While this topic isn’t always considered glamorous, and with many millennials ignoring the facts about finances and winging it, if you want to be truly financially at peace, the following are three tips I’ve seen work in my own life and can work in yours:
1. Not having enough life insurance/disability income insurance
Everyone will die at some point, and we all know that when that happens it is entirely unpredictable. Moreover, not planning for this is irresponsible, even if you don’t have children or a spouse. There are things like funeral expenses, debts, medical bills and more that will all need to be settled at your death.
Saying, “I’ll get life insurance later” is a sure way to make sure that by the time you do apply, it will be more expensive than if you buy it now while you’re young. There’s even a serious risk that you may not be able to obtain enough coverage or even no coverage at all. Your health status can change overnight, and there are many conditions that make you uninsurable.
An equally serious topic is long-term (3 months or more) disability insurance. There are multiple studies that show anywhere from 20% to 33% of adults in their 20s will experience a disability lasting anywhere from two to five years that will keep them from working full time and restrict them from being able to engage in at least two activities of daily living by themselves.
Both these types of insurances are easily obtained by meeting with a financial advisor. I recommend meeting with an advisor that is either a broker or who works for a mutual insurance company with a large book of business and many happy clients.
People who sell these products have the proper licenses and training to help you make sound decisions about what types of financial products to buy, and will generally help you make a better decision about how much insurance you need than if you simply did an internet search by yourself.
There’s a lot of garbage information out there from financial entertainers (who are usually unlicensed, inexperienced or both) and others who have even fewer credentials. Most of these people only have a background in real estate (I’m not knocking that, it’s just not financial planning.) and hate the fact that people who work in the financial services make money from commissions or fees, and let their bias cloud their advice, which is hypocritical, given real estate agents and brokers make their money the same way.
2. Not starting retirement planning now
While you may think that there is plenty of time to begin saving for retirement, the fact is that the sooner you begin, the longer you’ll have to build a strong portfolio. This should be the central focus of your finances in your twenties, but it shouldn’t be a secondary thought, either.
You might say, “Hey, I’ve got a 401(k) at work. I’m contributing.” However, it’s likely not more than 6% of your gross income, and it’s also probably a pre-tax donation (meaning you’ll have to pay taxes on it in retirement). Your employer probably doesn’t match more than 3% either. That puts you at 9% pre-tax money (granted, 3% is definitely free money for you). Most financial advisors recommend putting at least 10% of your income toward retirement, and more if you’re single. (My financial advisor has me and my wife working toward a goal of 20% monthly).
3. Not saving/living paycheck to paycheck
This is perhaps the largest, yet most egregious error, we can make with our finances. At least 10% should be going straight into your savings account and not be touched except in the event of job loss or an emergency.
Recently, the Washington Post published an article that nearly half of Americans can’t afford a $400 unexpected experienced. I suspect this is largely because of the consumer-minded culture that has developed in our country (and the west in general) of keeping up with the Joneses. It causes us to incur stifling debt, and regularly spending more than we bring into our bank accounts.
This kind of cognitive dissonance is disturbing and financially dangerous, especially in the long-term, bigger picture, but can be overcome on a household basis.
The two best things to overcome this financial illness are to 1) have an automatic savings plan and 2) create multiple streams of income. Doing this will help you overcome financial bumps (as they will happen), giving you a reserve, helping you have a backup plan, preventing you from incurring more debt, and ultimately making you the master of your finances.
Track all of your expenses. If you are already doing the things above (and even if you’re not), you may wonder where the rest of your money is going. Even more important than budgeting is tracking every penny that goes out of your bank account, your PayPal, your wallet, change jar, or any other form of spending that you have. Knowing what you spend and where you’re spending itwill bring you peace of mind and ultimately stop you from continuing to make poor spending decisions.