Wealth-Building Tips for Twenty-Somethings

Twenty-somethings entering their career years perhaps shouldn't be blamed for being preoccupied with debt and income, but taking their eye off the ball on savings is a critical financial mistake.

"It's difficult to think about saving money for emergencies, the future and retirement when you're holding a large amount of student debt and living paycheck to paycheck, but that's no excuse for not saving," says Carla Dearing, CEO of SUM180, an online financial planning service created by women, for women.

"As difficult as it may seem, it's never too early to start saving for the future," she adds. "The sooner twenty-somethings begin putting in place the elements for financial stability, the sooner they'll move from feeling overwhelmed to feeling in control. The mantra is 'start now.'"

There is one caveat, Dearing says. Before you "start now," make sure you have some built-in financial protection first.

"You've got to build your cash reserves, including an emergency fund," she says. "Unexpected expenses happen all the time, but if you have a cushion of savings, these unexpected expenses don't have to derail you. Instead of draining your long-term savings account or falling into debt, you can simply use your cushion to stay on track, then rebuild your cushion for next time." Aim for enough cash to cover six months of expenses, Dearing advises.

Run some numbers to see what you can really afford to save, as well.

"Keep housing and automobile costs low," advises Ryan McGuinness, a Millennial financial advisor and founder of CTR Financial in Wheeling, Ill. "Also know that living below your means is the key to building wealth in your 20s, although that doesn't mean avoiding going out with friends or not hitting up Starbucks. There are rules of thumb that say housing should be less than 30% of your income and automobile costs below 20% of your income. If you can keep these costs down, it's hard not to save money."

Watch out for lifestyle inflation, too. "That can be a wealth killer," he adds. "Let's say that at your first job, after all expenses, you could save $500 per month. Five years from now, when you make 50% in salary, you should be saving much more than $500."

Twenty-somethings should also take advantage of employer retirement matching programs, which promise "free money" for long-term employee wealth builders.

"It really is free money, and it's the first step to building wealth," says Xavier Epps, a financial advisor with XNE Financial Advising, LLC, in Alexandria, Va. "Matching programs can help you grow your retirement portfolio, without any additional investment risk."

Tasha Bishop, director of strategic alliance and business development of Nashville-based non-profit Apprisen, offers some additional wealth-building tips to younger Americans.

Bishop believes twenty-somethings should develop a savings strategy that will evolve into a longer term retirement strategy. "Plan as though Social Security will not exist by the time you are ready to retire," she says. "Rely on yourself and not the government to take care of you once you retire."

Remember, too, the path to long-term wealth creation is a marathon not a sprint.

"The sooner you begin contributing to a fund the better," Bishop adds. "Beginning at a young age, investing in a well-diversified fund will eliminate a lot of sleepless nights down the road."

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