While the first part of our 20s is usually plagued by low to no income, this decade can quickly become one of the most notable in terms of financial growth and change. We go from relying on others to carry our weight to figuring out what it takes to become a financially stable member of society.
These growing pains are sometimes punctuated by substantial mistakes, ones we spend our 30s trying to correct and bounce back from. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you’re stepping out on your own and working to build a solid financial foundation that will make the decades to come just a little bit easier, here are a few unconventional money moves you should consider making now.
#1: Get educated.
You already have your college degree in hand, but you likely received very little financial knowledge in all of those textbooks you spent so many hours pouring over.
While money was something I routinely discussed with my family, it wasn’t until I became a regular reader of personal finance blogs and articles that I felt empowered to make grown-up decisions regarding how I would handle my own money.
The key is to learn about things before you need to know them. For instance, you may not be in the market for a house, but knowing a few general facts about the process and preparation involved will help you be fully ready when you decide it’s time.
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You don’t need to read complicated textbooks, simply spend five minutes a day gathering knowledge. I guarantee it will come in handy.
#2: Figure out where your money is going.
Money has a way of disappearing when we aren’t paying attention. Instead of reaching a point month after month where you wonder why your account balance is so low, start tracking it. You’d be shocked to see how much you spend on things that simply don’t matter.
Once you have this knowledge in hand, figure out where it should be going instead. If you need an app to help, there’s plenty: Mint, YNAB – the list goes on and on.
#3: Stop being ok with living paycheck to paycheck.
When you’re just starting out, it’s easy to become accustomed to living the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle. Then, once you start making more, it’s far easier to spend the monthly buffer on happy hour and trips to the mall.
Stop. Eventually your luck will run out, and you will need that buffer for something like a major car repair or trip to the doctor.
Instead of waiting for that fateful day, start preparing now. Create an emergency fund that will actually carry you through the tough times, and pay your savings account just like any other bill. Just because money is in your account, doesn’t mean you should be spending it.
#4: Decide what your priorities are.
With the right planning and money management, a lot is possible. But not everything is possible all at once. Spending money in one area often requires taking it from another area, so it’s essential to know what your financial priorities are.
If, for instance, travel is important to you, consider finding a rental unit with lower monthly costs attached. Or, cut back on those costly dinners with friends. Whatever it is, find what gives you fulfillment, and slash the rest.
#5: Figure out what you want your retirement to look like.
Planning for retirement may be complicated, but most people skip one of the steps that is the easiest to execute – figuring out what you actually want your retirement to look like. You don’t need to get extremely specific, but you should know the type of lifestyle you’re shooting for. Then, you can create a money goal and work back from there to determine how much you should be saving now.
Not only will this help you with the dollars and cents aspect of planning, but it will give you something to shoot for that is actually appealing – not just the age-old retirement stereotype of sitting on the couch all day.
#6: Reach a point of financial independence and relish in it.
It’s easy to go from your parents supporting you to sharing expenses with a significant other, but there’s something to be said for reaching a point in your life where you know that no matter what happens with those around you, or what the state of your relationship is, you can fully support yourself.
Whether it’s creating an emergency fund large enough to know you’re covered if things change, or earning enough to cover all expenses on your own, find a way to make this happen. Not only is it empowering, but it lessens the stress on your personal relationships as well.
Now is the time to make it happen. Where will you start?
If you think you need vast amounts of money in order to start taking your finances seriously, think again. Regardless of the amount you have, plan now — when time is on your side and you don’t have anywhere to go but up.
Plus, mom and dad will be so proud.