Our Personal Finance Advice for "Girls"
Three episodes into the critically acclaimed HBO original series "Girls," I can safely say that these girls have some serious problems. And their financial woes, at least, seem to fairly represent the troubled zeitgeist of today's young adults -- despite the ambivalence of leading lady Hannah Horvath (played by showrunner Lena Dunham) on whether she is, as she says, "the voice of [her] generation or… a voice of a generation."
So, while I dare not deign to offer Hannah my advice on her questionable (adventurous?) "romantic" decisions, I'd like to provide some financial advice for her -- and any of you readers who share her economic concerns. Here are five money issues laid out in the show's pilot episode and how to easily resolve or avoid them (if only doing so wouldn't throw off the story arc).
HANNAH'S MOM: We've been supporting you for two years and that's enough.
HANNAH: Do you know how crazy the economy is right now? I mean, all my friends get help from their parents.
In this opening scene, we are introduced perfectly to the series and the struggles its protagonist is about to encounter as she is thrust from the financial protection of her parents. In real life, this situation could be handled much better. If you find yourself relying on your parents for financial assistance -- like Hannah, all her friends, and 19% of 18- to 34-year-olds, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey -- talk to them as soon as possible about your situation, not just the economy at large. Lay out your budget for them, and work with them to determine how much they can help you and for how long. Having a plan in place will help you avoid any sudden and painful cutoffs and set you on the route to your financial independence. For more, see How to Establish Your Financial Independence (with Some Help from Mom and Dad).
MARNIE (to Hannah): This is not a joke. If you can't afford to pay your half of the rent, Charlie is moving in here.
Roommates can come to blows over many money matters, even if you're curiously close besties like Marnie and Hannah. But if you talk about potential problems ahead of time, you can avoid any big battles. A lighthearted warning like Marnie's may suffice, but you might consider writing out some terms in a more formal agreement. In a contract, you could outline what course of action you and your roommate(s) would take if one of you suddenly weren't able to afford rent. You could also detail rules for visitors, including long-staying boyfriends. For more money points to touch on in your roommate agreement, see 8 Reasons Roommates Fight About Money.
HANNAH (to the boss at her unpaid internship): As you know, I have been working here for over a year… and I wanted to let you know that my circumstances have changed, and I can no longer afford to work for free.
Thumbs-up to Hannah for trying to turn her unpaid internship into a paying gig. Working as an intern -- paid or not -- can help you gain valuable work experience and build up your resume. But, writes Knight Kiplinger, "if interns serve for a year or more without some indication that a job offer is likely, they should raise the issue with superiors."
Thumbs-down to Hannah for her approach. When asking for a raise, instead of focusing on your own circumstances and desire for more pay, you should be prepared to make the case for why you deserve better compensation. Show how much you've contributed to your company -- hard dollar figures of what you've earned or saved for your employer would be most effective. And know the salaries for comparable positions in your area so you can prove that your pay is below par. See How to Ask for a Raise.
HANNAH: So I calculated, and I can last in New York for three and a half more days -- maybe seven if I don't eat lunch.
You need an emergency fund to help you avoid falling into situations like this one, in which you're counting down to your last dime. Aim to always have enough cash on hand to cover at least three to six months' worth of expenses. And stash it in a high-yield savings account, where it can earn a little bit extra while it sits but is still easily accessible when you need it.
Once it does come down to pinching pennies, we still don't recommend skipping meals. Before going to such extremes, try our tips to Save Money on Practically Everything, including lunch.
HANNAH (to her parents, proposing that they subsidize her memoir): Who can live in New York on $1,100 a month? But I am so committed to this book that I am willing to get pretty thrifty on this.
Yes, with this line, Hannah (while under the influence) is begging her parents to continue supporting her financially. Still, let's recognize the positive: She has set a precise dollar amount on which she'd live each month. How she determined this figure, we don't know. But regardless, it's a good start to creating a budget. Once you know your monthly income, you can work out how much you'll be able to afford for food, rent, utilities and other necessities. Then, you can calculate how much you can put toward paying down debts or building up savings. And you'll see how much -- or how little -- you have left over for fun spending. See 10 Tips to Build -- and Stick to -- a Better Budget.
Don't think you can stretch your budget in a big, pricey city? Consider relocating, especially if you're in as flexible a situation as Hannah, untethered by work or family. Besides a more affordable locale, you might also find better job opportunities in a new town. Try these 10 Great Cities for Young Adults and 10 Best Value Cities for 2011.