Whether or not you have a job with a pension, these four deceptively simple steps will set twenty-somethings on the path to financial stability.
1) Save more; spend less. I don’t want to sound like a scold, but these are the years to develop strong habits of saving. This will help you avoid debt and interest charges on purchases, and will provide you with a cushion against emergencies. Financial writers offer plenty of tips intended to help you save, but the best way is simply to begin. Set up automatic deposits from each paycheck in a savings account separate from whatever retirement funds you build. There are many, many books and websites offering tips and tricks about living within your means, but the bottom line is com-mon sense: avoid extravagance. Think about the things you buy, and why you are buying them. Ask yourself if you need them. Don’t deprive yourself, but a little mindfulness goes a long way.
2) If you have credit cards, pay them down. If you don’t, you’ll be spending money to pay off interest, and you could probably rack up l ate- payment fees as well. It’s like having a big hole in your pocket. If you have cards with benefits like airline miles and rebates, keeping a zero balance means you get the benefits with-out giving the credit card company so much money that it makes the benefits no bargain. As the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston put it, “Paying off credit card debt has a riskless return that aver-ages around 14 percent, which no other asset class can match.”
3) Set up a 401K or an IRA. Saving is a habit that you can build. So start saving for retirement just as soon as you can, especially if you have an employer that matches your 401(k) plan. Free money! Find out about your payroll plan at work. If you are self- employed, look into the options offered by your state government. A few years of savings early on can add hundreds of thousands of dollars to your retirement fund over the decades. You don’t have to start with 10 percent; you can open your 401(k) with a smaller percentage of your income and add a percentage point a year until you build up to 10 percent, or better. When you get a raise, put part of it toward retirement; if you never got it, you’ll never miss it.
4) Pick your funds wisely. There’s no need to get fancy starting out. Make simple mutual fund choices, and don’t invest in more complex financial instruments like annuities or exchange-traded funds until you’ve given yourself time to study up.
Reprinted from This is the Year I Put My Financial Life in Order by arrangement with Avery, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2018, John Schwartz.