Welcome to adulthood. Alongside don’t get arrested and don’t catch COVID-19, your list of goals probably includes live stress- and debt-free.
If so, here are 30 ways to achieve that goal sooner than later. Some are mindset shifts, but most are concrete to-dos that you can complete in under 30 minutes for free.
Let’s dive into 30 financial moves to make before you’re 30.
1. Open a checking account
If you haven’t already begun depositing your cash and payments into a checking account, you’ll need to complete this step before moving on to the rest of this list.
Storing your cash somewhere at home may have kept things simple when you were a teen, but you’ll want to open a checking account as soon as possible. While physical cash is vulnerable to loss or robbery, the money in your checking account is insured for up to $250,000, meaning that if the bank gets robbed or goes out of business, you won’t lose your money. Plus, opening a checking account establishes your credit history (more on that later).
The two most common reasons why Americans don’t open checking accounts are a) they don’t believe they have enough cash and b) they want to avoid bank fees. But financial apps like Chime® will let you open an account instantly with no minimum balance or monthly fees, so there’s really no disadvantage to having a checking account.22 There’s no fee for the Chime Savings Account. Cash withdrawal and Third-party fees may apply to Chime Checking Accounts. You must have a Chime Checking Account to open a Chime Savings Account.
2. Set up direct deposit with your employer
Once you’ve set up a checking account, you can have your employer directly deposit your pay into your account. No more waiting for checks or running to the bank; direct deposit is two-four days faster and much safer.
Contact your payroll department to set up a direct deposit. They typically only need your account and routing numbers, which are available on your online banking dashboard or your most recent bank statement.
3. Open a savings account
Checking accounts offer a convenient way to store and readily access your money, but they don’t accrue interest over time. For that, you’ll want a savings account.
Savings accounts are like checking accounts, only you withdraw from them less often (or not at all). This enables your bank to invest it and pay you back a little interest.
If you deposited $1,000 into a savings account with a simple interest of 1%, then you’d have $1,010 by year’s end. However, savings account interest is compounded daily, meaning you’d actually end up with $1,010.05. If you deposited $1,000 and added $100 monthly for 10 years, you’d end up with $13,725, making $725 in interest.
The extra trickle of cash provided by a savings account can create a nice peace of mind/rainy day fund, and merely keeping your savings and checking accounts separate can help you budget more effectively.
4. Open a specialized savings account
Certain savings accounts will offer you above average APY (annual percentage yield = profit from interest) if you meet certain requirements. For example,
- CIT Savings Builder offers one of the nation’s top rates as long as you deposit a minimum of $100 monthly or keep a balance of $25,000.
- Aspiration Plus offers up to 1.00% APY on savings.
Keep in mind, however, that you should always be on the prowl for a better APY, and don’t be afraid to break up with your bank if they can’t compete!
5. Set a savings goal
Most banks have online tools that will help you price out your big upcoming expenses and build a savings plan around them. Once you learn how much you should save each month, set up automatic transfers from your checking account to your savings account.
6. Open a retirement account
An Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is like a savings account that you don’t withdraw from before age 59.5. You can, but you’ll have to pay steep fees to do so.
IRAs have a higher yield (make more money) than savings accounts because most people don’t withdraw from their IRAs unless in case of emergency. This gives the money time to mature and compound interest over decades, which is why if you can deposit just a few thousand bucks per year into an IRA, you’ll have hundreds of thousands when you retire (which you can withdraw tax-free).
If you work full-time, your employer might offer a type of IRA called a 401(k) and even match your contributions up to a certain percentage. Contact payroll and make sure your 401(k) is set up. If you’re not full-time, I can wholeheartedly recommend opening a Roth IRA.
Personal Capital can help you maximize your Traditional or Roth IRA with their wealth management services. They offer a suite of services for a fee of just 0.89% – much lower than a traditional brokerage. So I’d also recommend checking them out.
7. Start a budget
Now that you’ve begun stashing away money into savings and retirement, let’s talk about how to best manage what’s in your checking account. We’ve all had that feeling of “whoa, where did all of my money go?” so try to avoid that!
Your bank’s online tools probably offer some sort of budgeting software, but in my experience, many of them are clunky or lack features. The aptly-named Money Patrol is a superior, all-in-one budgeting and financial monitoring tool that can help you reduce spending, ID hidden recurring expenses, and track all of your accounts in one place.
Once you’ve ID’d a good budgeting software, you’ll want to establish a budget itself. I’m a fan of the 50-30-20 budget because it’s an easy place to start with a few rules and effortlessly simple guidelines.
8. Get a credit card that fits your lifestyle
There are no one-size-fits-all credit cards, and choosing the wrong one could cost you. Cards with lavish perks (lounge membership, 2x points on dining) are more likely to have hidden fees or subtly encourage spending on nonessentials. You’re better off with a card offering no fees and modest perks.
