3) Get a credit card, but use it like a debit card
There are a lot of mixed feelings when it comes to credit cards. This is understandable since the average household that’s carrying credit card debt has a balance of more than $15,000. Credit cards have gotten a lot of people into a lot of trouble.
But if used right, credit cards are actually a great asset. Get a credit card but use it just like you would use a debit card. Only spend what you’ve budgeted for and can pay in full before the end of the month.
You can even transfer money from your checking account to your credit card weekly to help you stay on track and avoid overspending.
When paying off your balance in full each month, having a credit card helps you build your credit history and maintain a healthy credit score. And a great credit score will make it easier for you to achieve big goals later on like buying a home. Building credit takes time, so the earlier you start the better.
4) Create a budget and stick to it
Personal finance is definitely not one-size-fits-all, but there a few rules of thumb that can serve as a great guide. One is the 50/30/20 rule.
This rule answers the question, “How should I spend each paycheck?”
When you look at your monthly take home pay, you should be spending about 50% on your needs (like housing and groceries), 30% on wants (like entertainment and shopping), and 20% on goals (like saving for retirement and building your emergency fund).
You might need to review spending daily or weekly at first to get budgeting right, but doing this is worthwhile. Living within your means is key to financial success.
5) Establish financial goals and write them down
It’s easy to feel like you’re not getting ahead financially if you don’t know what you want. A great exercise is writing down your goals or creating a vision board so that you can start to imagine what your dream life looks like.
Do you want to go on vacation twice a year? Is owning a home something you want in the future?
The first step to getting what you want is figuring out what you want. Then figuring out how much money you will need to make those things happen.
Goals can obviously change as you get older, but starting your earning years with a goal setting mentality will give you a running head start.
6) Start saving for retirement -- and max out that match!
Not saving for retirement is one of the top money mistakes recent grads make. Even small contributions now make a huge difference.
Exactly how much you should save for retirement is determined by how much debt you have and other more timely goals. But just like with budgeting, there are rules of thumb that can give you general guidelines.
For those who start saving for retirement before age 32, socking away 10-12% of your salary is the sweet spot. It’s also important to take into consideration your employer’s match. A match is essentially free money that your employer contributes towards your retirement fund -- so max it out if you’re offered a match.
7) Get your friends on board
40% of millennials have spent money they didn’t have and gone into debt to keep up with their peers. But just because your friends are spending money doesn’t mean they have cash to burn. Rather than go into debt together, start on the right foot as a team. Find cheap happy hour spots near your office and plan fun weekend activities that are affordable.
You probably know less about your friends’ finances than you think. So rather than make assumptions, have the money talk and get on the same page about your budgets.
8) Start tracking your net worth and credit score
Just like you’d track your weight if you were trying to get fit or your time if you were training to run a marathon, the only way to know if you’re making progress financially is to know your numbers.
Since you’re just starting your financial journey, now is a great time to do this. The first number you’ll want to track is your net worth. This is calculated by subtracting your liabilities (what you owe) from your assets (what you have). You want your net worth to consistently be increasing over time.
Another important number to track is your credit score. This number takes into account your financial behavior to predict creditworthiness. Anytime you want to borrow money in the future, like to purchase a home or even get a new credit card, your credit score will be evaluated.
9) Have at least 2x monthly expenses in checking
Just like an emergency fund, having a fully padded checking account is a crucial part of eliminating money stress.
When you have at least two months of your expenses in your checking account at all times, you can rest assured that you have enough money to pay this month’s bills and next month’s. You’ll also avoid pricey overdraft fees and any monthly fees your bank may charge if your balance falls below a certain threshold.