Your twenties are pretty awesome, because I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I will ever have as few responsibilities pulling at me for an entire decade ever again. Don’t get me wrong, my income bracket also reflects the whole just starting out thing, but still, it’s easier to make decisions as a single person than as a couple and I bet it’s even easier than throwing a kid or two into that mix as well.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t savor the only time in your life you’ll be able to drink till 4:00 AM, get up for work at 7:00 AM and not have a crippling hangover – I’m just saying, let’s consider other things as well, so that you’re drinking Grey Goose instead of MD 20/20 in your 70’s.
1.) Sit down and plan out your financial goals.
Figure out how much you owe. Figure out how much you make (read this awesome New Worth article by yours truly for advice on exactly how to do that). Think about what you’d like to achieve and how much it will cost. Think as big picture and as detailed as possible.
2.) Develop a budget.
After figuring out how much you have coming in, figure out how it needs to go back out (again, for more details, check another swell post from me on budgeting).
3.) Make saving a habit.
I know it may seem like squeezing water out of a stone, but now is the time to get into the habit of saving and paying yourself first. If you have a job and you can auto-deduct from your paycheck, I recommend rerouting 10-15% of your income right into a savings or retirement account. If you do it from the get go, you’ll just be used to budgeting with that money missing.
4.) Start paying down your debt.
Whether it’s school loans or credit cards, almost everyone in their 20’s has some monster in the closet, eating all their money. Now is the time to figure out how to kill it. If it’s school loans, just keep plugging away at them. If it’s credit card debt, you may also need to readjust your spending habits so that the hole doesn’t get any deeper.
5.) Establish credit.
Check out your credit score for free at freecreditscore.com. It’s a little bit of a pain in the butt because you do need to put in your credit card info and you will need to take like 15 minutes afterward (or within 7 days) to call them and cancel your “membership” so you’re not charged, but this is 30 minutes of your life well spent. Make sure you don’t lie on any of the address, birthday, social security number (yes, I know, entering it makes me nervous too – just make sure the web address bar has the little FCS box or a padlock on it and it is secure), this info is used to pull up the correct credit score.
Once a year you can also check out freecreditreport.com, which tells you where your problem areas are but doesn’t give you a score. These two together will give you a good picture of what you need to work on to improve your credit score. It’s not a big deal for much in your 20’s, but when it’s time to apply for a mortgage or loans to send your kid to college it is and the time to start developing it is now.
6.) Become financially independent.
If mom and dad are paying your bills, and you’re done with school, that needs to stop. If you are making any sort of money, you should be taking care of yourself. Even if it means crummy things like living at home, working two jobs, switching to a prepaid “stupid” phone, living off of Ramen noodles – seriously, you need to pay your own way in life. I’m not saying go cold turkey all at once (unless you can), but definitely start taking steps to ease the burden on the folks.
Personally, this step came for me with my first real job. My last semester of grad school, I started the most heinous job of my life as a customer service rep with an insurance agency. This was also in 2008, which you might recall was not the hottest year for the economy. I didn’t want to make things any tougher for my parents and I realized I could clearly pay for everything on my own, even my final tuition payments. I just started paying almost all of my bills and not asking for money. I still had an emergency credit card from them and they still paid for my phone. About a year and a half later, the credit card expired and I never got a new one. They still pay for the phone, although I’ve offered to pay for the phone plenty of times (hey source for savings account), but I think my dad actually gets a better family deal keeping me on their account.
7.) Build an emergency fund.
Part of avoiding debt is planning ahead, so a goal for your 20’s should be to save up 3-6 months of expenses in your emergency fund as well as any deductibles for insurance. You’ll be able to lower your monthly payments on your insurance too and rack up some more savings if you can pay a high deductible, so the better your emergency fund, the more money you could be saving each month in insurance payments.
8.) Get health insurance.
Health insurance is important, but I put it last because it is an insane expense if it’s not subsidized by your employer. Let me preface this by saying you really, really, really should have health insurance, but there were 3 years when I did not. Fortunately, the only time I needed any medical care was when I was a student in England and I fell down a flight of stairs and they patched me back up and sent me off – it felt like the medical equivalent of the dine and dash – God bless the NHS.
If you are under 26, your best bet is almost certainly a parent’s health insurance. You can still be on it even if you don’t live with them or you get married (although it won’t cover your spouse). Beyond that, I recommend checking out ehealthinsurance.com to check out different rates. I found offers ranging from $190/month to $1,700/month (and there was still a co-pay on that one ??!!) – even if you have cheap insurance that really just covers your for a catastrophe, it’s worth it. It will take you years, possibly even decades, to recover from the medical bills from a car accident or, heaven forbid, a bout with cancer.
Your absolute best bet is probably your employer. If they offer you health insurance for anything under $100/month, you’re really not likely to do better.
Check back tomorrow for how to NOT do your twenties. And be sure to enter our giveaway for a copy of The Wealthy Barber by Dave Chilton!
Some great tips for getting it together in your 20’s along with hilarious GIFs can be found over at the GirlsGuideTo.