The Green Dot® Cash Back Visa® is like a reloadable gift card that offers a whopping 5% cash back (up to $100 annually), direct depositing, and because it can’t be overdrafted, it’s excellent for sticking with your budget.
But whichever card you choose, ensure there are no hidden fees and the perks/cash back categories help you save on what you’re already spending money on.
9. Get a human financial advisor
Like a good medical massage can correct your back, a one-hour chat with a financial advisor can save your financial future. A good financial advisor makes a living by helping regular folks like you and me understand the market and multiply our money. They’re happy to answer questions all the way from “what’s a checking account?” to “why did TSLA dip in the 3rd quarter?”
A great place to start is by asking your parents. They might already have an FA who’s been managing their money for years, and who would be happy to sit down with you free of charge. If you’d like to build a new relationship with a financial advisor, you can connect with one through the Paladin Registry. It’s free to use, and the FA you connect with might charge a small fee for an initial consultation (but trust me, it’s worth it).
10. Get a robo-advisor
If you’re interested in getting instantaneous advice without an appointment and saving on advisement fees, you might be interested in getting a financial advisor driven by AI instead of caffeine.
11. Invest $50 in the stock market
Your savings and retirement accounts are technically investments, only you’re not doing the investing. You can go more hands-on with these accounts, but you’re much, much better off leaving those to the professionals.
Instead, open a separate investment account as a low-risk sandbox to practice trading. I recommend tossing $50 in there – not too much, but enough to create stakes.
A great place to start trading stocks is the Robinhood App. The UI is extremely intuitive and the app is a great teacher, with a library of educational materials to help new investors ease into the world of trading without getting overwhelmed.
When you’re ready for the next level, E*TRADE offers a more advanced suite of tools for short-selling, purchasing international stocks, and more.
12. Buy a cheap, reliable car (or none at all)
I love my two cars – a cheap Japanese sedan and an even cheaper Japanese convertible. But even though they’re paid off and only hold a combined value of $11,000, I still think the convenience and emotional capital they provide barely outweighs their annual ownership costs.
The average price of a new car is around $35,000, and the average price of owning a new car for the first year is $11,756. Cars are a rapidly depreciating asset, losing up to 40% of their value in the first 15,000 miles. Plus, you’ll shell out gobs for parking, insurance, maintenance, fuel, financing, etc…
If you need a car, go cheap. Buy something with 50k+ miles that’ll last 250k miles. See how much you can truly afford, and spend less than that. And lastly, before you pull the trigger, take public transportation for a week; see if you like it and it’s viable for your lifestyle and budget before you sink money into a car.
13. Re-shop for auto insurance
If you already own a car, that means you’re already paying some amount annually for auto insurance. Without knowing you or your situation, I still bet that you can save a couple hundred bucks in two hours.
If you’ve been with the same provider for more than two years, there’s a high likelihood that you’re already paying up to a 30% “loyalty tax” that your provider thinks they can get away with because you won’t notice or you won’t care. The mere act of shopping around signals to most providers to knock it off.
If you’d rather stick with your current provider without switching, no problem! Bring them a lower quote from a competing provider and ask them to match it. They’ll at least meet you partway, and you’ll save without having to take out a new policy.
14. Switch to a pay-per-mile auto insurance policy
To save the most on car insurance, you may want to switch to a different policy type altogether. Pay-per-mile insurance is a pretty recent innovation that lets you save money by only paying to insure the miles that you actually drive.
With Liberty Mutual ByMile, for example, you pay an extremely low base rate per month plus a few cents per mile, capped at 150 daily so you’re not gouged for road trips.
I have several friends who’ve saved thousands with pay-per-mile insurance, but I’m personally not a fan of feeling nickel-and-dimed on joyrides. If that’s you also, consider Esurance’s discounted low mileage insurance for drivers who don’t like being monitored, but drive fewer than 10k miles annually.
15. Get a Costco membership
I have a friend who once told her nomadic husband “we can live anywhere, as long as I’m within 30 minutes of a Costco.”
A membership to a big box store like Costco costs $55 per year and you can split it with anyone sharing your address, meaning you can pay as little as $0.52 per week. On average, Costco gas is $0.21 cheaper than everyone else, meaning your membership pays for itself once you purchase 10 gallons in a month.
Inside, Costco is like Willy Wonka and the Discount Factory. You’ll save on photos, tires, electronics, prepared meals, alcohol, linens, cleaning supplies, and more. Generally speaking, if a product is on Costco shelves it means it beat out 100 competitors to be there, so virtually everything Costco sells is of superb quality. I live alone and still save ~$250 annually by shopping at Costco.
