By Roslyn Lash
Learn more about Roslyn on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor
Getting a job, buying a car, buying a home — all of these milestones are both exciting and at times stressful for young adults just getting started. For many people, these are wonderful goals that help push them forward. But as millennials build their careers, start families and consider their futures, it’s important to remember that true success has little to do with your job title, the type of car that you drive or the size of your house.
Success is about having peace of mind. And you cannot feel successful or have a sense of true accomplishment when you are worried about money. Millennials must be comfortable with their finances to achieve long-term success.
To have peace of mind as well as peace in your finances, you must prepare for and practice the keys to financial wellness:
Invest in yourself
This is about investing in your future by seeking the highest education that you desire intellectually and can afford financially. Your knowledge and education will open doors that would have otherwise remained closed. Education has a major influence on your earning power. It can propel you when the economy is good and sustain you when it’s bad. You can lose your job but not your education.
Save, save, save
The most essential rule of saving is to pay yourself first. You should contribute to your personal savings and your retirement savings with every paycheck. The simplest way to accomplish this goal is through direct deposit. For your personal savings, you can have a set amount deposited into a savings account and then have the balance go into your regular checking account, which is used to pay for your living expenses. By doing this, you are assured that you have emergency savings. For your retirement savings, you should start contributing to a 401(k) or individual retirement account as early as you can. Start contributing in your 20s so you have even more time to take advantage of compound interest (in which your earnings are added to your principal).
Limit your use of credit
Spend your money in a way that minimizes your debt. You should use cash to pay for small-ticket items, those things you can afford to pay for outright. Expensive purchases such as a house, car and furniture understandably might not be bought for cash. But you can still be mindful of your spending habits by asking yourself key questions: Is this a need or a want? If it is a want, can it wait, or is it something that you should purchase immediately? In addition, do some comparative shopping. Be sure that you’re getting the best price for the items you buy — and for the credit you use. Are you receiving the lowest available interest rate on your credit cards? If you’re paying 21% while you could be paying 12%, you are doing yourself a disservice and throwing away your money.
Protect your family financially
If you've started a family, be sure that you have adequate life insurance to protect them in the event of your death. This is especially important if you have small children, because you want to provide for their future. Your children’s financial needs will continue, and they’ll need money for their everyday expenses such as housing, clothing and food. You may also want to help ensure opportunities for a brighter future by providing enough money to assist with endeavors such as going to college, buying a car or starting a business.
You can find affordable term life insurance policies. These are basic, no-frills policies with a set duration of coverage, usually up to 30 years. You could also purchase policies for an indefinite term or with additional features. For instance, a whole life policy remains in force until death, but can be significantly more expensive than a policy that lasts for a specific number of years. Talk to your financial advisor and/or insurance agent to determine the type and amount of coverage you need.
Owning a home has long been considered a foundation of wealth creation. It’s one of the most important steps you can take toward financial wellness. If you plan on living in an area for over five years and you can afford to buy a home, it’s something you should certainly consider. As a homeowner, you can build equity and take advantage of tax benefits such as mortgage interest and property tax deductions. But homeownership isn’t for everyone. If you prefer flexibility and don’t plan to live in the same place or you don’t want the responsibility of owning a home, it may not be right for you.
The earlier you establish these practices and pillars of financial security, the more possibilities and freedom you will have later in life. Developing sound financial principles now will ensure that you and your family can weather financial storms and achieve true success.
Roslyn Lash, AFC® is a financial educator and coach at Youth Smart Financial Education Services in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.