Because we know you want to add a few zeros to the end of your bank account, we reached out to Andrea Travillian, a personal finance expert in Texas who coaches clients on how to reach their financial goals, to let us in on a few of her secrets. (For free, of course.)
To help you get to the point where you have so much money, you actually have to pay someone to take care of it, we’ll clue you in on the smartest and dumbest moves you can make with your coin. Ready to take the first step toward getting rich?
Smartest: Aggressively Paying Down Credit Card Debt
Young Americans take on more credit card debt — and pay it off more slowly — than our parents or grandparents. But, just because it’s common, that doesn’t make it cool. “Paying off credit card debt is definitely one of the best things you can do, because it frees up income,” Travillian says.
It’s all about the credit card interest, which will eat you alive if you’re not careful. Let’s say you have $5,000 on your card, at 20% APR. (You can find this on your statement.) If you paid the minimum of $100 a month, you would actually be in a nursing home before you paid it all off, and $22,000 of those payments would be just for interest.
But if you jacked your payments up to $300, it would only take 20 months to pay off your debt, and you would pay only $1,000 in interest. Want to see what your personal future could look like? Try out ReadyForZero, which helps you pay down debt.
Dumbest: Wiping Out Your Savings Account
In order to survive in the crazy world we live in, you need an emergency fund. “When you don’t have an emergency fund, it wipes out all your choices,” Travillian says. “If you get laid off, you don’t have the choice to move or take the time to find a job you love. You rush out to find a job, even if it’s not something you want to do.”
Let’s say your car breaks down or your health insurance leaves you with a $300 copay? If you don’t have an emergency fund, guess where those unexpected expenses go? Yep, back on your credit card. Aim to have at least three months of living expenses stashed, and you’ll breathe easy.
Smartest: Saving for Retirement
Call up every 80-year-old woman you know, and ask what she wishes she had done when she was your age. You guessed it: saved more for retirement.
Sadly, most women are grossly unprepared for retirement. According to a study by ING, women ages 25 to 34 have saved a third less than men. That’s even though women tend to live longer, and hence need more socked away. The lag is partly because women earn less on average, but also because we put a lower percentage of our earnings away. So, march yourself over to the HR department and hold more from your 401(k), or finally open up that IRA.
Think you’re already too tight with money? Wrong, says Travillian, especially if you start in your early twenties. “It’s amazing how much very small amounts make a huge difference,” she says. “Start with $25 to $50, and every time you get a raise, add a little bit.”
Dumbest: Keeping Up With the Joneses
Real talk: You are neither a Kardashian nor an up-and-coming rapper. You are a grownup with a salary, with goals like buying a condo or going on vacation. Spend accordingly — even if that means passing on the Champagne and Louboutins that “everyone” has.
“Not only will keeping up with the Joneses put you in debt, it will make you unhappy,” Travillian says. And, that can lead to a vicious cycle of more therapy shopping. Travillian has her clients figure out what they want, instead of what their neighbors want.
So, if you learn anything from the Real Housewives marathons, learn this: Trying to keep up with everyone else will always catch up with you, leading to high debt, stress, bankruptcy, and embarrassment no amount of fancy clothing can fix.
(Oh, and about those Joneses? “Most of your neighbors are broke anyway,” Travillian adds.)
Smartest: Setting up a Budget
You work too hard not to be on a budget. “The budget is absolutely the only way you know if you’re living on less than you make or not,” Travillian says. Without a budget, you could overspend without knowing it. (Hi, it’s me again, Credit Card Debt!)
Dumbest: Trusting Your Friend With Your Money
We totally get it. She’s your BFF and she’s short on rent. But Travillian has three words for you: Don’t do it. “When you loan money to other people, it really changes the relationship,” she says. Even if you make her sign an agreement that she’ll pay you back, if she can’t come up with the money, she’ll feel crappy and stop taking your calls. And, honestly? There’s not much you can do about it. Then, you’ve lost both a friend andyour money.
Smartest: Investing for the Long Term
You are not a professional investor. And you will never “beat” the market. Instead, focus on how you want to use the money in seven, ten, or 20 years from now, because it’s over the long term that the market will go up.
For example, if you had invested $1,000 five years ago, you might have freaked out when the stock market started tanking a few months later. But by doing nothing — yes, nothing — and keeping your eye on the long term, you would actually be up by $156 today. That’s $100 more than you would have made in a high-yield savings account. If you had freaked and pulled out your money, you would have lost $400 or more.
Plus, trading constantly leads to money-chomping fees. “If you’re constantly selling mutual funds or stocks, you’re costing yourself some sort of commission,” Travillian points out. “In attempting to chase returns, you can actually create more expenses.”
Dumbest: Not Doing the Math on a Loan
We’re talking mortgage, school loans, car loans, whatever. “Just because a bank wants to give you money, doesn’t mean you should take it,” Travillian says. Make sure you know what kind of payments you’re getting into before you sign on the dotted line. For example, if you take out $50,000 in student loans at 6% interest for grad school, will you be able to swing monthly payments of over $700 two years from now? That’s really how you know whether you can afford it.
“It’s really easy to run the numbers on any loan,” Travillian says. “Before you take out a loan, sit down and Google ‘financial calculator.’ Most banks will do that for you, too, so ask.” You have nothing to lose…except high interest rates and potential debt.
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