7 Financial Moves 20 Somethings Should Make

You’re young. You have all the time in the world to get your financial life straightened out, or so you think.

Well, you’re wrong.

When you start developing smart money habits in your twenties you can set yourself up for financial freedom at a faster rate. You’ll also avoid major mistakes that can ruin your relationships, cause huge amounts of stress, and unnecessary worry. And even better, the habits that you develop now will stick with you for the rest of your life.

There are a certain set of financial moves you should be making in your twenties. While the list might seem overwhelming at first, realize that you don’t have to do all of these things at once.

Take your time to get your finances organized now so that you can live your life without worrying about money.

Learn to Budget

Living below your means is the golden rule of personal finance. Your outgoings need to be less than your income. Unfortunately, this is a rule many learn later in life only after racking up mountains of debt and creating a huge financial mess.

Start budgeting now. You don’t have to watch every single penny but it’s important that you know where your money is going. You need to be aware of the way you use your money.

A simple way to budget is to use a free program like Mint.com that will track your expenses for you.

Create an Emergency Fund

You don’t want to live a paycheck to paycheck life. But if you don’t have an emergency fund that’s exactly where you’ll end up.

Cars breakdown, appliances go bad, unexpected expenses pop up, that’s how life works. When you’re prepared these emergencies are only slight inconveniences. If you’re unprepared these emergencies can break you financially.

Start by saving at least $1,000 that’s specifically earmarked for emergencies. Over time try to get your emergency fund to cover three to six months’ worth of your expenses.

Make a Debt Pay-Off Plan

If you’ve just graduated from college chances are you’ve racked up some student debt. Now it’s time to get rid of it.

Having debt and those extra monthly payments prevents you from really building your wealth. Make a debt pay off plan.

Start paying off your balances according to interest rate. It might take a lot of hard work and a few years to wipe out all of your debt but you’ll be so glad that you did.

Start Building Credit

Eventually you’re going to want to buy a house. In all likelihood you’re going to have to borrow money from the bank to do this.

If you want to get the best interest rates and save yourself thousands of dollars over the lifetime of your mortgage you need a good credit score.

If you don’t already have a credit card you can take one out to help build your credit. Charge a small amount on the credit card every month (in expenses you already have) and pay the balance in full each and every month.

To get personalized recommendations on how to build your credit you can open a free account with credit karma or credit sesame.

Open a Retirement Account

The earlier you start saving for retirement the less you’ll have to save. This should be a big motivator to start stashing money away for retirement now.

If you have an employer sponsored retirement plan like a 401(k) go ahead and put in the maximum contribution. If you don’t have an employer sponsored retirement plan you can open up an IRA and have automatic deposits put in each month.

Put whatever you can afford in a retirement account now. Even if that’s only $20 a month. Overtime that money will add up.

Create Financial Goals

Once you get all of the basics out of the way like creating a budget, building an emergency fund, making a debt pay off plan, and contributing to retirement it’s time to make your own financial goals.

Money is a tool and should be used to enhance your life. This is the fun part.

What do you want? A fancy vacation? A new car? A new guitar? A house?

Think about your short term and long term goals and make a savings plan. When you save cash for the purchases you want to make you respect the stuff you buy so much more.

Keep Learning

Making smart financial moves is a lifelong process. If you can master the basics in your twenties you’ll have set a solid foundation for yourself. But don’t forget to stay educated.

Review your budget and financial goals every few months, read personal finance books, and stay on top of the game when it comes to your money.

How Much The Average Household Spends on Food

How Much The Average Household Spends on FoodI am a frequent user of Mint.com. I don’t use a strict budget, but I do have a general idea of how much we spend on each category monthly and if I see things are trending in the wrong direction, Lauren and I will discuss whether it’s temporary or permanent. I don’t hate the idea of lifestyle inflation and I know our expenses will increase over time, but I do like to keep them in check whenever possible.

I Think We Spend Too Much Money on Food

One of the things I always keep an eye on is our grocery budget. While we enjoy the occasional meal out, the majority of our food is prepared in our home. We have $100 set aside in our budget for restaurants, and it’s not uncommon for us to not have used all of that.

Still, every month, I am surprised at how much we spend on food. I don’t think we are preparing extravagant meals. Most of our meals contain chicken or fish, and we try and have a salad nearly every day. We bring our lunches to school/work, and these range from sandwiches to salads, to some sort of pasta dish. 3-4 times a month, we’ll invite friends over for lunch or dinner, and each of these can run us $75-$100 (similarly, we get invited out 3-4 times a month). There’s always leftovers from these meals that last us another 1-2 meals, but this is undoubtedly why I think our monthly grocery expenditures are so high.

So how much do we spend? About $593 a month on groceries. That number just sounds so high to me, I think $500 would be more reasonable, but there’s no specific area that I think we need to cut back on, so it’s hard for me to complain about where we’re shopping or the types of foods we buy. Since I don’t think we can really change much, I did some investigating to find out how we compare to others, hoping to make myself feel better about our high grocery bill.

