When I first graduated college, I thought I was making bank…and I spent like it, too. I remember allowing myself to buy an Icee while at the movies, and it was the tip of the iceberg that sent me over the edge. I loved the feeling of not having to worrying about buying $5 frozen juice, and let me tell you, those first few months I ran with that mindset. I purchased those shoes I loved but didn’t really need, rounds at the bar, a new TV…you name, I bought.
However, after a couple of months, I looked at my bank account and noticed that it hadn’t really moved. At all. I thought I was making all of this money, but it ends up I was also spending all of it, too. And for a girl who had bigger plans – like travel and buying a home and starting to save for retirement – this attitude just wasn’t going to cut it.
Most college seniors have already graduated, returned their caps and gowns, and started their journey into the real world. Financial security usually isn’t at the forefront of their minds at this point, but it’s one of the most important aspects to focus on in your early 20s in order to build real wealth and live the life you want to live. And because of this, I want to share the 10 tasks every college graduate needs to do now in order to live a crazy fabulous life later. Who’s game?
Coming out of school, you will find that many of your friends will start to buy nicer things, live in trendier apartments, and wear clothes that aren’t from Forever 21. Yes, other stores exist. You’ll learn to love them.
However, while that may look great in the short-term, those pricey new buys don’t always serve your long-term goals. You need to figure out what is important to you, how you want your life to look in 5/10/20 years and determine how you’re going to get there.
And don’t worry about making them too lofty at first. Maybe you just want to travel to a new country next year. Or pay off your lowest student loan. Or buy an actual bed that doesn’t sit directly on the floor. I don’t care what it is, just make sure it aligns with your values and pour your energy into it.
I’ve said it (10,000) times before, and I will continue to say it until you actually do it: You HAVE to create a budget, especially right out of school. Because you’re earning more than you ever have (but also spending more than you ever have, too—hello, student loan debt) it’s hard to gauge how far your money actually goes. I thought my salary supported the spending habits I was exhibiting those first 2 months out of college but it didn’t, and because I didn’t have a budget, I had to find that out the hard way.
Fortunately, I hadn’t dug myself into credit card debt, but it can easily happen if you don’t have a good handle on your money situation. So sit down, look at what you earn each month, and decide how you’re going to allocate those earnings. This process is very powerful if you are dedicated to doing it each month, and it’s one of the ways I’ve been able to amass a fairly significant amount of wealth in the 8 years since I’ve graduated college.
SAVE FOR AN EMERGENCY FUND
Word to the wise: If s#%! hits the fan, you do not want to be standing underneath it without an umbrella. Trust me.
Having an emergency fund ensures that you won’t have to incur debt (especially credit card debt – those rates are higher than that kid who just moved out to Colorado for “job opportunities”) when your car breaks down, you tear your ACL, or you find that your apartment is crawling with bedbugs and you need to break your lease FAST. You always think those situations won’t happen to you, but they can and they will. Having at least a $1,000 emergency fund (and eventually up to 3-6 months wages to cover you in case of a job loss) will allow you to sleep better knowing that those situations are covered.
And ladies & gents, peace of mind is a beautiful thing. Don’t underestimate it.
AUTOMATE, AUTOMATE, AUTOMATE
You know that emergency fund I was just speaking of that you’re going to set up right after reading this article? Well, the best way to build one is to go the lazy route and automate.
I love automating my savings because it’s something that a) I don’t have to think about and b) ensures I am automatically working towards my goals. When the money isn’t in my bank account, I don’t even think about spending it, which is why I always choose to pull my savings out right after my wages are directly deposited into my bank account. Out of sight, out of mind, and in my back pocket.
Don’t only do this for your savings, but for your retirement, too. I automate my 401(k) savings through my employer, but if this isn’t offered to you, set up an account with an online brokerage and have them pull the money out of your account just like your savings account provider. Putting both of these – your normal savings and retirement savings – on autopilot is one of the best wealth-building moves you could make right out of school. Don’t miss out on it.
DON’T BUY A NEW CAR
This literally is the most idiotic move right out of school. Why? Because cars are depreciable assets, meaning that they lose value over time rather than gaining it. This is SO important to understand because in your early 20s or even 30s, you have the power of time on your hand. Don’t believe me? I’ll prove you wrong.
