Congratulations! After 17+ years of schooling, you’ve graduated college …
Yet you know zero things about money.
I know. I’ve been there.
Seven years ago, I graduated with a heap of debt and ton of ambition, but no idea how to build wealth other than “get a great job and invest.”
That’s not very practical advice, so let me share with you five major lessons that will help you build a fortune in your 20s.
Set yourself up to win.
No matter what your income is, you’ll find a way to spend it. It’s what we do. So, the key is to automate your finances so that the money goes where it should be going without your interaction.
Automate your bills so you never miss a payment (one missed payment will make a big impact on your credit score, which as boring as it is, does matter a lot).
Automate your investments so you build your retirement fund on autopilot. Will the stock market crash in your lifetime? Yes, it will, but there is still no better place for a beginner to put their money long-term than in stocks (in my opinion).
Action Item: Take one Sunday afternoon and log online or call your bank to set up automatic deposits everywhere possible. From bills to investments to your savings accounts, set everything up so that money flows from your paycheck and bank account to where you want it to go, so you don’t waste it elsewhere.
REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus
Save more than you think you can manage.
As you graduate, you most likely have the least amount of obligations and responsibilities that you’ll ever have. Kids, marriage, mortgages come into play and let’s face it: Things will never get easier.
So, the key is to start now and save more than you think is comfortable. By doing so you learn to live on less, and don’t know any other way.
However, if you begin saving none or just a little, it’s hard to “find” extra money to put towards your future. The easiest way to do it is to start strong right out of the gate!
Your future self will thank you.
Action Item: Set up your 401(k) with your employer and invest more than you feel comfortable doing. 10% is very good, and 15% or more puts you in the top echelon of savers. If your employer doesn’t offer a 401(k), you’ll want to set up a Roth or Traditional IRA.
Shoot for freedom, not riches.
Financial freedom is something that wasn’t in your textbooks, but it should be.
Money doesn’t bring you happiness or peace in and of itself. It is a tool that gives you options, so you should use it as such.
The ultimate financial goal (I believe) is freedom. If you have the ability to do what you want when you want, you are rich. Financial freedom is defined as when your passive income exceeds your expenses.
This means that you don’t have to do any work, yet you still have more money coming in than you’re spending. That’s freedom. Having been fortunate enough to achieve this in my mid 20s, I can tell you that it is priceless.
So, it’s worth looking into how you can build streams of residual and passive income instead of just focusing on getting a job.
Increase your net worth by networking.
Everyone should treat networking as a core part of their job for several reasons.
First of all, your environment creates who you’ll become. So, choose your friends and peers wisely. Find mentors you admire and know that if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
Secondly, the vast majority of jobs don’t come from a resume or online application. They come from relationships. It’s been estimated that 90% of young professionals will lose their job at some point in their careers.
The way to prepare for that are to start taking control of your own career today by building skills and a strong network that will give you the options and opportunities you need to take your career wherever you want to go.
Action Items: Go right now to Meetup.com and join some local groups that interest you. Also, book at least two major live events each year (conferences, training, motivational seminars). Plan to go to one live event locally at least once per month, and make sure at least half of them are outside of your industry.
Focus on what matters.
The Pareto Principle suggests that in most things, 80% of your results will come from 20% of the efforts. If you want to get ahead in the simplest way with your finances, find that 20% to focus on to make a big impact. Those things are: housing and transportation expenses, as well as taxes.
Taxes are the biggest expense that you’ll have in your lifetime. The wealthy understand this, and take advantage of their available options to keep them as low as possible. If you’re just starting off in the working world, chances are that traditional 401(k), IRA, HSA, and student loan interest deductions will be your biggest opportunities to reduce your taxes. However, if you think you’ll pay more in taxes in the future, you may decide a Roth 401(k) and Roth IRA will better suit you.
Housing makes up roughly one-third of most people’s monthly expenses, and transportation makes up another sixth. Together, that’s 50% of your budget going to those two items. Skip the new fancy car and be efficient in your housing, and you’ll set yourself up for big success without the stress of pinching pennies.
The wealth equation is simple: Make more money than you spend and invest the difference wisely.
By saving as much as possible on taxes, housing, and transportation, you will have more money to invest, which will ultimately create more financial freedom in the future. Delaying gratification is a core skill of the financially free, and by following these steps you will be well on your way to your own fortune.
Action Items: List three ways that you can save money in each of these three areas: taxes, housing, and transportation. Add up the potential savings and you may see how you can quickly get an extra $10,000 or more per year by doing some simple actions.
The key overarching lesson is this: You are in control of your financial future. Nobody else is going to take control of it for you. So, start to plan now, delay gratification, and let time and compound interest work its wonders. Go above and beyond and in just a few years, you’ll be in a great financial position to be able to do anything you want to do.
And that is wealth!