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One of the benefits of looking back on your life is you get to see how stupid you were.
I mean that with all sincerity and respect. When I look back on some of the decisions I made in my youth, whether it was dying my hair blonde (not a good look) or not taking my physical health seriously (I maxed out at 240 lbs…ya, not a good look either) I feel a mixture of regret and…well, regret.
When it comes to how I handled my finances and some of the money moves I made, I didn’t fare much better. Sure, I made some wise choices like avoiding massive student loan debt and avoiding living beyond my means, but there were a lot of stupid money moves as well.
Really, I was lucky to escape my 20’s with just a few financial bumps and bruises.
They say hindsight is 20-20. Looking back, I would’ve done a number of things differently. If I had to do it all over again, here are 10 money moves I’d make before the odometer turned over to 30.
1) Become financially literate
As far as smart money moves go, I wasted most of my 20’s. I had very little knowledge when it came to budgeting, investing, insurance, or a plethora of other personal finance topics.
I really didn’t start taking my money seriously until I got engaged to my now wife. She came to me and asked me to take more of an interest in learning about finances, since we were going to be managing our money together, and that sparked me on a long journey of learning.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t until I was almost 30.
Be that as it may, I dove in HARD and began learning TONS about money. In this day and age, there is no excuse for a lack of learning.
I spent a lot of time at the library reading books about how to be financially successful. A few of my first reads are still among my favorites:
Total Money Makeover – Dave Ramsey
Millionaire Teacher – Andrew Hallam
The Millionaire Next Door – Thomas Stanley
The first two books are no-nonsense, easy reads that are short on big words and full of practical wisdom and actionable tips.
And The Millionaire Next Door is a life-changing book that will give you a new perspective on what true wealth ACTUALLY looks like.
If you’re wanting to start your journey to financial literacy and make simple but effective money moves, start by reading them.
2) Get out of debt
Getting through your 20’s without debt can seem like a herculean task, but it is possible.
When it came to debt, I made a combo of smart and stupid money moves before I hit the big 3 oh.
Some debt, like student loans, can be seen as an “investment” and can feel like a foregone conclusion.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
By utilizing a combination of frugality, networking, and hard work, I was able to avoid the student loan chasm that many people fall into.
Other debt, like credit cards or car payments, are just plain DUMB and should be avoided at all costs. I got tangled in the web of car loans and 0% financing and have regretted it ever since.
Definitely not one of my finer moments.
You too probably have a mixed bag of proud and not so proud moments when it comes to debt. Whatever you’ve done, or whatever mess you find yourself in, make paying off your debt one of your highest priorities before you hit 30.
3) Choose a career with a solid Return on Investment (ROI)
Don’t go to school for what you’re passionate about unless you know that you can make a living at it.
You may be passionate about pumpkin carving, but you’re probably not going to make a living doing it.
Maybe you love art history and want to be the next hero from the Da Vinci Code. That’s great. But before you do, you’d better have a solid plan in place for how you’re going to make a living with that degree.
Now I’m sure there ARE people who do quite well with art history degrees. But the jobs those type of passion niche fields are limited and competition is fierce.
A better plan would be to get a more marketable degree, perhaps in business or communications, and try to find a job working at an art gallery. Or make the art history thing part of your side hustle.
For me, I’ve always loved teaching. And since my professional hockey career didn’t work out (my passion), I got my degree in education. I knew that while I’d never get rich, I’d have a great chance of making a solid middle-class living and that I’d have the stability and job security the teaching field enjoys.
Either way, one of the most important money moves you’ll make in your 20’s is getting a degree with a solid ROI.
Be sure to make this money move wisely.
4) Avoid lifestyle inflation
There’s a lot of pressure to increase your spending as you transition from college into the working world. Whether it’s buying a nicer ride, expensive designer clothes, or taking better vacations, keeping up with the Joneses will be an ever-present temptation.
But here’s the thing.
As Dave Ramsey says, the Joneses are broke!
Thomas Stanley details what this looks like in The Millionaire Next Door when he describes what a millionaire spends on a new car (most have never spent more than $30,000), the most they’ve ever paid for a suit (half have never paid more than $400) or their favorite brand of watch (Seiko).
