From Budgeting to Investing: These Experts Share Advice to Help You Navigate Your Finances

There’s more to money than just what's in our wallets. It touches on so much of our personal relationships and how we think about ourselves and our future. April is Financial Literacy Month—the perfect moment to consider how we navigate these questions.

As part of Venmo's latest financial education series, Dear Venmo, we chatted with certified financial educator Tonya Rapley and financial therapist Steven M. Hughes and had them weigh in on different situations and challenges. Heads up: Tonya and Steven were compensated for their time, and these are their personal views and experiences, not financial advice from Venmo. Making money moves? Do yourself a favor and check with a financial advisor beforehand.

What should someone do if they're having trouble keeping credit cards under control?

Certified financial educator Tonya Rapley.
Certified financial educator Tonya Rapley.

Tonya Rapley: The best way to pay off credit card debt is to first understand what the balances are that you owe. Look at what the credit limit is compared to how much you're utilizing it. In order to boost your credit score, you want to use 30% of the available credit limit to you.

You can then start aggressively focusing on one, getting it below that 30%, and move to the next one. Doing that, your credit score is increasing while you still are paying off your debt.

Finally, if you get a surprise bonus, use it to pay off debt. If you get a tax return, use it to pay off debt. Focus on paying off your debt first instead of increasing your living expenses.

If someone wants to start a side hustle to earn extra money, where should they start? What should they consider?

Steven M. Hughes: First, what are your strengths and skills? What are the things you do better than anyone else? If you can't answer this yourself, ask your friends and family, “Hey, if there was one thing you would ask my help with, what would it be?”

Now, all hobbies do not have to be monetized. There are some things that you want do that are just for fun. From there, look at what networks are you a part of? What are places and groups who will need your services or products, to start generating some income and getting feedback.

Now, in terms of managing your money, you do not want to mix your personal and business income and expenses together. An easy way to separate and manage all of this is by using Venmo Business Profiles, offering a separate Venmo profile for your Venmo transactions, as opposed to having them all bundled into your personal account.

Let's say a future college student really wants to get a fine arts degree, but their parents are worried about how they’d make a living, and instead want them to go to law school. What advice would you give that student?

Financial therapist Steven Hughes.
Financial therapist Steven M. Hughes.

Steven: I can say so many things about this, because I'm a son of immigrant parents. They want you to get a job as a doctor, lawyer, engineer, something that's secure and safe. And I'm none of those. I'm a financial therapist!

First, acknowledge that your parents have your best interest at heart; speaking to them from that place will help this conversation go a lot easier.

Then, let them know what are ways that you're going to be able to take care of yourself as an artist. Talk to some artists or creators in your community so you can get clear on what income looks like, so that you can bring all this information to the conversation with your parents.

If you don't, they're going to be worried like my parents were, and they're never going to let it go. Money is already stressful enough. We don't want to add our parents' expectations on top of that.

What would you tell someone who's interested in investing, but doesn't know where to start?

Tonya: I love this question because most people don't realize if they are investing in their workplace 401K. That's the best place to start. Sometimes your employer will match your investments, so take advantage of that.

If you do not have that option, then go with a Roth IRA first, because that will have the most tax benefits, but it's easy to max those out. From there, consider a traditional IRA.

If you feel like you can tolerate risk, you can start learning how to invest in the stock market. Udemy has great classes online. But understand that the stock market is not a get-rich-quick place. Invest money you can afford to lose. We don't want to gamble away something that we're going to rely on in the near future.

How should one approach buying a home? How can someone tell if they're ready for an expense like that?

Tonya: A lot of people don't realize that a house isn't just a down payment. It's closing costs needed, and sometimes, the house might need additional renovations when you move in. You want to be prepared, and also have additional emergency funds set aside.

Your debt-to-income ratio should be in a good space, and you should have at least a significant portion of your down payment set aside. You shouldn't be waiting for a windfall or something lucky to occur.

If you have those things in order, then consider if you want to commit to staying in this particular area for at least three years, to avoid incurring capital gains tax if you sell. So, I would say personal stability, a credit score above 680, and consistent income—a mortgage servicer is going to look at all that.

Imagine this scenario: My best friend is getting married, her sister booked a bachelorette trip, but I'm not sure I can afford everything. What should I do?

Steven: A couple of options here. Get clear on whether you can go on the trip, even if it's for a few days and then you have to leave. What does that participation look like? Is it even feasible for you, given your current financial situation?

Your friend is going to love you whether you go on the trip or not. Now, her sister might have made a misstep by not considering what everyone else's situation was, but this happens with our friend groups often. But don't feel bad: they have expenses that they're going through as well, including the wedding.

But ultimately, we should not equate our worth to our friends with our financial net worth.

Financial Literacy Month is the perfect time to dig deeper into your money habits. Discover new ways to unpack what money means to you, along with more on Tonya and Steven financial literacy advice, on the campaign’s landing page and on Venmo’s Instagram page. For more details on Venmo’s suite of products, visit the Venmo website.


Content reflects advice and personal experiences; Individuals were compensated. Their views are their own. Venmo is not making financial recommendations. Seek advice from a financial advisor.

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