Expert Interview with Meagan Hooper on Millennials and Money

There's a big misconception out there that millennial women don't manage their money well, says Meagan Hooper, founder of bSmartGuide.com, but in reality, what she and her friends have earned and saved in their relatively short lives as professionals is more than most of their parents have saved in an entire lifetime.

"I do think I could learn from my grandparents' generation in terms of how much we are capable of saving for the future," she says. "For bSmart members, clearly defining why we're delaying gratification and what we're saving for has helped in being savvy and prudent in our 20s and early 30s."

Meagan says she moved to New York with just $3,000 to her name and immediately spent that money on her first and last month's rent for an apartment in Brooklyn. She learned quickly on how to get by on a small paycheck while still setting aside money on the unexpected.

"I live by the mantra that it doesn't matter how much or how little you make, spending less than you earn is the secret to creating wealth and security," she says.

The finance professional created bSmartGuide.com as an online community aimed at helping young professional women gain a leg up in the world of business and money management. Here, she shares about what drove her to build the site and get her tips in insight on the biggest concerns facing the millennial generation.

Tell us a little about bSmart.

bSmartGuide.com is a community platform for aspirational millennial women to learn from each other through blog posts, connect through our community forum, and promote their brand, product or service. Anyone can read the posts and enjoy the content, but to enjoy all of the site benefits, I suggest becoming a member. It's completely free and designed to help you live your best life.

Members can submit blog posts, spotlight their businesses, attend events or post their own, and interact with each other by asking and answering life questions that matter to them. We believe the secret to success is not only to build a personal and professional network, but also to have a platform that promotes one's business.

When and why did you start the site?

When I graduated college in 2004, my friends and I didn't find the steps to success as simply laid out as they had been in school. Without a curriculum or guide for what was expected of us and how to achieve our goals, we were dissatisfied with the prospects in our careers, relationships, finances and in finding the ever-elusive work/life balance. We began to interview peers who were experiencing success and found that through this storytelling process, we were able to better put the pieces together for how to obtain our own goals.

Throughout this journey, it became obvious that the main distinction between our male friends and us was that women don't proactively create a network and then leverage that network the way men typically do. I've found that women in business put their head down and work hard, but don't network and don't ask; therefore, they don't get. This can leave us isolated and struggling for success alone. In 2012, we decided to take our mission online and created bSmartGuide.com to continue the storytelling, connecting and eventually create a forum for self-promotion. We believe with the best knowledge, support and platform, our members can change the world!

Who should be reading it, and what will we find on it?

bSmartGuide.com is by and for successful millennial women who want to learn from each other, connect with women just like them, and have the opportunity to spotlight their businesses. Members write from two perspectives:

1. As an industry expert who has a particular knowledge or expertise that can benefit fellow members, and

2. From a relatable experience, such as sharing lessons learned from a bad date, or how to say "no" and still succeed at work. Our members write with honesty, transparency, and a desire to help all members be smart.

Blog posts are promoted thematically according to the below schedule:

  • Money Monday
  • Tech Tuesday
  • Wellness Wednesday
  • Biz Tip Thursday
  • Friday Fling
  • Style Saturday
  • Sunday Funday

Why was it important to you to give this audience a voice?

Millennial women have a strong voice through the blogger community and social media. bSmartGuide.com offers a content hub and community for women to connect and learn from each other. bSmart's aim is to be an encyclopedia of life advice for making smart decisions. By creating both a collective wisdom AND a network of smart women, our members can accomplish their goals and change their communities!

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing millennial women when it comes to building a strong financial future?

Knowing the numbers.

The top five questions I hear millennial women ask regarding their financial future are:

1. I know I need to save, but how much and why?

2. What is the dollar amount I need to retire, and what are the specific steps to get there?

3. How much money should I save before I begin investing?

4. What should I invest in? Single stocks or mutual funds?

5. How do I create an investment portfolio?

Obviously this information is available, but the packaging and voice often aren't clear. It's important to have relatable women our age who can communicate financial truths and specific plans of action. bSmart members are the most ambitious, talented and hard-working women you will ever meet. With the right education and communication, any woman can create a financially secure future.

What are the biggest questions or concerns your readers seem to have about money management?

Questions from readers range from saving on day-to-day purchases to understanding the intricacies of tax laws and the repercussions they have on their start-up businesses. bSmartGuide.com provides an open forum for women to voice their money questions. Our community is full of knowledgeable women and experts available to provide meaningful responses.

