Having money to spend on the things you want is a goal of all but the most altruistic of us. So too, is getting out debt, or not being buried alive by bills that spend your paychecks for you. No matter what your life goals are; simply have a good job and raise a family, build a quality nest-egg, or building your own castle - you, at some level, care about your finances.
If your like me, in your late 20's, then you're likely dealing with the ramifications of attending a four year college, spending beyond your means for a period of time, and actually considering your future..finally. Maybe you've gone off and earned yourself a Master's Degree, or a PhD, and now you have to pay back all those loans that helped you survive for so many years. Or, maybe you have always worked, living paycheck to paycheck, saving when you could, but mostly spending your earnings on the here and now.
Regardless of your current situation staring down age 30 is intimidating in so many ways. I mean, by your thirtieth birthday you should really have your shit figured out...right? You should be married (or planning on it), have kids (or should be preparing for them), a house, a steady job that puts money in the bank, and have money saved for the future.
Well, at least that's what society and social media will you. The refrigerator door full of all your friend's weddings invitations, the endless pictures of their kids on social media, and a constant stream of financing offers that fill your mailbox serve as a "screw you, you're an adult now" - when all you want to do is take a day off work and bury yourself in your blanket fort.
What isn't factored in for so many, especially those of us who had to take out loans to pay for our education, is that we have buried up to our eyes in debt since we were 21 years old. We didn't get to assess our salary's stretch-ability in terms of the debt that a car or house would bring. No, instead we were sent into the work force with a thirty, fifty, and even hundred thousand dollar chain attached to our wallet, our dreams, and our future.
And still, some geezer sitting on the porch of his home he had paid off in 1972 will rant, "by your age I had a house, a wife, two kids, and a nice family car...your still living in a studio apartment by yourself...you're lazy".
Thanks old man! Surely it doesn't matter that my job required an education that was price gouged by greedy people your age who wouldn't capitalize on generations of people looking to do more with their lives than work for a drunk foreman and get by on a barely-above-minimum wage. Moreover, sir, your car cost five-thousand dollars, your house thirty, and your kids weren't asking for new I-phones every freakin' Christmas.
You don't need that type of negativity in your life.
It doesn't matter much what an older generation thinks, but sadly it is often our peers that we struggle most with. New phones, cars, and long nights in clubs you can't afford often drag down our financial raft under a constant wave of debt. Whether obvious or not, there is a level of peer pressure put on us by those who are doing better, and even those who are doing worst. Picking up a tab, buying a new bag, or leasing a Lexus to impress girls all involve other people ruling your money.
I know, because I've done it in the past.
It all began with buying a Nike Sasquatch driver with my first ever credit card. I wanted a boomer of a driver, which i still have ironically, and I didn't have the cash...so I bought it. Soon came clothes I didn't need, the thousands I burnt through on bullshit supplements to get jacked, and eventually the alcohol I need to dance, flirt, and forget where I live.
Soon came housing, insurance, living essentials, and the reality that I had to pay back the sixty thousand dollars I owed for my school. Oh, and I still needed money for partying, video games, and supplements that kept me jacked.
At 23 years of age I moved into a 500 sq. foot studio in NW Washington D.C. with rent over twelve-hundred-dollars and over fifty-five thousand dollars in debt. I was earning, at best, three thousand dollars a month.
Now, halfway through my 28th year on this Earth I am debt free, pay about 1500 a month for half of rent and utilities in a much nicer apartment (that's closer to work), and have made serious headway towards building a healthy financial future. Now, I didn't do this all on my own. People have offered advice., my parents never let eat beans from a can, and one person in particular helped me get out from under a ridiculous interest rate that made paying principal impossible.
I'm certainly not going to be buying a Tesla in all cash anytime soon, nor will I be taking extended leaves from my job, but I sure as hell know my finances are unfucked.
It doesn't take much more than a well-thought out plan to change your financial status and your future. Like anything though, plans fail if there aren't corresponding actions.
Never Miss Compounding Interest
Whether it is your 401K provided through your employer, a private IRA (Roth or Traditional), or even calculated stock and ETF investments done on your own - you need to take advantage of compounding interest.
In short, compounding interest is the idea that money will snowball into a larger sum over time. It is how the rich get much richer, and the middle class secures their future.
For example, let's say you finished this year with $100.00 deposited into your account and your account received the market average of 8% interest. You would have 108 dollars at the end of the year. Let's say you only deposited 100.00 again during year 2, while still receiving 8% interest - your account would roll over into $236.00, and so on until you withdrew at retirement.
A slow start for sure, but with time you'll be rolling over a lot of money, which even at a lower-than-average 5% return ends up being a significant boost to your retirement. Moreover, you'll probably be stocking away more than 100 bucks a month, so your numbers will grow much larger, much faster.
A few rules -
1. Always max out your employee contribution to your 401K to the point where your employer matches. Otherwise, you are literally leaving free money on the table. If they are willing to give you a percentage match - take it.
2. You can contribute a total of $5,500 to either a Roth or Traditional IRA every year (or both). I suggest that you max this contribution if you can. It comes down to about 450.00 a month, which is a lot for some, but will grow significantly in just a few years.
3. If you choose to invest in stocks and ETFs, start with what you know about. Don't just throw money at something and hope for the best.
Always Save the Extra
It has long been recommended to set up an automatic savings deposit when you get paid. Separate from your investments, these deposits go into what we call "liquid savings", or as it's commonly known - your emergency fund. Most people should have about 6 months of cash on hand in case of emergency.
The amount you automatically save is going to be dictated by your bills, but should always remain the same percentage. It'll keep you honest. Moreover, you can't treat your savings as overflow money. It is there to hide from you and your pesky desire for tequila shots at 2AM.
Now, at the end of month...once all of your bills are paid and your necessary elements covered - pay yourself again. If you have 100 bucks sitting around that you can either blow away, sit on, or save...always save.
No New Debt
I know as well as anybody how nice a new TV looks hanging on your wall. I know that your car is beat up and doesn't run perfectly. I know that you'd really like to have a crazy night and a hell of a hangover...but...Do you want the bills?
If your goal is to be financially fit, then you need to be able to separate the needs from the wants. That's obvious, so here is one more. You need to separate what you really want from those things you purchase on a whim, or as a desire to impress someone.
Set a milestone for yourself -
Get out of your current debt
Build a liquid savings of X-dollars
Save enough for a life event (marriage, kid, car, house).
Once you've achieved these things...then, and only then, do you consider taking on new debt. Your credit score will thank you, your savings account will thank you, and you'll thank yourself when you stare down a new life.
I know, I know. I'm just a personal trainer. Why am I handing out finance advice? It's because because healthy in the body often requires a healthier wallet. Studies have shown that most couples stress about sex, money, and children. Moreover, studies have shown that people who are not in significant debt, or make a comfortable living, have lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and even premature death.
Lastly, having some extra spending cash can net you the trainer you've been denying yourself, or help you pay for the gym membership you've been missing out on. It can put healthier food in your fridge and a better bed to lay your sleepy head.
If your like me and you are staring down age 30, then you should be focused on getting every aspect of your health right. Your mind, body, spirit, and finances should all be unfucked...or at the very least...in the process of unfucking.