The financial statistics are staggering. According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, Americans are using retirement savings to cover hardships way before actually retiring, and 1 in 5 teens lack basic personal finance skills. Also, 40 percent of millennial-age parents say financial strain is stressing their marriage.
It's time to get a handle on your finances, say money experts. Learn money basics now, and teach the next generation, too.
Want to take control of your financial outlook and reduce overall stress?
According to Matt Bryan, assistant vice president of distribution marketing for The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, you have to do the four things that financially confident people do.
1) Make a plan. "Live within set means. Have a written plan with specific objectives, and review it annually," says Bryan. Focusing on the long term can ease stress and increase happiness.
Start by writing down your short- and long-term financial priorities. Then list what you think it will take to achieve them.
2) Raise your financial IQ. Bryan says you have to commit to understanding fundamental financial concepts and products, including investments, insurance and annuities.
"Confident planners know how much money they'll need in retirement and understand the concepts of budgeting, risk tolerance and asset allocation and the financial solutions that can help get them there," he says.
3) Get the solutions you need. He says you need to own "a spectrum of products" -- such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, retirement plans and insurance -- that can help you meet your financial goals.
Write down and track everything you own and why you own it. Then look for gaps in coverage.
4) Get a strategic partner. You'll need a reliable partner to assist you in your planning. Bryan recommends finding an adviser you trust to be your financial coach.
Financial coach Jill Manuel recommends one-on-one coaching, during which consumers learn money tools and how to get on track.
She says personalized coaching keeps people accountable to themselves.
"People will find themselves falling off track when they confront a financial challenge and wind up abandoning their new plan entirely, believing it didn't work when that's not necessarily the case," she says.
Financial analyst Evan Tarver at Fit Small Business suggests reading timeless personal finance books, such as "How to Win Friends & Influence People."
"It has valuable and actionable advice that has been proven to work for people," he says. "Look for books that weren't written yesterday. Instead, find books that people have been referring to for years."
Listening to podcasts is a new resource that Tarver recommends, too.
"While many seminars and classes are taught by pretenders, it's possible to listen to podcasts created by some of the smartest finance minds in the world," he says, explaining that with podcasts, listeners can hear lengthy interviews with some great financial experts.
Blogs are another smart tool for learning about managing your money. Look for personal finance blogs run by trained financial professionals. Typically, financial bloggers post free content regularly.
"You are able to find someone who resonates with your method of thought, and you are more likely to enjoy a topic that is frequently considered extremely boring," says Nolan Martin, a military officer and creator of the blog Budget Chaos.
Martin, who's currently completing his master's degree in financial planning, says you'll benefit from blog community members who have similar financial goals and can keep one another on track and motivated.
"Don't waste your money on books, online classes or seminars when you are just starting out," he says. "The best thing you can do is get started immediately."