When you’re in your 20s and 30s, you have better things to be thinking about than money, right? The idea of saving for your future, decades down the line, can feel completely irrelevant when you’re working on your career, or starting a family. It’s all about the here and now, and those first moves into real adulthood.
But really, this is the very best time to be thinking about your finances. This is the time to sow seeds, grow roots, and create a solid financial starting point for yourself. So if you’ve found this before you hit 40, congratulations! Here are six financial strategies for under 40 that will set you up for success, now and for the rest of your life.
1: Plan Your Financial Goals
We all need a roadmap, a destination to aim for – otherwise we’re aimlessly wandering, with no purpose. And sure, we can change the route as we go. We can take detours, make deviations, but all of life’s journeys go more smoothly if we know where we’re heading.
Figuring out your financial goals is essential to give you that roadmap. Working towards goals helps you to know that you’re making the most of your money, and making conscious decisions about your expenditure. It keeps you moving forward. And it can be that little bit of financial discipline that means that everything falls into place.
You need to decide on your priorities – do you want to own your own home, or is renting OK? Do you want to travel abroad regularly? If you’ve got kids, do you want to support them through college? Do you want to start your own business and be your own boss?
Once you’ve plotted some of the key destinations on your roadmap, get a realistic idea about the cost of your goals. Keep that in mind, and budget and plan accordingly. But don’t forget – your goals can change. And that’s fine – just adjust your budget as you need to.
2: Maximize Income
Young people often don’t realize their worth, and don’t consider the full range of financial strategies available to them. They go into a job at a junior level, and expect that they have to accept what they’re given. That’s not true – you are still more than entitled to negotiate your salary. Don’t be a passive voice in your own professional life. Take control.
Future employers will base their job offers on your previous salary, so don’t be afraid to maximize it. Demonstrate to your current employer why you’re worth that little extra raise. If your request is turned down, ask for goals and a commitment for a reconsideration in the near future. Or look for similar roles where you could earn that little bit more. Don’t miss opportunities to and add to the package that you can offer employers. Be a go-getter from the start, and the effort will pay dividends.
Maximizing income can also be about taking opportunities outside of work – can you do some tutoring to earn some extra income to put away? Or turn any hobbies into cash builders? If you don’t like the idea of this because you value your free time, that’s fair enough. You can make your money work harder for you by scrutinizing your budget, and minimizing your outgoings until your next promotion. Workplace benefits are a great vehicle to save and make the most of your income, so make sure you’re taking full advantage of what’s on offer.
3: Monitor and Raise Your Credit Score
If you’re in your 20s or 30s, your credit score is more important to you than you think. It stands as evidence of your financial responsibility, or your ability to pay back loans. Landlords, credit card companies,employers and mortgage lenders will be among the people who will use your credit record to make decisions about you.
If you’re late with payments or have defaulted on loans, it will be written out on your credit record for all interested parties to see. It could mean that you won’t be accepted for loans, installment payment plans for cars, or cellphone contracts.
A poor credit rating could also end up costing you – you may be accepted for a mortgage but at a higher borrowing cost than for someone with a clear credit report.
If you’ve made some mistakes in the past that have led to black marks on your credit report and a low credit score, now is the time to begin putting it right. Check your credit score regularly – you can do it for free – and if there are any errors, get them put right. Pay all your bills on time, and pay your credit card bill in full each month. Avoid any late payment charges. Basically, be a good, responsible borrower and you’ll see your credit rating improve over time.
4: Eliminate Debt
Setting off into adult life can be expensive. You might have a student loan to contend with, you might have to kit out a new home, you may take a loan for a wedding, a car, a round-the-world adventure. Americans under the age of 30 have an average debt of $23,872 and those between 30 and 40 have an average debt of $62,658. That’s made up of student loans, mortgages, loans for cars. On average, Americans have over $6,000 on their credit cards as well.
But while it’s a good idea to prove that you’re a good borrower, make sure you remain in control of your debt at all costs. Compound interest works in your favour when you’re saving, but against you with most of your debts – i.e., debts grow just like your savings. But because of high APRs (annual percentage rates) your debts will grow faster than your savings. This really compromises your ability to grow your personal savings and investments in a meaningful way, if your debts are acting as a counterweight.
Some debts, like student loans and mortgages, are a fact of life if you have certain goals. You just have to accept them as a necessary evil. But make paying them off an absolute top priority, so that by the time you hit your 40s, you can concentrate on your retirement savings.
5: Start Investing and Develop Your Portfolio
Of all the financial strategies available to you, the one that really supercharges your savings is investing. Nearly all savings accounts will have an interest rate (hopefully compound interest) that will increase the value of your savings, but making wise, well-informed investments can see far higher returns.
The power of investing is so often overlooked by young people – and especially young women, who view investing as a rich man’s game. But the headstart you can get by investing young is considerable.
Let’s say you have a windfall in your twenties, and at age 25 can afford to invest $10,000. By the age of 65, and with an average annual growth rate of 8%, that sum will grow to $217,000. If you get the same windfall and make the same investment at age 35, that sum will only grow to $100,627. So those extra ten years would see your investment double.
Get accustomed to investing some of your paycheck every single month. Your parents might have advised you to save 10% of all of your income – anything over 5% is a good start, but aim for more if you can. Start with saving from your paycheck, and into a 401k if there’s one on offer. Then, as your money grows, seek professional investment advice to help maximize the returns on your investments.
6: Look After Your Health
“Hang on, I thought we were talking about financial strategies…?” We are. Your own health is your biggest and most important insurance policy. And you need to invest in it. Your ability to earn, and then your ability to save depends on your health. Oh, and your enjoyment of your retirement absolutely hinges on the state of your health. What’s the point in saving if you’re not going to be around to enjoy your later years?
Look after yourself. Look after your health. And insure yourself properly. Health insurance is absolutely vital to your overall financial wellbeing. Healthcare costs can be monstrous if you’re not adequately insured. Large, unexpected bills could suddenly eat away at any savings you have, or create huge debts for you at a time when you need them least. Protect yourself, and your money, by making health insurance a priority.
You can also take advantage of health savings accounts, which ring-fence money just for healthcare expenses. The money you deposit in this account will grow tax-free, and you can withdraw it tax-free as long as it’s used for qualified medical costs.
Let Us Help You Define Your Financial Strategies
As a young person, your life stretches out in front of you, full of promise and opportunities. It can be hard to see how your actions now will affect your retirement, when it might be half a century away. But little financial moves that you make in your 20s and 30s will have significant, far-reaching ripple effects. Not only will they set you up with a good financial mindset, but they will help your money to work for you now and far into the future.
At Paragon, we commit ourselves to helping you realize your financial goals. When we do, we take into account all the elements of your life that make you, and the challenges you face, totally unique. We pride ourselves on our ability to see the whole picture, and zoom in on the details. If you could do with some help to define or redefine your financial strategies, please do get in touch. We look forward to getting to know you.