Do you ever go through periods of reflection? Sometimes during certain parts of the year, I think about where I was at this point one year ago, five years ago or even 10 years ago.
Ten years ago I was a newlywed, fresh out of college and I had just bought my first house. This turned out to be a HUGE mistake. If I could go back and shake some sense into myself, I would in a heartbeat.
But I can't. So instead I am going to share a few things I want people in their 20's to understand about money.
1. You have to make a budget
I feel like I say this a lot. And I will be honest, there are some months I do better at this than others. But having a budget and sticking to it is key. Especially with your first job. If you are fresh out of college and starting your career (or even working at a job you don't like until you launch your career) make a budget.
Even if you're only making a little bit of money, allocating how and where you will spend your dollars gives you a great sense of control.
2. You don't need everything you see
This is a hard lesson for a lot of people, not just 20-something. But I think it's a particular struggle when you've landed your first "real job." You feel rich and you want to go out and buy things to match your current status. But that is a societal illusion.
You don't need a brand new car and brand new living room furniture. And while you might need new work clothes, you can look great on a budget and not spend your whole paycheck. Temper yourself. The new shiny things can wait.
3. Start paying extra on your student loans
I was fortunate enough to go to college on a scholarship and didn't graduate with student debt. My husband, on the other hand, took out loans and it took us eight years to pay them off. I really recommend starting to pay off your debts early. Go ahead and add extra payments to your loan payment every month.
4. Start putting money in your 401k
Yes. You need to start putting money in your 401k today. I understand that it's tempting to put off retirement savings until you're out of debt, and while I agree debt pay off should take priority, don't ignore your future. I know you're young and retirement feels like a world away. But it will just get further and further away the longer you don't save.
If your company matches your 401k at least put in the amount they will match.
5. Develop an emergency fund
Emergencies happen. It's a fact of life. So you need to be prepared for them. Make sure you have between $1,000 and $3,000 in savings to combat a catastrophe. I know that sounds like a lot of money, don't worry, you don't need to deposit it all today. Put money aside over the next few months.
6. Have a five-year plan
Five-year plans aren't just for job interviews. You need to set some long-term goals. Where do you want to be in five years? Do you want to own a home? Do you want your student loans paid off? Do you want to take some time off to travel or volunteer long term? Great.
Start developing a plan to achieve those goals.
7. Splurge responsibly
Just because you're living on a budget and setting goals to get out of debt doesn't mean you can't ever have fun. No. Not what I am saying at all. Just plan for it. Go to see that band you love. Road trip across the country with your friends. Just don't go into debt to do it. Budget for your fun and go have a life.