Not exactly living in the lap of luxury.
Poor people who look rich, you know, the people with 3 financed luxury vehicles sitting in the driveway of the 4000 square foot house beside a financed boat and RV, well they only care about “looking” rich.
They’re far more concerned about presenting a facade of wealth than they are with money in the bank.
TRUE millionaires don’t get sucked into trying to spend so that they “look” rich. They’re not all about fancy cars, clothes or trinkets.
They care about wealth, which is often the polar opposite of extravagantly spending beyond your means.
As they make more, they don’t spend more. Sure, they may treat themselves more than in the past, but their spending doesn’t increase at the same rate as their income does.
What do they do with the extra cash?
Probably the best money move they make is that they’re prodigious savers, as we’ll talk about in a moment.
5) Become financially independent
There’s nothing wrong with accepting help from your parents as you get your financial feet under you.
I was very fortunate to have my parents pay for my books in college and let me live at home for next to nothing.
But there comes a time in every young person’s life where they need to leave the nest and fly on their own.
You shouldn’t be 30 and living with your parents.
And you shouldn’t be living on your own with your mom still paying your cell phone bill.
Come on. Grow up.
You’ve got a degree that you made sure was marketable (hopefully) and now you’re going to get a job. And a place of your own.
There’s something incredibly liberating about paying for your own stuff and being financially responsible for your future, and not reliant on anyone except yourself for your destiny.
It’s called being an adult, and by the time you’re 30, you should have a firm grasp on it.
6) Get an emergency fund in place
Part of being a financially independent adult is being able to weather the financial storms that life throws at you without needing to be rescued. Whether it’s health scares, car accidents, job loss, or any number of things, take it from me that the feeling of invincibility you have in your 20’s fades as you move past 30.
And make no mistake about it, you are not invincible. Life will come at you with all sorts of things and if you’re not prepared, it can get messy in a hurry.
Since I’ve gotten my financial act together, about 10 years ago now, I’ve averaged close $1000 every year in money emergencies.
Without an Emergency Fund, I’d be firmly entrenched in the debt spiral.
What’s the debt spiral?
It’s where a person borrows to cover unexpected expenses then only pays off the minimum to stay afloat because their monthly income is already used up on monthly expenses. Because they’re unable to decrease their loan balance and with interest rates at 15% or worse, the balance continues to grow month after month, as does the feeling of hopelessness they experience when all of a sudden…they encounter another emergency!
It’s not pretty and it can sink a person’s ability to make wise money moves in a hurry.
To learn more about building an Emergency Fund to protect you when it starts to pour, check out my piece all about it!
7) Start saving for retirement
What I’m about to say may sound crazy if you’re in your 20’s, but trust me, it’s not.
The most important time to save for retirement is in your 20’s…or right now for the rest of us.
When I look back at my 20’s and how little I saved I feel…stupid.
Yep, that’s the only way to describe it.
Well, consider this.
Two buddies, Dave and Ben age 19, start chatting about beginning to invest. Ben is all talk and decides he’d rather spend his money on his fancy toys than invest. But Dave, on the other hand, has an eye for the future, and he starts putting away $2000 every year.
By the time he’s 26, he’s got over $27,000 socked away, and feels pretty good about himself!! He decides he’s in good shape and stops saving any new money.
Ben, seeing Dave and getting a bit jealous and concerned about his lack of savings, decides he’s going to follow Dave’s earlier example. He starts putting away $2000 as well.
By the time both of these old friends are 65, they have dramatically different amounts saved.
In addition to having less money than Dave, Ben has actually saved $62,000 MORE.
How does that work?
It’s the power of compounding. Because Dave started earlier than Ben, he didn’t need to save as much to get a MASSIVE payout at 65.
Your 20’s are by FAR the most valuable years when it comes to investing. I kick myself when I think about how I squandered those precious years of compounding.
Don’t miss out on the power of compounding, one of the best money moves you can make in your 20’s.
