Saved by the Bell: How ’90s Kids Can Get Their Finances on Track

Photo illustrations of Michaela Estes doing various activities popular in the 1990s, Palmetto, Fla., Nov. 7, 2018.
Alexandra Vincent/The Penny Hoarder

Remember when you didn’t have to think about money?

When it all fit in a piggy bank? And your biggest worry was how to access your savings without smashing open that sweet, sweet piglet?

Yeah, those were the days.

Your most pressing financial goal was to save enough for a Tamagotchi. Or to sell enough Sally Foster wrapping paper in the school fundraiser to win moon boots. If you were diligent enough, you’d note your transactions in your Lisa Frank journal with a gel pen.

But now you’re an adult, and all you can do is obsess over your finances. Not to worry. We’re here to take you back — to the days where you didn’t have to think about your every penny.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to get your finances under control, so you can feel almost as carefree as you did chasing your brother around with a Super Soaker. Almost.

1. Monitoring Your Credit: So Your Score Doesn’t Go ‘Bye, Bye, Bye’

Photo illustrations of Michaela Estes doing various activities popular in the 1990s, Palmetto, Fla., Nov. 7, 2018.
Alexandra Vincent/The Penny Hoarder

Remember when the biggest purchase you ever wanted to make was a CD player and the latest NSYNC album?

These days, though, you might be more interested in purchasing a house or a new car. To get the best rates, you’ll want to keep tabs on your credit score.

You can get your free credit score and a “credit report card” from Credit Sesame. It breaks down exactly what’s on your credit report in layman’s terms, how it affects your score and how to address it. No need to know any complicated terms.

It’ll also send you frequent email updates, so you’ll know whenever your score goes up or down and why.

Now your credit score doesn’t have to go tearin’ up your heart.

2. Banking: Stop Waiting to Be Saved by the Bell

Photo illustrations of Michaela Estes doing various activities popular in the 1990s, Palmetto, Fla., Nov. 7, 2018.
Alexandra Vincent/The Penny Hoarder

Sometimes you feel like you were “Saved by The Bell” as you watch your paycheck deposit into your bank account the day before rent’s due. You’ve been over here playing Zack Morris, scheming about ways to get around the system without getting hit with fees.

And the whole time, those big banks, like Mr. Belding, are just waiting to send you to detention for dipping below a minimum balance.

Chime is an online-only bank account that can allow you to tap into your paycheck two days before payday, giving you more time to plan, save and pay the bills.

Plus, it doesn’t charge overdraft fees, monthly maintenance fees, foreign transaction fees or minimum balance fees. It ties directly to a savings account, which you can set up to automatically save 10% of each paycheck — an effortless, hands-off strategy to put money away.

Additionally, each time you make a purchase with your snazzy Chime debit card, you’ll receive a real-time notification on your phone. This can prevent you from dipping too close to your monthly minimum balance.

3. Investing: Because the Whole Beanie Baby Thing Didn’t Pay off…

Photo illustrations of Michaela Estes doing various activities popular in the 1990s, Palmetto, Fla., Nov. 7, 2018.
Alexandra Vincent/The Penny Hoarder

You might have started investing as a kid back in the ’90s. Remember when rumors swirled that Beanie Babies were going out of production? That each one would eventually be worth hundreds — even thousands — of dollars? So you invested something like $9 in Patti the Platypus.

The bad news: Nothing really came of Beanie Babies. The good news: You can start investing for less than the price of a Beanie Baby through an app. You can even automate your investments, turning it into a hands-off activity.

With an app like Acorns, you can start investing with your spare change. You can start small and stack up change over time with its “round-up” feature. That means if you spend $10.23 at the grocery store, 77 cents gets dropped into your Acorns account.

Then, the app does the whole investing thing for you.

The idea is you won’t miss the digital pocket change, and the automatic savings stack up faster than you’d think.

The app is $1 a month for balances under $1 million, and Penny Hoarders get a $5 bonus when you sign up.

4. Paying off Debt: Not as Rare as a Holographic Charizard Card

Photo illustrations of Michaela Estes doing various activities popular in the 1990s, Palmetto, Fla., Nov. 7, 2018.
Alexandra Vincent/The Penny Hoarder

Remember how you begged your parents to buy you that set of Pokemon cards because you might finally get the holographic Charizard? You promised to pay them back.

Unfortunately, most of our debt these days exceeds $10.