Comparing Our Spend

I started with the USDA Cost of Food at Home report for July 2014, which shows the average cost of food at home at four levels (thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost, and liberal). It shows that for a family of two, ages 19-50, under the thrifty plan, the average is $389.90, the low-cost plan is $496.90, the moderate-cost plan is $618.60, and the liberal plan is $774.20. Our spending is above average, but still below the liberal plan. We consider ourselves to be generally frugal people who do not buy especially expensive foods, but I guess we’re buying a lot of it? Still, it’s a relief that we’re not completely off the charts!

Next, I took a look at the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Consumer Expenditures for the Los Angeles Area for 2011-2012, which was released at the beginning of 2014. This shows the average annual expenditures for households for all categories, but right now, I’m focusing only on the food category.

How We Stack Up Against U.S. and L.A. Averages

According to the report, the average U.S. household spent $3,880 on food at home, while the average L.A. household spent $4,337 on that category. The average U.S. household spent $2,649 per year on food away from home, while L.A. households came in at $3,166 per year. Totaling these two categories, the average U.S. household spent $6,529 on food, while the average L.A. household spent $7,504 on food.

Food Away from Home

According to my mint.com account, over the last 12 months, we spent $816 at restaurants, $199 on snacks and coffee shops. So we spend just 38% of what the average U.S. household spends on food out of the home, and 32% of what L.A. households spend, on average. Not surprising considering how infrequently we eat out.

Food at Home

We spent $7,120 on groceries in the past twelve months, which is a whopping 83% more than what the average U.S. household spends, and 64% more than what the average L.A. household spends. This is also not surprising, I knew we were spending a ton!

Overall Food Spending

In total (inside and outside the home), we spent $8,135 on food over the past 12 months. That’s 24% higher than the average U.S. household and just 8% higher than the average L.A. household. That’s not nearly as high as I was expecting.

Takeaways from Average Food Budgets

After looking at these two sources of information and comparing our spending to national and local averages, I’m no longer concerned about our spending. Our lack of outside-the-home spending makes up for most of our grocery spending, and we really value those group meals with friends. We certainly are not going to cut back if it means fewer of those.

We can probably be a bit more conscious of where we buy our food to save a few dollars here and there. My new job is very close to both Target and Trader Joes, so we’ll likely spend a bit less if we take advantage of those two stores we like so much.

How much do you spend on food each month? How do you stack up?

4 Ways To Reduce Financial Stress

4 ways to reduce financial stressMoney causes nearly everyone some financial stress. Whether you’re struggling to make it through the month, have a lot of student loan debt, are middle class (whatever that means to you), or have a lot of money invested in the stock market, you likely feel some sort of financial stress at some point. It seems like there’s not always enough for everything, and we all want to get ahead and save for future purchases, so even if we’re in control of our immediate situation, there are future costs looming in the months or years ahead.

Here are a few ways to reduce that financial stress so that you can focus on the other things in life:

Automate Your Finances

If the stress of having bills arrive in the mail every few days put extra pressure on you, consider automating your finances. Have your bills be paid straight from your credit card or bank account each month. You’ll spend the same amount either way, but you’ll be spending less time worrying when the bills come in and can devote that time to something productive.

You can also sign up for paperless billing. It’s much easier to organize and deal with an email reminder of a bill than a paper one that can get lost in the clutter. If the goal is to reduce how much you worry about your financial situation, these can be crucial. Out of sight, out of mind!

Create a Budget

If money is stressing you out, you should consider creating a budget and using a service like mint.com to find out where your money is going each month. This can lead to a lot of clarity, many people don’t realize that they are spending too much in one category and relatively small changes to spending patterns can have a major impact on the bottom line. Knowing where you’re starting from can be half the battle.

Once you know where the money is going, you’ll have one less unknown factor to be concerned about. Financial stress often stems from the fear of the unknown; not knowing if you’ll be able to pay all your bills at the end of the month or what your situation will be like in the future can be a major burden. Putting it all on paper can help take away some of that unknown so we can tackle the issues in a more specific way.

Earn More Money

Nothing takes the away financial stress quite like earning more money. If you’re bring in more money and don’t let lifestyle inflation creep in, you’ll have extra money to use to pay down debt, save for a rainy day, take a vacation, or anything else you’re planning..

It doesn’t have to be a full blown side job either, it can be as simple as earning an extra $100 per month to start. Once the ball starts rolling and you look for other opportunities to make money, more and more doors seem to open up.

Set Goals For Yourself

Setting goals has been proven to have a positive affect, whether you achieve them or not. By staying accountable and measuring your progress, you’ll feel more in control of your situation and will get the needed encouragement to keep making positive changes.

This year, I set some pretty steep goals and while I likely won’t achieve all of them, they’ve helped me concentrate on what’s important and let the other things slide. I’m not stressed out about everything, I am more focused on a few specific tasks and that’s let to relative success.

Don’t Let Financial Stress Get To You

Financial stress is not something that we can easily avoid, and if affects people from all walks of life. But we can definitely take action to reduce the severity and minimize how much time we spend worrying. Take action today and see how big of an impact these tips can have!