Lastly, Costco is so good to their employees that they have a retention rate of 94%. They aren’t one of our affiliate partners; they’re just awesome.
16. Save on pre-owned goods using Facebook Marketplace
For years, Craigslist was the go-to hub for finding gently pre-owned items for a song. However, because the platform still enables sellers to post anonymously, in many cities Craigslist has become overrun by scammers, sketchy used car lots, and eyebrow-raising electronics shops.
As a hobbyist bargain hunter, I instead turned to Facebook Marketplace. Sellers reveal their personal profile, making transactions feel safer and more personal. Plus, Facebook does a better job of curating listings, so you’re more likely to find an actual deal from a human being.
I’ve safely and conveniently purchased a tennis racket, a leather sectional, a Kindle, an Xbox, and a dozen more items through Facebook Marketplace, saving ~$1,500 in total. And although everyone I met was extremely kind and friendly, it’s best to take a friend and meet in public.
17. Shop for groceries at Aldi
To save on groceries, don’t discount Aldi (no pun intended).
Aldi is a low-cost German grocery store that charges significantly less for most goods than its competitors. You’ll find $0.79 avocados, $0.43 cartons of eggs, and $1.19 jars of peanut butter, all organic, all high-quality from ethically-sourced, eco-friendly companies. They also treat employees really well (and sell off-brand Girl Scout Cookies for ~$1 a box).
So how is Aldi profitable? Well, like their direct competitor Trader Joe’s, Aldi sells store-brand products that don’t have/need marketing budgets. But unlike Trader Joe’s, they run an extremely minimalist operation; no licensed music, no fancy decor, nothing that could raise prices for you, the end consumer. So you pay much less for virtually identical products you’d find elsewhere.
18. Purchase these goods at dollar stores
I used to write-off dollar stores, assuming they were full of pencil erasers and 4oz bottles of bleach. And while not everything at Dollar Tree and Dollar General is a steal, there are certain items that are identical to what you’d buy at Publix or Target, but for 75% less.
Party supplies, school supplies, cleaning supplies, storage containers, kitchen utensils, supplements, painkillers, greeting cards, reading glasses, even picture frames are all solid buys at dollar stores, and though lacking a fancy brand name, generally hold up over time.
By having a mental list of what you should buy at the dollar store, you can save hundreds per year.
19. Do your own taxes
Doing your own taxes isn’t just a good way to save on accounting fees; it’s a helpful budgeting exercise. By combing through what you earned and itemizing your expenses, you’ll get a clearer picture of your true annual take-home.
Plus, intuitive DIY programs like TurboTax can help you isolate which pillars of your business are the most profitable and which line items might qualify you for tax cuts.
H&R Block also offers an online tax submission tool, and if you need help, they have human advisors on standby.
20. Build your credit
Your credit score is a three-digit number from 300-850 that tells lenders how likely you are to pay back a loan on time. It’s essentially a “debt report card” that factors in how much debt you have, how many types of debt you have, if you’ve missed payments, etc.
Lenders much prefer borrowers with subjectively “prime” credit (650+) versus “subprime” credit (<650). If you can keep your credit score above 650, you’ll enjoy better loan terms. For example, someone with a score of 600 financing a $25,000 auto loan for five years might pay $9,000 in interest, whereas someone with a score of 700 might only pay $2800 in interest.
If you’re new to the financial world, you probably don’t have enough credit history to calculate a score, so lenders may consider you high-risk. But don’t worry; it’s simple to build good credit from scratch. Open a credit card account and pay 100% of your bills on-time, and you’ll be on your way to prime credit.
21. Improve your credit
Repairing credit is a little different from building it. Paying bills on time will help, but you may need to investigate and modify some behaviors to accelerate the process.
The first step to improving your credit is to identify what caused it to lower in the first place. If you’ve been taking out too many loans, missing payments, or spending too close to your credit card limit, all of these may be hurting your credit. So perhaps you need to refinance or consolidate your debt, or simply give your credit time to repair itself.
Related read: How To Improve Your Credit Score, Step By Step
22. Pay off your high-interest debt
Years ago, a young guy named David found himself $80,000 in credit card debt by his 26th birthday. In a moment of clarity and inspiration, he resolved to end his spendy lifestyle and become debt-free before his 30s. He managed to pull it off in three years, and to help others, he founded a site called Money Under 30.
Not all debt is bad; if you’re making timely payments on a low-interest student loan or mortgage, that’s actually great for building credit. But high-interest debt from a credit card or auto loan can be financially and mentally crushing.
23. Renegotiate your bills
Once you design a budget and begin monitoring your finances, you’ll begin to see a clearer picture of all of your recurring expenses: utilities, cell phone plan, service subscriptions, and more.
