One of the best ways to keep yourself on track financially is to have financial milestones that you would like to meet by a certain date. When you have goals to start you on the right financial path early on, that helps you build up good habits for the future. The earlier you start making good financial choices, the better you will be in the long run. In this post, we will explain seven of the most important milestones in your early adulthood into middle age, explain a good age range for hitting them, and talk about why they are important.
1. Become Free of Debt
Rising tuition and increasing costs of living mean that more and more people are starting out their careers with debt. Student debt, car loans, credit card debt, mortgages- these are all possibilities. One goal to hit as soon as possible is to pay off all of your debt. The longer you keep debt, the more interest you need to pay. Aim to have your debt paid off as soon as you can. It is difficult to specify a good timeline for becoming debt free because everyone’s debt load and income are different, but it should always be a priority.
2. Learn Your Credit Score
The federal government hosts a website where you can obtain a free credit report per year at www.annualcreditreport.com. That includes your credit score and other things you should know, like whether you have a delinquent account, or if there is an error in your report, or if your identity has been stolen and someone is making charges in your name. It is good to get into the habit of regularly checking your credit report. Some credit cards provide you with your credit score for free, but for a full report you have to do it yourself. You can do this as soon as you start building credit history with a student loan, credit card, or similar financial instrument.
3. Build Your Emergency Fund
Emergency funds are important to have in case you suddenly need to spend money. There are many reasons this might occur- you might need to fly home, you might lose your job and need to live on savings, or you have an accident and need to pay medical costs. As soon as you get your first job, start setting aside money in an emergency fund. A good rule of thumb is to have a few months’ worth of pay sacked away. That obviously takes time to build up. You don’t need to starve yourself to get it done, but within a year or so of getting a job, aim to have a few thousand put away.
4. Save for Retirement
This one is critical. You need to begin putting money away for retirement as soon as you get your very first paycheck. Starting early makes an enormous difference, because you will be investing money for decades, and the earlier you get started, the more years of compound interest you get. If your employer offers any kind of matching for contributions to a 401(k) or IRA, take full advantage. Talk to a financial professional for specific advice if you need it, but the bottom line is that you need to start saving for retirement as soon as you get the opportunity.
5. Make a Budget
You can start making a budget as soon as you have income, even if it’s a work-study job at college or a part-time first job. It’s good to get in the habit of setting a budget every month so you understand where your money comes from and where it goes. That way, if you need to cut back, you know where you can afford to reduce your spending. The more you practice with it, the less time it will take. A basic budget can scale up so that the same techniques you use to categorize your spending and income can keep working for you for your whole life. Having some experience with this early on will put you a step ahead of everyone else.
6. Think About a Side Gig
There are many ways to scratch out a second source of income, and depending on your job and hours, it might not be a bad idea to spend some time on that. This isn’t a traditional second job. A side job is smaller than a full job, and should be flexible to fit your schedule. There are many ways to do this. Freelancing is popular, as is transcription work, ad rating, and Mechanical Turk. If you think creatively and look around for advice online, you will quickly see there are many sources of income that consist of small tasks you can do from home and on your own time.
7. Figure Our Your Net Worth
Your net worth is a good measure of the overall state of your finances. To obtain it, add up the value of any assets you own, like a car, house, bank accounts, and your personal possessions, and then subtract your total debt. Include all kinds of debt- credit cards, student loans, car loans, mortgages, and anything else you might have. The result is your net worth. If you thought that you were in good financial shape, but your net worth is actually negative, then that should be a wakeup call for you. It is a good idea to check on your net worth every now and then. If you want to learn more about the debt, try making a graph where you divide your total debt into the different sources of debt you have.
Financial literacy and stability is much easier to achieve with a good foundation of healthy habits. That comes from starting early. These milestones are within the grasp of just about anyone with a job, and starting out with them early on means that you will maintain these habits later in life. The key to financial success is discipline, and these habits build the right kind of discipline.
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