Establish an emergency fund, pay down debt, save for retirement, and grow your wealth! Much of your financial life is focused on the things you should do.
However, what I think to be more important are the things you shouldn’t do!
There’s been a lot of literature/news over the last few years about how much of a problem student loan debt is. As of 2018, total student loan debt was $1.47 trillion. With a T! (Source)
That said, here are some things you should avoid.
- Taking on too much – Some degrees/professions require a lot of schooling, which can lead to large amounts of student loan debt. And I don’t mean to speak ill of any degrees/professions, but if your desired career requires a “basic” 4-year degree, it’s probably best to find an in-state university to cut costs. Better yet, start at a local 2-year university or tech school until your Gen. Eds. are complete, then transfer.
- Not having a plan for after – I think this is a common fear for Millennials and Gen Z, but you have so much time to figure things out. Don’t just go to college to get a degree. If you need time, take time. Once you figure out what you want, determine what you need to do to get there.
- Not researching options – There are SO many student loan options. Depending on what type of loan you choose (private or public), you could have a wide range of payback methodologies. I wrote about student loan options and payback options in two previous posts. Check them out!
There are two BIG problems with credit cards. People who use them irresponsibly and people who don’t use them at all.
- Using irresponsibly – This one pretty much speaks for itself. This pertains to people who spend way more than they ought to. A good rule of thumb is to only buy something using a credit card if you have the funds readily available to pay the balance off. Don’t have the money, don’t put it on the card. Doing so will cost you in interest and can really set you back.
- Not using at all – Better than the first point, but still not great. Using a credit card can help your financial situation if you use it correctly. Most of them have rewards of some sort. It’s another credit account on your report. Charging and paying off right away establishes a good payment history. All good things for your credit score.
No emergency fund
Establishing an emergency fund is Step 1. If you don’t have money set aside for unexpected expenses, you’ll have to charge it. This leads to the point above about irresponsible use.
Save $1,000 for emergencies, turn your attention to high-interest debt (credit cards), and then shift your focus back to your emergency fund once that debt is paid off.
- Paying bills late – Not paying your bills on time, especially ones shown on your credit report is a big mistake. The #1 factor in calculating your credit score is payment history. Paying ONE bill late will knock your score down. Just one. Don’t do it.
- Spending too much – (See irresponsible credit card use) This is especially harmful if you frivolously spend BEFORE taking care of important “budget items”. Things like saving, debt payments, and bills.
- Being too frugal – Though frugality is helpful in building wealth, it can also hurt you. There comes a point when you are too frugal. A vital life skill is doing things in moderation. If you pinch pennies and forego rewarding yourself, you run the risk of breaking the bank on a “bender”.
- Waiting – I cannot stress enough the importance of investing early. What helps you make the most of your retirement savings is compound interest. The more time you have to invest, the more compound interest works in your favor.
- Panic selling – This is a timely point since the market dropped almost 5% in the last week. Selling out of fear is always bad. More often than not, when you “panic sell,” you’ve already experienced the majority of the drawdown. Now, this depends on your particular situation, but it behooves you to stay invested during that period.
- Using generalities when setting up an investment plan – Your investment plan needs to reflect your goals, risk tolerance, time horizon, and behavior. Using generalities is good for someone who writes about this stuff, but it’s not good for YOU. Your plan has to be tailored to YOU.
Life and Wealth
- Sticking with a job you hate – Sometimes money and comfort makes us do things we don’t want to do. Being unhappy at your job is not worth it. It’s important, however, to thoroughly think through this decision. Quitting is tough, but if your family counts on you for income, you need to have a plan in place before you jump ship.
- Comparing yourself to others – I’m going to encourage you to develop a new mindset because society taught us that wealth looks like fancy cars and big houses. I want you to think about stealth wealth. It’s probably my most favorite phrase/term. Someone with stealth wealth lives within their means. They live in a modest home, drive a car for transportation only, but saves more than the average person. They don’t “look” wealthy, but their retirement account says otherwise.