If you're turning the big three-zero this year, give yourself a pat on the back.
Odds are you've finished a degree or two, your career is finally getting jump-started, and you've graduated from boxed Franzia to a much classier bottle of Malbec.
But even though you're all grown up, you might still feel like a freshman when it comes to your money. And that's O.K. — except for the fact that this is one very important decade when it comes to reaching your financial goals.
Those goals needn't be exotic: But most of us are saving up to buy a house, get married, take our next big vacation or float our retirement, and all of those mean having a handle on your spending… and saving.
We know: "But retirement is so far away — I'll have plenty of time for that later," you say. Not so fast. You might not even realize you're telling yourself lies just like this one every day so you can deal with all the "big" money stuff later.
But not after today: LearnVest Planning Services Certified Financial Planner™ Natalie Taylor weighed in on the top 10 money myths that younger people tend to believe — and why it's critical to debunk them before you blow out that fateful set of candles.
1. "Retirement is an old person's problem."
Sure, figuring out what to wear on your next job interview sure feels more pressing than money you won't be able to touch for another 30 to 40 years. But consider this: If you start saving $2,000 a year for retirement starting at age 25, by age 65 you'll have roughly $520,000 (assuming your money grows eight percent each year). If you wait until age 35 to begin, you'll end up with only $226,000. Since a 30-year-old making $50,000 may need to save up to $2 million for his golden years, Taylor says, time really is money when it comes to retirement savings, so don't wait another minute to open your account.
If you work at an employer that offers a 401(k) or 403(b) match, you should contribute at least the minimum you need to qualify for it — otherwise you're turning down free money, Taylor says. If you work for yourself, start an IRA. The overarching goal "is to contribute at least 10 percent of your income. If you can't contribute 10 percent, put in whatever you can afford. Then increase your contribution by one percent every six months," she suggests.
2. "I should be running the company by now."
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
When you heard that 29-year-old Mark Zuckerberg pulled in more than $2 billion in 2012, you probably died a little bit inside when you looked at your comparatively paltry paycheck. But it's important to remember that start-up superstars like the Facebook founder aren't the norm — most people rise through the ranks (and earn the big bucks) slowly. In fact, in 2012, young adults didn't reach the U.S. median income until age 30, according to Georgetown University research. And that median salary was about $42,000.
"First, use a tool like Glassdoor.com to figure out what you're worth, so your expectations are reasonable. Then show your boss that you're ambitious, not entitled," Taylor says. She suggests you can do this by setting up a meeting and asking your boss how you can improve the company. Then follow up six months later with evidence of how you've implemented the changes. If she is pleased, you're probably in a good position to ask for a raise. Just keep in mind that you want to come across as confident, not arrogant, Taylor warns.
3. "It will be my responsibility to pay for my child's education."
It's totally cool if you want — and are able — to pay for your kid's college tuition. But it shouldn't be your top fiscal priority. "It's key to build a solid financial foundation first," Taylor says. "That means having an emergency fund that's equal to six months of expenses, not having credit card debt, and regularly contributing to retirement." How come? You can't borrow money to pay for retirement, but you can borrow money to pay for college.
If you're still concerned that loans, scholarships or financial aid won't be enough to fund Baby Einstein's future, "another great idea is to set up a 529 plan early and ask relatives or friends to contribute to it on birthdays and holidays," Taylor says. By the time she's ready for college, those small amounts may add up to a hefty portion of her tuition.
4. "I can't start saving until I make six figures."
Remember how we told you the median U.S. income was about $42,000? If six figures is your guidepost, then you may not be saving for a long, hard while. It only seems impossible to save on less than that — but it's not, if you know where to cut the fat.
The first step to better saving is to know exactly how much money is coming in — and where, specifically, it's going out. You can use the LearnVest Money Center to track your expenses by categorizing them into folders. Once you have a handle on where you're overspending, try shaving at least $25 from that part of your life every month. Then set up an automatic monthly transfer for that amount from your checking account to a high-yield savings account. Or even better: Have your employer directly deposit that money into your savings so you never even notice it's gone.