Whether you’re tackling student loans, paying down credit cards, facing medical debt or all of the above, debt can weigh heavily on your mind. But there are ways to help simplify your payment process and take strides toward becoming debt free.

One option is debt consolidation. The idea is to stop juggling payments and instead lump all your debts together, under one monthly payment with, ideally, a lower interest rate. It’s a lot more manageable this way — only worrying about one bill — and you could save hundreds of dollars in interest over time.

Not sure where to start? Look into Fiona, an online loan marketplace that searches through top online lenders to match you with the best loan offer. Its platform can help you borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.

No, it’s not as fun as ripping open a new pack of Pokemon cards, but becoming debt free will be just as satisfying.

5. Paying Monthly Bills: Because You Need Internet for More Than AIM

Back in the day, all you needed was a little bit of internet so you could hop on AIM and wait for your crush to log on. Cue hours and hours of conversation. At school the next day, you’d act like strangers.

Well, you need internet for a little more than AIM these days. It’s just one of the massive monthly bills you face. But did you know many of these bills are negotiable? Or that there are other, more affordable services available in your neighborhood?

No need to hop on the phone and sit on hold… Here’s a strategy that’s a lot simpler (and requires no phone conversations).

Hop on Squeeze, a website that allows you to compare rates for mortgages, auto loans, student loans, renters insurance and mobile and internet plans (among others) for free.

Say you want to compare internet prices. Based on your location, the site aggregates all your options and shows you companies alongside price points and download speeds.

6. Starting an Emergency Fund: Almost as Fun as Playing N64

Photo illustrations of Michaela Estes doing various activities popular in the 1990s, Palmetto, Fla., Nov. 7, 2018.
Alexandra Vincent/The Penny Hoarder

I mean, saving money won’t ever be as fun as playing Mario Kart on your Nintendo 64, but there is one strategy you can employ to make saving money easier — and more entertaining.

A savings app called Long Game turns saving money into a game. As you save and accomplish missions, you’ll earn coins to play mini games for cash prizes. We’re talking the classics, like slot machines, scratch-offs and spin-to-win wheels.

If you run out of coins, you can deposit more money into your Long Game Savings account anytime. In addition to potentially winning up to $1 million in cash through these games, you’ll earn 0.1% interest on your account balance.

Long Game is free to download, and when you sign up, you’ll gain access to its free FDIC-insured, interest-earning savings account.

7. Planning for Retirement: Easier Than Navigating the Hidden Temple

Photo illustrations of Michaela Estes doing various activities popular in the 1990s, Palmetto, Fla., Nov. 7, 2018.
Alexandra Vincent/The Penny Hoarder

Sometimes, thinking about saving enough money to retire feels as complicated (and impossible) as finding a lost artifact in “Legends of the Hidden Temple.” Answer questions, cross moats and navigate mysterious rooms. All direction is coming from this weird, deep voice that goes by the name Olmec.

OK, but seriously. Saving for retirement can be a daunting task. It’s best to start sooner than later. If you have a 401(k), you’re on the right track. Now, you just need to make sure it’s doing what you need it to.

Take control with help from Blooom, an SEC-registered investment advisory firm that can optimize and monitor your 401(k) for you and keep it speeding toward retirement.

It just takes a few minutes to get a free 401(k) analysis that will show you whether your investments are allocated properly and whether you’re losing money paying hidden investment fees. It’ll even tell you just how much more money your account could earn by the time you want to retire.

After that, if you sign up, it’s just $10 per month to have Blooom monitor and maximize your 401(k). Bonus: Penny Hoarders get the first month free with the code PNNYHRD.

It’s a lot easier than crossing a moat.

8. Budgeting: Not as Complicated as Winning Bop It

Sometimes budgeting feels like a game of Bop It. You’ve got to twist it, shake it, pull it, flick it and spin it all around to make it work.

To simplify the process, try using the 50/20/30 budget plan. Here’s how it works: 50% of your money goes toward essential living expenses, 20% goes toward hitting your financial goals (like paying off debt), and 30% is designated for personal spending.

So how do you start?

You’ll want to map out your current spending. Rather than combing through your monthly statements and inputting numbers into an Excel sheet, use a automated spend tracker like the Empower app.

It’ll help you organize and track your financial goals. Simply link your various accounts, and you can review your spending and make adjustments as needed to stay on the right track.

All right, ’90s kids — how you doin’? It’s time to “Figure It Out” and get your finances on track.

Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s a ’90s kid and desperately wants to see a reboot of “The Big Comfy Couch” happen.

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