Penn State alum, Paul Girgis, and his friend, William Ferguson, have spent considerable time exploring how millenials approach money. You can check out some of their research findings here. In this article below, they apply concepts of design thinking to personal finance; we have to test, try, and even fail to learn what works best!

Just Try Something: Personal Finances and the “Real World”

A Few Thoughts and One Helpful, FREE Resource By Paul Girgis

Think about the last time you learned something deeply, in the core of who you are. Not a formula for an upcoming exam, or the 60-second bit you need for your final presentation. Something real, something meaningful. Maybe a nugget of wisdom you’ll one day share with grandkids.

  • Where and when did you learn it?
  • Who were you with?
  • What did it cost you to learn that lesson?

You’re probably not reminiscing over a Gen Ed course you took sophomore year. My guess is you lived through something challenging, got help from someone you trust, grew closer to God, and walked away with a different perspective. (And I’d be willing to bet, a textbook wasn’t even involved.) These hard fought lessons are so valuable! They help shape relationships and decisions for years to come.

However, too often these life lessons don’t relate to the realities of day-to-day decision-making. There’s a gap between the abstract life lesson and its concrete impact. Your mom’s loving words of, “Will you remember how you did on this test in five years?” does not help you proactively organize your study schedule. Or your dad’s saying of “Always spend less than you make” may not help you decide which bank to use. When it comes to important topics, like finances, life’s deep lessons may not be congruent with daily decisions.

What Money Life lessons Just Aren’t Landing?

You probably have some thoughts about money. Maybe they’re rooted in life lessons, or perhaps in ignorance and fear. Maybe you’re just trying to survive financially and get through this week. Wherever you are, the good news is you’re probably in good company; the range of “financial literacy” across college graduates is wide. More good news: almost all the information you’ll need to know to get through the next few years is available online and within your social networks. Let me explain…

In the Spring of 2016, my friend William Ferguson and I spent a few months interviewing over 50 people, aged 18-36 about money – what they know and don’t know, which questions or frustrations they regularly come across, and the tools or resources they recommend. We used a creative problem-solving process called “design thinking” to come up with our key learnings and create a helpful, FREE resource for you.

What We Learned

After hours of surveys and conversations, here are a few major observations around Millennials and Personal Finance:

1) 95% of people mentioned talking to a parent or relative that they trust about money questions or issues.

2) Plenty of people “just Google it,” but struggle to navigate, prioritize, and trust the 1,000,000’s of search results. (Googling “Personal Finances” came up with 144,000,000 results.)

3) There is a seriously wide range of financial knowledge across millennials—from finance majors who are wizards in excel, to moderately informed students with student debt, to even a young woman who believed she was building credit by paying rent…on her debit card.

Hopefully one of these resonates with you and you realize you’re not alone.

To Learn You Have To Try

In order to grow more confident, comfortable, and wise with the money and income you currently have (and will have in the future), you’re gonna have to try some things out. Test, design, prototype, see how it goes. Equally learn from mistakes and successes. Keep moving forward. Perhaps you’ll prioritize taking a trip instead of putting money in a savings account (or vice-versa), or you’ll have to dip into your emergency fund—and that’s all OK. There are definitely “best practices” around how you deal with your money, but at the end of the day the phrase is called personal finances for a reason: you get to choose how you personally spend and organize your money.

With that in mind, I’d encourage you to check out this one-pager resource that William and I created: Some Info About Money That Doesn’t Suck.* This document is a place to start when you realize you have a financial question. We’d say it reasonably covers 70% of the realistic topics you’ll soon be exploring around personal finance. We hope it helps you in your financial journey!

And that’s just it. Life—and financial management—is a journey, and we learn by saying yes to the ride. We hope that you start by trying stuff and trusting the process. You might be surprised by the lessons you learn, re-learn and actually apply in real life along the way!

Feel free to email me at with any questions or comments.

*Note: The authors’ views on debt in this resource do not necessarily reflect the views of SeniorEXIT. We advocate for debt-free living