What advice do you have for recent graduates on paying off student debt while still having a life?

Social lending is the new trend in managing student debt, with services such as Sofi.com and Upstart.com connecting borrowers to qualified lenders willing to lend at interest rates more favorable than those available through federal channels. Even a 0.5 percent reduction in your student loan interest rate can mean the difference between having some or no disposable income, so I would encourage recent graduates to explore social-lending platforms to refinance their loans.

It's worth noting that these sites also offer focused mentorship and job-placement resources, both of which make a big difference in how quickly one can pay back a sizable loan. I'm excited the student loan repayment marketplace is becoming more competitive. It can only help to take some of the pressure out of the growing federal student debt bubble.

What do you think are the biggest financial mistakes young professionals make?

The biggest financial mistake a young professional can make is to spend his/her entire income and not set aside savings. Sometimes this is by choice - on shopping, food and fun - but usually it's out of necessity, on things like rent, student debt payments and commuting. With a high cost of living, low employment rate and high student debt levels, it's been challenging for our generation to save as much as we would like. If my friends and I could redo the financial choices we made in our 20s, we would have saved even more in our retirement and non-retirement accounts.

What are some of your favorite tips that users have shared on how they save money?

Food, alcohol, shopping and rent remain at the top of the big-spending list for most bSmart members. Our favorite money-saving tips include smart ways for having fun and looking fabulous without spending your entire budget. Discounts on shopping from places such as Asos.com or Zara, finding restaurants that let you BYOB, and dining deals from Groupon.com, LivingSocial.com, or BlackBoardEats.com are some of our favorite money-saving tips and can be the key to enjoying life in your 20s and not breaking the bank!

What are your favorite tools (websites, apps, software, books, etc.) for helping you manage your money?

AppMint.com, of course! It's the most user-friendly app for tracking my spending and creating a financial plan.

WebsiteCNNMoney used to offer a Money 101 guide that covered every aspect of personal finance from saving to investing to insurance and buying your first home. I pored over this comprehensive guide my first few years out of college as a way to learn WHAT I needed to learn for financial security. I can no longer find this complete guide on their website as their content is now categorized by topic and news. bSmartGuide.com plans to offer a similar 101 tutorial, as this was invaluable to me.

Books - My favorite introduction to investing and the financial markets is The Little Book that Beats the Market by Joel Greenblatt. While I diversify my assets using various mutual funds and ETFs, the book was helpful in teaching me how to frame discussions around active money management.

Software - I'm an Excel girl in terms of creating my personal balance sheet and cash flow statement. The flexibility and ease can't be beat!

Which women inspire you the most with their financial savviness? What can we learn from them?

We have three bSmart members who blog regularly and offer financial advice. Their tremendous accomplishments are an inspiration and speak to their example as financially savvy women.

Ashley Feinstein of KnowingYourWorth.com takes a quantitative and qualitative approach to personal finance. As a Certified Professional Coach, former investment banker and Wharton alum she helps her clients know their worth by creating budgets that stick, crafting financial plans in line with their long-term goals and negotiating their value at work. Ashley helps her clients redefine financial success on their own terms and empowers them to fearlessly go after that vision.

Miranda Reiter of SheAndMoney.com is a Certified Financial Planner who helps her clients create a financial game plan to increase their cash flow, save more money, get out of debt, and live empowered through personalized financial planning. Miranda shows ambitious women how to be financially savvy through educational money videos and articles. Not only did she get her Master's degree at Baruch College, one of the best schools in New York for accounting and financial services, she was a branch manager and investment specialist for two Fortune 500 banks years before opening up her own firm.

Aisha Taylor of FNPhenomenal.com focuses on money-saving tips for how to live frugally and still be phenomenal. A graduate of Duke University and the University of Michigan, Aisha holds degrees in Public Policy and Economics, with both an MBA and Master's of Health Services Administration degree. After digging herself $15,000 credit card debt (multiple times), she shares her tips and secrets for how all millennial women can stop the vicious cycle, get out of debt, and stay out! As a finance expert who believes you can have it all, Aisha shows her clients how to be frugal and still phenomenal.

I'm honored to have these women and all bSmart members share their passion and expertise on bSmartGuide.com so all millennial women can be smart with their money!

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