New Responsibilities

In addition to new decisions, as you get older you also gain new responsibilities. When you’re younger, your responsibilities are often small, like doing your homework or chores. However, when you are older, you have to take care of important things like finding a place to live and a job.

Many of the new things you will have to take care of and make decisions about are things that your parents have decided in the past. These include extremely important tasks like managing your money, paying bills, handling your benefits, dealing with your health care, managing personal assistants, and all of the decisions related to living on your own. Here we’ll explore some of these issues and how to approach them.

Managing Your Money

We need money to carry out our day-to-day lives, but we also need it for the long-term. We have to be able to figure out how to meet our needs now, but also be prepared for our needs in the future. Thinking about how we spend our money now and how we’ll save money for the future is called money management and financial planning.

Money management can be intimidating. Maybe you think that you’ll never have enough money to live comfortably or independently, or that you’ll never be making so much money that you can save for your retirement. Don’t think that you have to have all the answers now. Your goal should be to continually learn more so that you can make informed decisions about your financial needs and abilities for today and the future.

There are plenty of resources available to help you learn good money management skills. For general information about financial planning, with tips and tricks on how to save, have a look at Money Management International.

Tracking your money

One of the most common reasons people have money problems is that they don’t know how much money they have and how much they spend. Have you ever looked into your wallet and wondered, "Where'd all my money go?" Sometimes it seems like it just disappears.

Try this exercise to see how much you really spend:

  1. Think about all of the things you spend money on over the course of a month. Write them down and write how much you think they cost. Some of your expenses are only once a month, like rent or your phone bill; other things might be weekly, like gasoline or groceries; and still others are things you spend on every day, like lunch. Keep the list in a place where you won’t lose it.
  2. Write down all of your actual expenses for one month in a small notebook or calendar. Every time you spend money, write it down, including anything you buy and any bills you pay.
  3. At the end of the month, compare the list of things you thought you spent with the list of things you really spent your money on.

When you know where you spend your money, you can control your spending by making better choices. Use this exercise to figure out what expenses are necessary and which ones you can reduce.

Paying Bills and Credit Cards

Paying your bills is an important part of managing your money. Pay them as soon as you can, so that you don’t have to pay any extra fees or interest. Also, check with your bank to see if you can pay your bills online or automatically — that can make it a lot easier and also ensure that you don’t forget to pay your bills. No matter what, you always need to make sure you have enough money in the bank to make your payments!

What's a credit score?

You’re probably heard people talk about their “credit score.” A credit score is just a number that represents how good you have been at paying off your debts and therefore how likely a company is to loan you money or allow you to charge items with the intent of paying for them later. Credit scores in the United States range from 300 to 850. The higher your score, the better you have been at paying your debts in the past and therefore the more likely you are to pay your debts in the future.

Companies like credit cards, banks, and car dealerships base their decisions on whether or not to give you credit based on your credit score, so it can be important to keep it as high as possible.

For more information about credit, your credit score, and how to find out what it is, you can go to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Protection website. The Federal Trade Commission is the official government office that oversees credit card and other financial companies and they offer plenty of information on their site.

Avoiding Debt

If you spend more money than you make, you’ll probably end up in debt. Debt is dangerous — if you don’t do anything about it, your problem will just get worse and worse. Furthermore, it’s really easy to get into debt, but very hard to get out. You might be tempted to just ignore your bills and stop paying them, but that’s not a good idea because your debts will just grow.

If you are in debt, take action now. If you feel overwhelmed by your debt and need help, try the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to find a nonprofit debt counseling service near you. The Federal Trade Commission has a few tips to help you choose a debt counseling service.

Poverty & disability

In 2008, 25% of people with disabilities aged 21 – 64 in the United States lived in families with incomes below the poverty line. In comparison, the poverty rate for people without disabilities in the same age group was just 10%.

However, the situation is improving. Over the last few decades people with disabilities have gained greater and greater access to the workplace, thanks to laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act. To learn more about finding work that can lead to financial independence, see the DB101 article Finding a Job.

Dealing with Benefits

If you qualify for public benefits, such as health care programs like the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) or cash benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and are under the age of 18, it’s likely that your parents or other adults handle your benefits applications and keep track of what benefits you qualify for.

However, as you get older, benefits change a lot. If you didn’t qualify for benefits when you were under 18, you may begin to qualify when you turn 18. And if you do qualify, you are now the person responsible for making sure you get your benefit and comply with any rules. Benefits for Young People is a great article that will help you understand your benefits.

Financial Planning

When you get a job, you can start to save up some money. If you’re on public benefits like SSI, read the article Benefits for Young People, which discusses how you can begin saving money without losing benefits through programs like Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) and Plans to Achieve Self-Support (PASS). If you aren’t on public benefits, there are additional types of savings accounts that you may find interesting, like IRA’s and 401(k) plans, which are retirement accounts.

When you save money, your money begins to grow on its own. That’s because it earns interest or makes profits that over the long term will mean that you end up with a lot more money than you initially saved. Just by putting away a little bit each month, you can slowly accumulate enough money for major expenses, such as your education, a home, or even your retirement. EQUITY: Asset Building for People with Disabilities, a Guide to Financial Empowerment also has a lot of information about how people with disabilities can save money and increase their financial security.