Your 20s are a decade that will define how you live the rest of your life. After high school and college, you begin your journey toward becoming who you were meant to be. That’s why this decade is so important when it comes to your finances – I believe it can either make you or break you.
In my 20s, I learned everything I know about personal finance. In fact, I knew nothing about saving money, getting out of debt, or personal growth until after law school (read: after I dug myself into $206k of student loan debt). Now, I’m on a path toward financial success. I will not wake up at 50 years old as a financial mess – and you don’t have to either.
Treat your 20s as a period of learning and growth. Take the time and spend the money to invest in yourself, learn, and get on the right track. Specifically, I’ve listed 10 habits that you can use to help you get on track financially in your 20s.
1. Get on a budget
Knowing what money is going in and out during the month is critical to your financial success. This is called your cash flow, and the best way to manage it is to get on a budget (and track your spending).
I use Personal Capital (it’s FREE!) as the budgeting / account-monitoring service for my finances (it’s sort of like Mint.com but better). I love it! 🙂
2. Create a “get out of debt” plan
Your 20s is the time to get out of debt. There will never be an easier time to pay off your debt than right now. This may seem counterintuitive because you make less money that you will in the future, but it’s true because you have fewer responsibilities now. Over time, you responsibilities only increase – think spouse, house, kids, etc.
Do whatever you have to in order to get out of debt – be it a second job or living with a roommate. Your 20s is the time to embrace the challenge of setting yourself up for future financial success.
3. Read personal finance books
It may not sounds sexy, but it’s important for your future that you learn the basics of personal finance. No one will ever care more about your finances than you do, so take the time to read a few books so you know the bare minimum.
I recommend starting with these three books:
- I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
- The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke by Suze Orman
- The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
You can read my full book list here.
It’s your responsibility as an adult to learn about money. It will be hard to build a solid foundation without it.
4. Start saving now
Get in the habit of “paying yourself first” so that you can build wealth long term. This means first building an emergency fund and second investing. Whatever amount you can afford to save, you should. Once you have a six-eight month emergency fund saved, you can start saving for other things, like a down payment on a house or a new car, or better yet — an investment account that can make you really freaking wealthy.
By starting to save in your 20s you will lay a solid foundation for your financial future.
5. Payoff your credit cards monthly
Get in the habit of paying off your credit cards monthly. If you cannot do this, then cancel your credit cards – you have no business having them. This may sounds harsh, but credit card debt compounds fast and the interest is high – not to mention the pattern of spending more than you have.
I’ve never had a credit card and I’m going to keep it that way. Why? Because I’m a spender and I know it’s too tempting for me. If you are like me, then seriously consider using a debit card and cash. I can do everything everyone else can with my debt card — I’ve never had a problem.
6. Save for retirement
Start saving for retirement now to take advantage of compound interest over time. You will earn more money by contributing to your retirement now than waiting until you’re in your 30s and 40s. If you get an employer match, always contribute up to the match (don’t pass up on free money), and if you don’t, still invest in your retirement as much as you can.
If your employer doesn’t offer a retirement plan, then invest in your own retirement by setting up a brokerage account and doing it yourself. The value of investing now will pay off big time compared to if you wait until later in life.
7. Stop comparing yourself to your friends
Financial success is a marathon, not a race. Don’t compete for short-term wins with your friends when you have a lifetime to prepare for. This means that if you need to buckle down and pay off your student loans, then skip the travel or new car this year. Pay no attention to your friends. Your diligence, hard work, and intentional living will pay dividends (literally and figuratively 😉 ).
8. Organize all aspects of your finances
Start organizing and tracking all of these items. Again, I use Personal Capital as a free online tool to help me keep all of my financials in order.
There is power in knowing. If you know where you stand with respect to your money, insurance, taxes, assets and liabilities, and estate plans, then you will be prepared for your future. It may seem tedious initially, but people don’t pay financial planners for nothing. It’s worth it to check in quarterly or at least semi-annually and go through these documents to make sure you’re aware of where you stand and where you’re headed.
9. Regularly check your credit reports and score
Your ability to take on debt (like a mortgage or auto loan) is largely dependent on your credit. Your credit reports are a detailed reporting of your credit history and personal information. Your score is a number based on your reports that lenders use to determine your creditworthiness.
You can get your credit reports for free from the three reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com. You will probably have to pay to get your credit score. Usually, it’s no more than $20 to get your score. You can buy your score by going to one of the credit bureaus websites and requesting your score. It’s important that you get your actual scores once a year – don’t just rely on the score you see from site like Credit Karma or your bank – you need the real deal.
When you get your credit reports, read them to see what has been reported, but also look for errors. If you have incorrect information on your credit report, you need to get it corrected. To do this, contact the appropriate credit bureau.
Being “in the know” when it comes to your credit reports and credit score will help you be aware of your financial situation and what you need to do in the future.
10. Set financial goals
Now is the time to set a vision for yourself and decide what you want most out of life. After that, create financial goals that you can accomplish this year and the years to come. Goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, reasonable, and timely).
Your goals will help you live the life you envision, leaving you happier and with fewer regrets.
A Final Note!
Your 20s is a pivotal time in your life that can either make you or break you. I love living intentionally and thinking about this stuff because I know it will set me up for success in the future.
So, let’s do this together. 🙂 Cheers to a better life!