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Unlike their parents

Both Gen Z and millennials grew up with baby boomer parents who most likely had it all going for them: the car, the family, the house and the salary that allowed them to live a stable and affordable lifestyle.

In 1980, American families had a median income of around $76,000 in today’s currency, according to the Census Bureau. Three decades on, that average has actually dropped to about $71,000 as of 2021.

That means not only are millennials and Gen Z paid less than their parents (on a constant currency basis), but due to stubbornly high inflation their salaries no longer stretch as far.

And then consider the student debt many young people are already carrying when they’re only just starting their careers. While millennials and Gen Z may be the most educated generations yet, that pricey degree doesn’t pay the same dividends when everyone you’re competing for jobs with has one too.

Even if they manage to climb the corporate ladder and lock down a fair salary, younger generations are then beleaguered by rising child care expenses and home prices.

So what are we to do? Amidst inflation, rising interest rates and static salaries, here’s how you can make that salary work for you.

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Make a budget

The first thing every home needs is a budget. It's important to then stick to that budget.

Start off by tallying your essential monthly expenses like your mortgage or rent, insurance, food and utilities. Compare what you have left over in your budget with what you actually spend. If you need to trim some fat, break up your expenses into two categories: "must have" like coffee and "nice to have" like alcohol (or maybe that’s coffee for you, personally.)

Part of your budget should also include putting cash aside to pay down debt. If you’re paying interest on credit cards or student loans, that’s cash being thrown away. So the sooner you pay it down, the better.

Learn to save on fun

A little bit of research also goes a long way when it comes to saving on purchases.

It doesn’t have to be a pain — there are so many apps out there that can help you save money by browsing around for deals. Think of renting a home instead of a hotel room, or maybe a cheap airline ticket when you need to travel.

And these days, there are sites and apps that can help you find coupons for event tickets, salons looking for new clients or even a whole closet of high-end secondhand clothes.

Take the time to shop around before making a big purchase and you’ll often find you can find a way better deal.

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Use your credit card (wisely)

If you’re looking for a quick way to get something back from the purchases you do need to make, you might want to consider getting a new credit card.

You can often find special offers on rewards cards, and those rewards can then be used to either help pay off your credit card, buy products you need or save towards flights.

Every time you swipe or tap your card — whether at the grocery store or gas station — you’ll accumulate points you can use to help fund all your discretionary purchases. Before too long, maybe you’ll have a little extra breathing room in your budget. That’s a win-win.

Just remember, paying off your credit card down to zero should always be your priority. Opening and closing credit accounts often can impact your credit score, so you’ll want to be intentional and strategic about this.

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Amy Legate-Wolfe Freelance contributor

Amy Legate-Wolfe is an experienced personal finance writer and journalist. She has a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Toronto, a Freelance Writing Certificate in Journalism from the University of Toronto Schools, and a Master of Arts in Journalism from Western University. Amy has worked for Huffington Post, CTVNews.ca, CBC, Motley Fool Canada, and Financial Post. She is skilled at analyzing trends and creating content for digital and print platforms. In her free time, Amy enjoys reading and watching British dramas on BritBox. She is a mother and dog-mom to a Wheaten Terrier.

Disclaimer

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