Living with credit

7 smart money and credit tips from millennials

Erica Sandberg

Millennials somehow got a reputation as being less financially savvy than older generations. That’s just not true, and the seven millennials who shared their smart spending and charging tips with me are proof.

They’re using credit wisely, establishing credit goals, and tracking their spending with apps. And they’re not preaching to the millennial crowd: Their tips and advice can help people of any age:

1. Build credit the pay-to-play way.
Entrepreneur Michael Parrish DuDell, the 34-year-old official business book series author for ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank” and chief strategy officer of CouponFollow, says, “in my family, credit cards were a really big deal, and I learned that maintaining a good credit score is paramount.”

DuDell’s advises millennials shunning credit to build a credit score without using plastic. If you’re a tenant, consider hiring a service to report your payment activity.

“There are a few companies that partner with the bureaus, like RentReporters and RentTrack,” says DuDell. “There is a small fee, but if you’re 18 and have no credit, you can start building your scores by just paying your rent on time.”

With a credit report, when you’re ready to borrow, you’ll have a history lenders can check, he says.

2. Track spending with apps.
“For a good credit rating, the No. 1 most important thing is to pay your bills on time,” says millennial money expert Stefanie O’Connell.

“But you have to stay out of debt, too,” says O’Connell, who is 30 and the author of “The Broke and Beautiful Life.” “A lot of people just pay the minimum, but you should always pay the balance in full.”

Stephanie O’Connell talks money-saving tips with’s chief industry analyst Matt Schulz during a Facebook Live.

Other advice? Always spend less that you earn, says O’Connell, and monitor income and outgo with any of the excellent budget tracking applications that are available.

“I write all my expenses down on an Excel spreadsheet and cross reference it with Personal Capital,” says O’Connell.

Most budgeting/spending apps are free to cheap, and they can help you understand how much money you have and owe at any given time. With that knowledge, you’re apt to make better decisions.

3.Turn your credit card bill into a budgetary line item.
Ishmael Mayhew, a 28-year old digital media strategist, spends thousands on his credit cards every month, but he never carries over a balance.

What is his secret? “I include my credit card bill in my budget,” says Mayhew. “I know how much I want to spend with my card beforehand so I know in advance that I have the money to pay it off. It’s very important to make that decision when you have the money, not when you think you’ll get it.”

Mayhew also recommends constantly analyzing your financial situation and making necessary adjustments right away. “Scale back before you have to find money or sell things or get out of debt,” says Mayhew. “I call it pre-liquidation.”

4. Learn to cook cheap meals online.
“I cook a lot of food at home,” says 27-year-old Greg Baroth, founder of the brand development company Monogram Artists. He says it’s a great way to cut back on spending so you can stay within a budget and not get into debt.

“You’d be surprised by how many people my age can’t even cook eggs,” says Baroth. “Everyone should learn. Watch a YouTube video about something you want to make. Go to Costco or Trader Joe’s for the lowest food prices. Look up recipes on Buzzfeed, too.

“You can make 10 breakfast sandwiches all at once and freeze them. I save so much money this way! I just bought a house. My credit is great, because I use my cards, but I pay them all off.”

5. Establish credit goals.
Nicki Pomije, 32-year-old founder and owner of The Cookie Cups bakery, says good credit begins with a goal. “Have a purpose for using your cards,” she says.

“Maybe it’s to fund a project, build your points for free flights or to help build your credit to buy a house,” she says. “I try to keep my eyes open to my credit situation and keep my end goal in mind whenever I pull out my handy American Express or Visa.”

Also, if you have debt now, tackle it immediately and aggressively. “Figure out what you can put toward it (always try for more) and get your debt down,” she says. “From experience, it will weigh on you and once you are out from underneath, you will feel a crazy freedom you didn’t even know existed.”

6. Don’t wait for a perfect credit score to buy a home.
Rachel DiSalvo, a 34-year-old real estate agent, says she has found millennials to be especially expectant of instant gratification. That might not be so bad, she says, when making certain financial decisions, such as buying property for investment purposes.

Putting off owning a home until you’re super creditworthy is unnecessary, she says.

“You don’t need perfect credit or to pay all your debt down to buy real estate or land,” says DiSalvo. “You can have a low score, even 620, to qualify for a loan. Don’t wait for perfect.”

Low credit might mean you’ll pay a higher interest rate on your home loan, though.

“Talk to a financial adviser or qualified broker who can help you create a picture that you’re a good, responsible borrower,” DiSalvo says. “Put your money into things that will grow.”

7. Keep generosity in check.
Chelsea Davis is a 27-year-old freelance journalist covering food, drink and travel. With all those meals and airline tickets (she has been to South Africa, Peru and Germany already this year), it would be easy to max out her cards, she says.

She keeps her budget in the black, though, by charging prudently.

“If you don’t have cash or enough on your debit card to pay for something, don’t buy it unless it’s absolutely necessary,” says Davis. She also suggests adding your bank’s mobile app to your phone so you can check on funds before spending.

One final tip from this always-on-the-go but determined-to-not-go-broke writer: “Avoid group dinners, unless you make it clear to the waiter that you’re only paying for your food,” says Davis. “Unless you’re feeling generous and actually want to pay for a part of everyone’s meal.”

Seems to me these millennials have smart spending and charging all figured out. Send your best credit and money management tips to me at at or tweet me your tips at @EricaJSandberg.

See related: What millennials can teach us about credit, Millennials strongly prefer cards, Millennials reap latest perks in reward card wars,

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