Your 20s are a great opportunity to enjoy life, explore your tastes and interests and try new experiences. It can also be the perfect time to lay the foundation for financial success.
Establishing certain habits now can allow you to reap the rewards for decades. So, where should you start? Financial experts shared with GOBankingRates the top most important money lessons to learn in your 20s.
1. Start Saving a Percentage of Your Income Now
Instead of a specific dollar amount, try saving a percentage of your monthly income, says Drew Feutz, financial planner and co-founder of Migration Wealth Management.
“If you focus on saving a percentage of your income, then your savings rate will remain in a good spot as your income increases,” he said.
This habit makes saving for big expenses like a car, a down payment for a house or an engagement ring easier.
2. Live Below Your Means
You’ll have to live below your means to save a percentage of your income. According to Feutz, this is the most important financial habit to implement while young.
“Doing so will help you set yourself up for a successful financial future and will provide flexibility in life — not only now but later as well,” he said.
3. Automate Your Retirement Savings
Retirement may seem like a lifetime away. But the sooner you start saving, the more comfortable you’ll be in the long run.
“Automating your retirement savings makes it easy,” said Feutz. “Automate what you want to save so that you’re never tempted to spend it.”
4. Make a Monthly Budget
Levon Galstyan, a certified public accountant at Oak View Law Group, encourages young people to maintain a monthly or weekly budget.
“Make a budget for the next 30 days during the last week of every month,” he said. “All of your bill due dates should be noted, and money should be set away for savings.”
5. Investing Is a Long-Term Game
Following the latest hot investing trend is an easy way to get rich. But time in the market always beats trying to time the market, says Feutz. After all, if active fund managers — who have teams and the latest research at their disposal — can’t beat the average growth benchmarks over an extended period, chances are, you can’t either.
Instead, Feutz recommends focusing on the power of compound interest by faithfully investing a percentage of your income each month.
“This is an extremely powerful concept that can change your life for the better — or worse, depending on how you use it,” he said.
6. Always Keep an Emergency Fund
Over 24% of American adults would be unable to pay their monthly bills if they faced a $400 financial setback, according to 2021-2022 data from the Federal Reserve. To avoid that situation, Feutz says you should build an emergency fund.
“Building the habit of having a cash account in place that you don’t touch unless it’s a true emergency goes a long way in making sure that the wealth-building process isn’t interrupted,” he said.
7. Pay Off Your Credit Cards Every Month
Credit cards often offer great rewards, but not paying them off in time can lead to compounding debt. Around 14 million Americans have over $10,000 of credit card debt, according to a recent GOBankingRates survey.
“Before adding anything to your cart using this magic card, you must determine whether you genuinely need what you’re purchasing,” said Galstyan.
8. Maintain Proper Insurance
Feutz urges young people to speak to a professional to determine what types of insurance they should have.
“Insurance is one of those things that you don’t like paying for but that you’re happy you have in place when a need arises,” he said.
One of the most important types of insurance may be health insurance. And yet the CDC’s 2022 National Health Statistics Report reveals that 28.1 million Americans had no health insurance coverage in 2021.
“Investing in your health is one of the most crucial financial lessons to learn while you’re still young,” said Galstyan. “Create an emergency fund in high-yield savings accounts to assist you in paying any unforeseen medical expenses, and consider acquiring a health insurance policy.”
9. Stay Out of Bad Debt
As expenses rise faster than income, it’s hard for young people to avoid debt entirely. But Galstyan encourages them to keep their debts as low as possible.
“It might take two or three decades to entirely pay off debt, including larger debts like student loans or mortgages,” he said. “You must make sure not to accrue any further debts. Work as hard as possible to pay off the ones you already have.”
10. Check Your Credit Report Regularly
How often should you review your credit? Galstyan recommends every three months.
“It’s a habit you need to develop soon,” he said. “The credit report is like a mirror, reflecting your debts, collection accounts, wrong information — everything. The sooner you understand your financial life, the easier it will be to take corrective measures properly.”
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