8) Make sure you’ve got life insurance
In your 20’s you feel invincible. Contemplating the end of your life isn’t something that many 20 year olds spend much time thinking about.
But you should.
Because inevitably, it will come.
Yes, that’s a real downer, but it’s true. Sticking your head in the sand and ignoring death is, well, stupid. Because it’s going to come.
The way life insurance works, the younger you are, the cheaper it is. So you can typically get a lot of term insurance for very little.
Now for most 20 somethings, they don’t need a million dollars in life insurance. Maybe you just graduated, you’re renting a place, and you’re working on building up your savings. There’s no mortgage payment to cover, and you don’t have a spouse and kids to look after if you were to pass away. Because of this, you may be tempted to put off making this money move until you check some of those boxes.
But I wouldn’t.
As I said, life insurance is cheapest when you’re young and healthy, and for most people, they will eventually get married. In fact, by the age of 45, 86% of people have been married at least once.
If you’re in your 20’s, do your future self a favor and take advantage of one of the cheaper money moves you can make. In fact, you can get $100,000 of life insurance on a 30 year term for under $15 a month.
At 15 bucks a month, it’s money well spent to protect your future!
9) Choose your friends wisely
Birds of a feather flock together.
In college, it was fun hanging out with those crazy friends who liked to spend money like they had a week to live. You knew they were nuts and you didn’t want to BE them, but watching their insanity was entertaining.
But as a “mature” adult now, you need to be much more intentional with who your friends are. If you hang out with people who are dumb with their money, who don’t save and who spend money they don’t have, it won’t be long until you end up like them.
If you want to crush your finances, you need to surround yourself with money rockstars.
These money maestro’s will encourage you to live within your means, save before you spend, and do the things that millionaires do.
When you hang out with them, their money wisdom will rub off on you and you’ll start to move towards your financial goals at lightning speed.
10) Use your time wisely
In my 20’s, I watched a lot of TV.
It’s actually really pathetic and I’m kind of ashamed to admit it. I was addicted. It wasn’t pretty.
And while I still like to relax by watching my beloved Oilers play hockey or something on Netflix, my days of wasting time in front of the tube are long behind me.
I often don’t have time to watch TV.
What? Why not?
Because now I’m working on my side hustle, this blog.
It used to be very common for me to watch 2-3 hours of TV in the evenings after I got home from work. In the summer, when the kids went down for naps, I’d often chill on the couch in front of the TV for a few hours. All in all, a royal waste of time.
Now, I find myself using many of those spare minutes to work on my blog. Maybe I’m writing a post while my kiddos are napping (like now) or I’m updating my website in the evening, or I’m working on building my course about how to teach kids about money.
Regardless of what I’m doing, I’m typically doing something productive, something with a positive long-term benefit.
And I feel great knowing that I’m investing in myself and my future in such a way.
Starting a side hustle is one of the best money moves you can make. There are TONS of things you can do to make a bit of extra money:
And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Whatever you decide to do, the most important thing to remember is to do it!!
That sounds repetitive, but I think it’s profound (if I do say so myself).
Too many people have grand ideas but no follow through. Once you have an idea, go for it. Don’t waste too much time thinking it through and trying to plan it to perfection. Start moving forward with it and make adjustments on the fly.
As I like to say, Ready, Fire, Aim.
Best Money Moves – Bringing It All Together
So there you have it, 10 of the best money moves you can make before you hit 30 to get your finances in tip-top shape.
Completing these 10 items will put you in an INCREDIBLE position to build wealth in your 30’s and beyond. You’ll be light years ahead of most other millennials, and you’ll have the peace of mind and flexibility to enjoy the amazing opportunities life will bring your way.
Not only will you be able to avoid the financial stresses that plague many, you’ll look forward to the future with a quiet confidence and self-assuredness that will make you the envy of your friends.
What are the best money moves you’d recommend making in your 20’s? Were there some that I missed that you’d add? Add to the conversation in the comments below or on Twitter @method_money or my Facebook page Method To Your Money. You can also find me on Pinterest. Want more great ideas for mastering your money? Sign up to receive my weekly emails detailing how to keep more of your hard earned cash!