We all know that abusing a child is wrong. Dead wrong. But I wonder how many parents consider not properly preparing their children to be financially stable and responsible adults as its own form of abuse; especially if you take into account a Dr. Phil definition of the word that I really like — "Abuse is 'abnormally using' something."
I know that growing up, this wasn't the biggest priority in my home and boy did I have to learn some lessons the hard way once I was out on my own. Don't bounce checks. Don't get a credit card without a job (heads up on that, college freshmen). SAVE MONEY. If you're going to be a freelancer, hire an accountant. The list goes on and on.
Hmph. Apparently, I'm not alone because according to "This Is How Much Debt the Average American Has Now—at Every Age", people my age (I'll be 45 this year) are, on average, $133,100 in debt. Folks who are under 35? At least $67,000.
You don't want to wait until you're my age (or your parents' age) to start caring about how to handle your coins because when you're financially ill-prepared, life has a way of beating you up (and down) like nothing else can. That's why, even if you're in your 20s, trust me, you want to be vigilant about setting a few money goals so that you can be proactive rather than reactive with your money.
In my opinion, here are 10 to put on your priority list:
1. You Need a Weekly, Monthly, and Annual Budget
I have a friend whose accountant told him that he's been wasting thousands of dollars annually on eating out. It's so out of control that he's been placed on a dining-out budget. Although that might sound crazy to you at first, dig this. It's been reported that if you spend even $100 per month on takeout, that's $1,175 a year!
This is what happens when you spend without a budget. If you want to keep your bills paid (on time) and have a leg up on not accruing debt, it's important to have a weekly, monthly and annual budget. Your weekly one should consist of things like gas and food. Your monthly one should focus mainly on your bills. Your annual one should be all about big purchases and vacations.
If you need a little help putting a budget in place, there are some cool budgeting apps here.
2. Open an Account with a Credit Union
I'm not sure why more of us (me included) don't have accounts with credit unions. They certainly come with some perks that make it well worth our while. For starters, they typically have lower fees and interest rates than most banks. Plus, if you have bad credit and you're trying to change that or qualify for a loan, they tend to want to work with you more than other financial institutions do. According to my friends that use them, another bonus is they provide top-notch customer service.
Every coin has its flip side and credit unions are no different. The two biggies are most have "qualifiers" (like living in a certain region or needing to be in school) to join. Also, since they are smaller than banks, their locations and hours may not be the most convenient. But when you think of the advantages that come with them (especially if you want to buy a house in the near future), they're at least worth looking into.
3. You Should Have a Savings Account (with at least $1,500 in it)
Some people think that the purpose of a savings account is so you have money for emergencies. No, that is what you need an emergency fund for (which we'll get to in just a sec). A savings account is for long-term goals or simply money that you can have set aside that can accrue interest.
If you know you are pretty frivolous with your spending, that's another reason to get one because most banking institutions will limit the number of transfers and withdrawals you can make (it's typically around six a month).
How much should be in your savings account? A lot of financial experts recommend no less than $500 but you can really pat yourself on the back if it's $1,500 or more.
If you want to start a savings account online, check out "Best High-Yield Online Savings Accounts of 2019".
4. You Should Also Have an Emergency Fund
Here's a reality check like a mug: Did you know that 80 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck? This means if they lose their job, they probably can't even cover the following month's expenses.
This is why having an emergency fund is so crucial. Although we hope you won't get a pink slip or your car won't break down any time soon, you don't want to feel like you're up a creek without a paddle if either thing happens.
How much should be in this fund? At least one month's worth of expenses. But even once you reach that goal, it's a good idea to put $50-100 each month into this particular account if you can.
5. Hire a Tax Accountant
Last year, NPR did a special entitled "Freelanced: The Rise of The Contract Workforce". It revealed that approximately 1 in 5 workers are freelance workers. I happen to be one of them.
While nothing beats the sheer pleasure of working in my PJs from the comfort of my crib, let me tell you who I am consistent rivals with — the IRS. I've owed money to them, in some form, for almost 20 years now. A part of the reason is due to filling out 1099s instead of W-2s (which means I'm responsible for my own taxes). But real talk, another part of it is because I didn't invest in a tax accountant the moment I decided to freelance full-time.
Another great read is "Female Entrepreneurs Are the Next Wave of Business Success". If you don't plan on working for someone else, or you'd prefer to be a freelancer, spending money on a tax accountant is money well spent.
6. Download a Money-Making App
I can't tell you how many times I've made some last-minute money to cover an unexpected expense by knowing some ways to make a little cash on the side. One way to do that is by downloading a money-making app.
Ibotta gives you cash back, just for shopping. Field Agent pays you for completing small tasks around the house, etc. iPoll gives you gift cards and airline points in exchange for your opinion. There's a whole world of these kinds of apps at your disposal. And every little bit counts.
7. Reduce Your Amount of Credit Cards (and Credit Card Debt)
Personally, I don't have a credit card. Not one, and my needs have been met and my life hasn't fallen apart. One reason why is due to the fact that I recently read that while the average American household has around $8,000 of revolving debt, about 80 percent of it is due to credit cards. I'm not interested in being a part of that statistic.
Listen, credit cards are not giving you free money. They are high-interest loans that come in the form of little pieces of plastic. Convenience-wise, a debit card can do the same thing a credit card can (hold or book a reservation, etc.). If you're using them for big expenses, saving up and paying cash is the much smarter route. You'll own whatever it is you purchased and you won't have to worry about receiving a bill in the mail later.
But if you absolutely must have at least one in your possession, look for a low-interest card and pay your card off monthly. Otherwise, the interest alone may have you constantly playing catch-up.
8. Tithe to Yourself
All Christians reading this, I am well aware of Malachi 3. Yes, tithing is important. What's also important is self-care.
Oftentimes, what used to get me into financial trouble is, I'd randomly go on a shopping binge or treat myself to a spa appointment without taking my other financial obligations into consideration. This isn't a problem since I now set money aside each month for myself.
A lot of folks who live by this principle, set aside 10 percent of each paycheck for themselves. It goes to things like pampering, entertainment, or even travel. But even if that's too steep for you, do try and set aside between 3-5 percent. If you make $2,000 a month, 3 percent of that is $60. That's a mani/pedi each month or, if you save up for six months (and you look for deals), $360 can earn you an entire spa day (and then some) — all without pulling away from your cell phone bill or rent money in order to make it happen.
9. Make (at Least) One Investment
Investments are something else that pays off. Word on the street is, smart ones for people in their 30s include buying property and investing in stock-based index funds (which can help to set you up for retirement), like bonds and cryptocurrencies.
Even if you already own or, for whatever the reason, don't want to purchase a house to live in; I have a friend who's turning 29 this year who owns three Airbnbs in downtown Nashville. And chile, he's clearing $6,000-9,000 each month on those alone. No joke.
10. Get a Side Hustle
If someone were to ask me what I do for a living, I'd say I am a marriage life coach, a writer, and a doula. I'm pretty passionate about all three, so I wouldn't necessarily call any of them "side hustles". But the point I'm making here is I don't have all of my eggs in one basket.
Neither should you. Another friend of mine runs his own business. He's in his late 30s and cleared over $250,000 last year. But he's constantly talking to me about how it could all end in a blink (he's in the music industry; that's why he says that) and so he needs to come up with other sources of making income.
Being in your 20s and having a regular gig and a side hustle?! Just knowing the importance of having multiple streams of income will make riding this financial roller coaster ride we're all on so much easier to handle. Believe that.
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Feature image by Getty Images.
Originally published on February 8, 2019