"Areas where you can usually cut back are restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and cable TV," Taylor says. "Those are wants, not needs."
5. "I can't be financially responsible and have a social life."
(Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
You can still see your friends without dropping a good chunk of your paycheck on fancy liquor or overly pricey restaurants. A night of that can really add up. And let's be real: Your friends probably can't afford it either. It just takes a little creativity and discipline to find fun alternatives.
"Host a potluck party at your place where everyone brings an appetizer or a drink, as well as one favorite item from the back of their closet that they never wear. Then do some trading," Taylor says. "Also, look online for Groupon or LivingSocial deals, so you're not paying full price when you go out."
6. "My finances are really simple right now. I don't have to spend that much time analyzing them."
Actually, the opposite is true: Because your finances are simple, now is the perfect time to start analyzing them. "Your finances are likely to get more complicated as you get older. Later in life, you may have to deal with a down payment for a home, home repair or renovation costs, child-related expenses, medical bills and more," Taylor says. "If you don't have solid habits already in place at that point, you may feel even more overwhelmed."
Every few days, take a glance at your transactions while they're still fresh in your mind. (Again, the easy-to-use foldering system in the Money Center is great for this.) You may not realize how much $15 a day on take-out Thai affects your money until those numbers are staring you in the face. Looking at your transactions frequently could inspire you to make little changes right away.
7. "It's O.K. to splurge on pricey workout classes. I don't have kids or a mortgage."
Well, that depends… on your overall budget. The 50/20/30 rule says that only 30 percent of your take-home pay should go toward lifestyle spending, which includes your fancy gym and expenses like internet, cable, and Fluffy. If fitness is valuable to you and you want to spend 20 percent of your income on gym classes, go for it. But that means you should only spend 10 percent of your income on all other lifestyle expenses. If you find yourself consistently spending more than 30 percent on "wants," then it's time to rethink your haute workout routine and run outside, or watch a free YouTube workout video.
8. "I spend what I earn. There's nothing wrong with that."
(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Well, the only problem is, if you don't have savings, you don't have a safety net. LearnVest recommends saving up at least three to nine months of your take-home pay, depending on your situation, in an emergency fund you can tap if your car dies, your job goes belly-up or Fluffy needs an expensive medical procedure.
And, in general, if you're pushing 30 and still living paycheck to paycheck, it's high time you made a change. Start by setting up an automatic withdrawal from your checking account into your savings account (preferably at another bank from the one where you keep your checking, so you don't "dip into" those funds.) You'll be amazed by how fast your savings can add up — and how little you'll miss money you never see.
9. "I'll handle my student loan debt later."
"The problem with that plan is that you'll end up drowning in interest," Taylor says. The most favorable strategy is using a 10-year payment plan with a fixed rate because you'll pay less interest in the long run, she says. If you can't afford to make the monthly payments on a 10-year plan, then use an adjustable, income-based payment plan. The bottom line: Don't procrastinate — choose one of these two strategies now.
10. "Missing a few credit card payments is no big deal."
On the contrary: Letting credit card debt pile up is one of the fastest ways to lose control of your finances. You'll be forced to pay interest on your monthly payments, as well as late fees. But that's not even the worst of it: You're doing damage to your credit score, which can cost you thousands down the line. "The better your credit score, the lower your interest rate when you need to take out a loan for a car or a house in the future. So take care of your credit score because that number can go down much faster than it goes up," Taylor says.
More from LearnVest...
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why is the West so afraid of Islam?
- How Ronald Reagan turned America into a nation of children
- Why Mitt Romney is perfectly poised for a comeback in 2016
- 8 things the world's most extraordinary survivors can teach you about resilience
- 8 secrets to steal from power networkers
- How to make classic pulled pork
- The Nazi smart bomb that inspired China's most dangerous weapon
- 10 things you need to know today: August 1, 2014
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- Hey, GOP: American exceptionalism demands compassion at the border
Subscribe to the Week