Let’s say you could either a) finance a $20,000 new car or b) finance a used car for $8,000 and invest the difference in monthly payments in the stock market. With option A, you will have spent $22,500 over your 6 year loan and have a car worth maybe $10,000. Your net worth impact at that point is -$12,500 . With option B, you’ll have spent $9,000 over the 6 year loan and have a car worth maybe $1,000, making the net worth impact -$8,000; however, we haven’t yet factored in the growth of that extra cash you put in the stock market. Over those 6 years, if you invested the difference in the monthly car payments of the $20,000 vehicle ($312) and the $8,000 ($125), you’d have an additional $16,150 to your name, meaning the total net worth impact is a positive $8,150. And that’s not counting the additional earnings you’ll receive in the next 20+ years on that investment.
See now why buying used is the better choice?
[RELATED: Why I Still Drive My Piece of Crap Car]
FIND YOUR SIDE HUSTLE
I know, I know, I know. You just found this killer job with an amazing salary, and now I’m asking you to do more? Why yes, yes I am.
I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but you have SO much time on your hands to start building some serious wealth. And if you utilize that time now, your 30 and 40 year-old self will thank you. Tremendously.
Find your passion or something you like to do in your free-time and figure out how to make money doing it. Very few millionaires get to that status by solely relying on their 9-to-5, so the earlier you can identify and perfect this, the better.
PAY OFF DEBT
Student loan debt is one of the most debilitating factors in why millennials cannot build true wealth, and I don’t want you to be included as one of those millennials. Use that side hustle we just talked about to rapidly/ferociously/viciously attack your debt. Snowball method, avalanche method, whatever floats your boat – just find something that works and get that debt gone.
And once you become debt-free (excluding your home mortgage), stay that way. It’s a wonderful place to live.
[RELATED: How to Cut Your Student Loan Payment in Half]
DEVELOP AN EXERCISE ROUTINE
You may have been able to eat an entire pizza and not gain any weight at 20, but at some point in your life, that is all going to change. Thus, you need to develop good habits now in order to make sure you don’t balloon like the blueberry girl in Willy Wonka. Because that ain’t pretty.
Find a workout routine that you love & can stick with, and implement that into your weekly schedule. Not only is this great for your health, but it lowers stress and will help your wallet, too. I mean, healthcare isn’t cheap, ladies, and the more you can take care of yourself on your own, the less you’ll have to spend on someone else to do it.
[RELATED: 7 Reasons Why Women Need to Hit the Weights]
FIND A MENTOR/ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER
You know you have goals. I know you have goals. But who’s going to really hold you accountable to them?
It’s easy for your friends to say it’s okay for you to put that swimsuit on your credit card and fund the trip to Cabo that goes along with it the same way. I mean, YOLO, right?
Wrong. Your friend is only telling you that because they want to justify the fact that they’re doing the same. And all that leads to is a massive credit card bill and a life of mediocrity. No thanks.
Find someone who isn’t afraid to tell you the truth even when it’s hard to hear. This could be a friend, a co-worker, someone you met at a networking conference last weekend, whomever. Just make sure it’s someone a little older and wiser than you who can lay down the truth, and then share your goals with them. Having someone who you can model yourself after or who can hold you accountable will help you continue down your pre-determined path and not get distracted by the shiny things along the way.
DOWNLOAD (3) PODCASTS
And no, I don’t mean something quirky or entertaining. Download a few podcasts that will help you continue to learn about your career, your health, your faith, your passion, yourself. Learning doesn’t stop once you’ve tossed that cap and gown, and I’ll be honest, some of the greatest strides in my own personal knowledge have come in the years post-college. And it’s so fulfilling knowing that the measures you’ve taken are going to directly benefit your life.
So even if it’s not a podcast, grab a book, subscribe to a magazine, or find someone in the field you can learn from. There will never be a point where you can’t get better, but it’s important to strive to get there anyway.
Your 20s are meant to be fun, but that doesn’t also mean they also can’t be extremely productive (and financially rewarding). Go travel, learn how to ski, and stay out until 4am two nights in a row...just make sure you’re also working on these 10 tasks. Remember, balance is key.
Would love to hear from you: What is one thing you wish you would have known earlier in your 20s that you know now?