce your debt

Now turn the other side of the coin: If you have debt that you’re struggling to pay off, then saving won’t do you much good (especially if your debts carry high-interest rates, which lessen your ability to pay down the principal amounts). Strive to pay off your debts as soon as possible so your savings can start to accumulate. These tips can help:

  • Use any windfall, like a tax refund or unexpected bonus, to pay down a chunk of debt.
  • Consider asking the advice of a credit consultant, who can help you look into consolidating your debts or renegotiating payment terms
  • When paying bills (especially for credit cards), try to pay more than the minimum payment amounts.

Also, consider other ways you might reduce the strain on your budget. If your living expenses are too high in your home city, then consider moving somewhere more affordable. Living in a less expensive city that still offers ample job opportunities could cut down drastically on your financial burden. For example, you can rent an apartment for $650 a month in Omaha, Nebraska, a growing hotbed for startup businesses.

Try checking these debt-reducing strategies off your once-in-a-lifetime list:

  • Keep a car long enough to pay it off. Keeping a car long enough to make that final payment is pretty uncommon these days, make it an achievement even more worthy of celebration.
  • Renegotiate payment terms. It may sound scary, but many lenders will reduce your interest rate if you contact them to negotiate. And once you’ve pulled this off, it’s an incredible feeling to know you handle your finances like a boss.
  • Go without for a few months. In this age of automatic payments, it’s easy to forget everything you pay for monthly. Take a look at what you pay for but don’t use — streaming services, subscription box deliveries, and similar luxuries come to mind — then cut out the non-essentials for several months. You’ll learn what it feels like to “tighten your belt” and come out with a chunk of cash at the end.

Enhance your revenues

Sometimes it takes some brainstorming or just greater effort to entice more money into your cash flow situation. Adding a revenue stream, bumping up your savings efforts, and investing your money to multiply its power can all help move your needle toward financial freedom. Consider these tactics:

  • Finding local businesses who need help
  • Putting savings into a retirement account
  • Seeking out a new career field that pays more for your skills
  • Finding a workable side gig to bring in extra cash

While investments eventually can provide you with the cash flow you need, not everybody has the seed money to get started with a bang, so consider smaller investing options at first.

Some strategies offer not only lucrative financial gains but also life experiences that are not to be missed:

  • Change careers, especially if you’ve been in the same spot forever and have always wanted to know what else is out there. People are changing jobs more frequently in today’s fast-moving market; take advantage of the opportunities out there!
  • Pick up a side hustle. You’ve got skills, so why not make money off them? If you have specialized expertise in areas like languages or math, you could offer online tutoring or lessons. Or hire yourself out as a house-sitter or dog-sitter. And there’s always the now-classic experience of delivering food or driving for Über or Lyft!
  • Start a business. Even if it’s just a hobby or a side hustle, an extra gig can offer a considerable income stream, especially if you attend trade shows to promote yourself. Plus, being the boss is an experience nobody should miss.

Make a bigger play

Many money advisors agree that financial limitations are often a product of limited thinking. People believe a lot of myths — which are patently untrue— about their own inability to earn, save, or manage money. Gaining some inspiration and seeking out a few working examples can help you stop limiting your thinking, financial and otherwise, and move on to bigger things.

Thinking big is one of the best ways to achieve the things on your bucket list. Refuse to accept traditional limits for yourself and reach for higher goals with these tips in mind:

  • Rent out your place. Even if you can’t afford to buy a rental property outright, you could always rent out your home through a vacation home rental site whenever you’re out of town to make some extra cash. Managing a property is the kind of responsibility everyone should experience at some point.
  • Buy some stocks and watch what happens. It’s not just for old men with monocles anymore! With online brokerages, you can set up an account with as little as $100 and make trades for $5. “Playing the market” is a unique phenomenon, and watching values go up is a thrill.

It’s a big world, and the possibilities are endless. Consider what you want from life, make a list and a budget, and start risking a little bit toward gaining the rewards that are out there. If your bucket list contains both thrilling adventures and smart life moves, there’s no reason you can’t achieve them all!

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