Some, you’ll find, can probably be canceled or at least consolidated. Rather than pay $10 a month for Spotify, for example, you can split a Spotify Family Plan with three friends for $5 each and save $60 per year (plus, you can all still have separate profiles).
Spend a half-day consolidating, canceling, and negotiating your monthly bills and you can save thousands over the next few years (and heck, toss those savings into your IRA).
24. Buy health insurance (or check your existing benefits)
If you already receive health benefits through your employer, awesome. Take 30 minutes to comb through your benefits to ensure a) they cover your needs, and b) you’re taking advantage of all of your perks. In my last W-2 job I discovered that our company health plan would pay for my new sneakers.
If you don’t receive health insurance from your job, you may qualify to stay under your parents’ health insurance plan until you turn 26. You may also qualify for spousal benefits under your partner’s plan. But if none of those applies to you, you need health insurance!
Using healthcare.gov, I bought a catastrophic plan (its actual name, not my description) with a $5,400 deductible. It covers three primary care visits and some preventative care, but it primarily serves as medical debt insurance. The average hospital stay in America costs $15,734, and 60% of personal bankruptcies are medical debt-related, so insurance against that financial nightmare is a price I’m willing to pay (and you should, too)!
25. Create a will
It’s no fun to think about the possibility of your untimely passing. But in case something does happen, you don’t want to leave your loved ones with a headache on top of their grief.
A “simple will” is good enough for most people (especially us young’uns) and simply shares where you’d like your stuff to go and what directives you’d like taken, like who raises the kids.
Taking 30 minutes to create a simple will can save your family from years of court battles and attorneys fees.
26. Travel (when it’s safe)
OK, a couple of disclaimers on this one.
First, no, you shouldn’t travel internationally while there’s a pandemic on (because travel insurance companies won’t insure you). Just get out there sometime before you’re 30.
Second, yes, I think travel before you’re 30 is a good financial move! That’s because pretty much everyone gets bit by the travel bug, and the longer you wait, the harder it gets and the more you’ll want to spend on comforts. International travel is best done young and on a shoestring. The earlier you can expand your mind through travel, the longer you’ll spend life as a well-rounded person.
Does international travel make an immediate and positive impact on your bank account? No, but it’s a good investment nonetheless.
27. Purchase life insurance
While we’re on the upbeat topic of mortality, purchasing a life insurance policy before you’re 30 could be a great investment as well.
Life insurance policies for young people are cheap, and in the event of your untimely passing, could help your loved ones cover your funeral expenses, outstanding debts, or simply your missing income if they depended upon you for support. If you purchase a policy while you’re young and healthy, you can lock in a surprisingly affordable rate for 30 years.
To browse options and see if a life insurance policy fits within your budget, head to Policygenius.
28. Purchase a home
The biggest challenge to purchasing a home in your teens or 20s is coming up with a lump sum for initial costs. On a $200,000 home, you can expect to pay ~$20,000 as a minimum down payment and another $11,000 in closing costs.
However, if you can pull it off, homeownership can be an excellent way to build credit, establish equity, and avoid the sunk cost of renting. Your home also becomes a leasable asset; you can typically rent your whole home for more than the cost of your mortgage, or AirBnB part of it to heavily offset your expenses.
If you think you might purchase a home in the next five years, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the basics now.
29. Start living below your means
During my time in Bhutan, a country based around Gross National Happiness, I saw only a single designer product. My tour guide Dorji wore Under Armour trail runners, explaining that “they’re worth the price because they last much longer.”
Thriftiness and pragmatic spending are skills you can begin practicing in your 20s that will serve you for the rest of your life. Here are some tips:
- Perform one hour of research/negotiation for every $250 you intend to spend.
- When shopping online, leave expensive items in your cart. If you still want them 48 hours later, buy them.
- When considering a big-ticket item, ask yourself “will this really bring me X dollars of joy?”
30. Surround yourself with friends and family who are smart with money
Just like how having fit friends can motivate you to exercise, having fiscally-savvy friends can help you support a financially healthy lifestyle. If you have someone in your network that you admire for being smart with money, it may be a good idea to reach out, build a connection, and collect some wisdom.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you find yourself spending an uncomfortable amount to “keep up with the Joneses,” it might be time to unfollow the Joneses on social media. Instead, follow accounts that support financial freedom, such as @Brittneycastro and @carefulcents.
Financial savviness, like any other skill, grows faster when you immerse yourself with comrades, content, and mentors.
If financial freedom is a skill, this list is your workout routine. Some exercises are harder than others, but even doing just one will make you stronger and protect your bank account in the process.
Now, I’d like to hear from you. Which #1-30 was most helpful to you? Most surprising? What financial move would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments!