BY AMIE STREATER
When it comes to your finances, age isn’t just a number. It’s an important factor when deciding how to spend, grow, and protect your money. Strategies that work at age 20 don’t necessarily work at age 40. And minor set-backs at age 30 can be catastrophic disasters at age 50. If you’re wondering whether you’re on the right track, read on and apply these smart money moves!
YOUR 20s Ah, the 20s.
These can be fun times. But don’t be lax just because you’re young. The choices you make now can either pave the way to financial success, or lead you to financial ruin.
Get Educated ... the Right Way
Yes, do something that you’re passionate about – something that makes your heart sing. But for Pete’s sake, do something that’s going to pay you a decent wage. And don’t bury yourself in debt. The bane of modern American adulthood is $150,000 in student loans – that is, debt held by someone with a degree in history, education, art history, comparative studies, or other flights of intellectual fantasy. If you want to be a high school history teacher, great. If you’re planning to backpack across Europe and ogle the works of great painters, good for you. And if your career path involves a decade on the mission field or the Peace Corps, carry on my friend. But remember – you don’t need a pricey education to do those things! Just go do them. For example, I was super crazy about art in college. Passionate. I couldn’t get enough art history, enough museums, and enough analysis of why Picasso painted those particular eyes in that particular way to communicate that particular dysfunction of his life. But unfortunately, no one is going to pay me to tell them how many girlfriends Picasso had. So if you intend to further your education, pick a degree that will increase your income potential. But, most importantly, find a way to study without accumulating debt (scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and good old-fashioned full-time jobs).
Practice the Basics
In your 20s, you have the most valuable asset at your disposal: time. And time makes money grow. Thus, begin to save at least 10 percent of your gross income (the amount you make before taxes and deductions). If you can't manage to save 10 percent, start with 5 percent and increase it over time. The point is to develop your financial character. If you can’t save on a small income, you’re going to have a tough time saving on a larger one. That can be tough to believe, but trust me. To make your savings plan easier, take advantage of direct deposit services offered by your employer. It will allow you to automatically deposit money from your paycheck into a savings account. But don’t pick any run-of- the-mill account. Instead, do some research and enroll in a high-yield savings account. Online banks are able to offer better APYs (the interest you earn on your deposits each year), because they don’t have the overhead costs of a physical bank. However, you can easily manage your account online, or speak to a customer service representative by telephone or chat messaging. To search for the best rates, visit BankRate.com. Just make sure you choose a FDIC insured bank that requires no minimum balance or monthly fees.
According to a study conducted by PNC Financial Services Group, 20-somethings carry an average of $45,000 in debt. The debt ranges from $12,000 for early 20- somethings to $78,000 for those in their late 20s. Student loans are the most common culprit, followed by credit card debt, car loans, and mortgages. If you’re already in debt, now is the time to climb your way out. 20-somethings have the energy to work multiple jobs, if needed. And, depending on your situation, maybe you can get a roommate (or two) to reduce your living expenses. Living below your means is the key, and a habit that you’ll want to foster. That means, don’t buy cars or rent apartments that strain your budget. And avoid high cell phone bills, furniture payments, and eating out every night. Traveling is a great and exciting idea – if you save for it. Don’t throw it on a credit card, and hope to pay for it later.
Nothing – and I do mean nothing – will wreck your finances (and life in general) more than marrying the wrong person. And nothing (short of your salvation) will bless your life more than marrying the right person. Divorce is now a popular option, but it will ruin your finances, cripple your heart, and potentially jeopardize your future. To avoid these disasters, take your time. Don’t marry the first “Bozo the Clown” who says, “God told me you’re the one for me!” Maybe God didn’t really say that. Maybe that’s just hormones talking. (In your 20s, hormones talk pretty loud.) Yes, marry for love. Marry someone who makes your heart beat out of your chest. But please fall in love with someone who has a job, financial plan, and future.