It's never too early to start building good money habits.
Believe it or not, most of what we understand about money we inherit at a young age and most of that comes from our parents. You know, if you're old enough or young enough, you've probably heard the adages abound, "it doesn't grow on trees" or "save for a rainy day" or the one I love best (from Eagles singer/songwriter Don Henley) "they don't make hearses with luggage racks."
But, out of the gate, what can you focus on that will pay meaningful long-term benefits?
Well here a few hints that might just help you out...
- Take care of your student loans- not only do you have an obligation to get these paid, but it can make a difference in your creditworthiness and as such your potential to get a good solid job. You can consolidate your loans but that too comes with drawbacks so consider consolidation carefully. Also you may qualify for an Income Based Repayment Plan if your earnings qualify you. This caps repayment at 15% of your income and that might be less than the total of your otherwise "normal" payments
- Get your credit cards paid off- especially if you have more than $5,000 worth of debt on them. Take the time to call your credit card company and see if you can negotiate a lower rate. It's at least worth a shot.
- Set up an emergency fund- ok, this may sound like "save for a rainy day" and it is more or less. But setting aside some cash each week so that you have available dollars in case there's something major is a sound policy for both those starting out and those already past that point. Remember, cash doesn't go down in value so stop looking at your Fidelity account or 401(k) plan as your back up. In 2007-2008 your Fidelity or 401(k) backup plan may have lost more than 40% of it's value. Pick a bank or online option such as Ally.
- Get in your employers 401(k) plan and put away enough to get the full match- it might seem like a big hit now, but saving for tomorrow today is a great option and your employer match? Well, that's just free money. How much more than the amount that you'd need to get the match should you put away? I'd say probably not much more, lest your 401(k) becomes your only "investment" program which would be fine assuming you're never going to need any money till your 70 and 1/2 years old! Highly unlikely by the way.
- Have a budget- if you can't keep score you can't tell if you're winning or losing. And without a budget you basically can't keep score. Trust me; almost every expense you make will seem perfectly rational and imminently necessary but they're usually not. Set up categories in your online banking, consider Mint, or Quicken or one of the other online options. And then stick to it.
Good money habits are like good eating habits....a bit less enjoyable to start, but infinitely better than the alternative of trying to repair everything when it's way too late to make much of a difference.
All things in moderation....including finances. You don't have to become a penny pincher today...just make slow and steady progress towards keeping your house in order. That often involves small steps, paying attention and asking for help. Ignorance may be bliss sometimes, but in money matters bliss gets awfully expensive awfully quick.