Hey, take heart. One day you’ll be in your 30’s and dumb, like me. But you don’t have to be broke. Here’s a short list of things that 33 year-old me still screams at 23 year-old me (in dreams, and sometimes at bus stops). Why? Because 23 year-old me was stubborn as all hell and just wouldn’t listen or learn this immutable truth: the earlier you develop some simple habits, the better off your financial life will be.
- Read a book or two: Learn about money and what to do with it. Once you familiarize yourself with the terminology and basic concepts it becomes a lot less intimidating. Besides, you don’t want to have investment vehicles explained to you by the people trying to sell them to you. Might I suggest something from my beginner’s reading list? Yes, I might.
- Save 10%: Always. If you can, save more. Start with an emergency fund, working up six months of living expenses. If your workplace offers a 401(k) or similar plan, you should participate in that as well. Especially if there’s a match. Matches = free money. No plan? Look into an IRA. In fact, look into an IRA anyway. Do it. Do it.
- Live below your means: If you’re saving 10%, this is easy enough. You can only save if you spend less than you earn. You’ll be amazed in life how few people figure this out. Most of your friends won’t live below their means. Don’t be like them — chances are they won’t accumulate wealth, just stuff.
- Don’t dig yourself a hole with credit cards: Credit cards aren’t evil, just be careful. Pay off your balance in full whenever possible. Try to use it just for emergencies and large purchases. And don’t make many large purchases. You don’t get all your grown-up stuff at once. Everybody wants to live like they did under their parents’ roof, but you don’t start out that way. You build up. Don’t try to furnish a house as soon as you get your first job.
- Your old car is fine: For now, at least. Drive it another year. Then repeat, if possible.
- Learn to cook: It’s better for you, saves a ton of money, and will make you immeasurably more attractive to the opposite sex, especially as you get older. Or the same sex, if that’s what you’re shooting for.
Lovely. I officially sound like my parents. Except for the part about the opposite sex. That never came up, thank God.