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By Lindsay Tigar, HerMoney featuring Julia K. Pham, CFP®, AIF®, CDFA®, Wealth Advisor

From creating a budget to maximizing your retirement, here’s how to set yourself up for success in the first two decades of your career.

We all know the importance of saving, investing and, hopefully, making a plan for retirement. But sometimes just getting started can be one of the biggest challenges. What type of accounts should you create? And what’s more important — saving or paying off student loans? When, exactly, do you start saving for college expenses for your children? It’s a lot to unpack and learn. Luckily, we have answers from financial experts about the top budgeting (and saving) tips for your 20s and 30s.

Here are the most helpful takeaways:


You may feel like retirement is a million years away at this point. Then you blink and a decade has gone by. That’s why setting yourself up for good saving and spending practices right out of the gate will help ensure you have the most time for your money to grow in the decades ahead.

Create a Budget

The vital first step in becoming financially independent and successful is fairly straightforward: create a budget so your money habits can serve you for a lifetime. After graduating from university, snagging your first job and putting down a deposit on an apartment, you (and your wallet) may already feel exhausted.

But when that first adult paycheck deposits into your account, it’s time to begin budgeting. “If you learn to keep track of your spending, set intentions for how you want to use your money in the coming months and years, and then stick to that plan, you will feel more financially secure and capable, says Kelley Holland, an author and financial coach for women. “Having a budget — or, as I prefer to call it, a statement of intent — will also help you plan for future goals like buying a home,” she explains. “You can draw up a budget on paper or a spreadsheet or use a digital platform.”

Begin crafting your monthly and yearly budget by paying yourself first. “Subtract from your income an amount that you will put into savings before you allocate money to your current living expenses,” Holland says. “You can make this easy by automatically transferring money from your checking account to a savings account every time you get paid.”

Eliminate or Avoid Debt 

If you left college with a mountain of student loan debt, first of all, take a deep breath. It can feel daunting — because it is — but creating a financial strategy to keep it under control ASAP is vital. It may be helpful to know that many others are in your same shoes, considering 44 million Americans have student loans and the average citizen has $38K in personal debt.

The key here is to be as aggressive as your income allows, urges Julia Pham, a wealth advisor and CFP at Halbert Hargrove. If you’re not sure where to begin, a substantial debt to prioritize are the loans with the highest interest rates, so more of your hard-earned cash goes toward the principal.

“All other things being equal, this will save you money in interest payments over time. Consider automating your payments so you never miss one,” Pham says. “If you are lucky enough to have minimal student debt in your 20s, do your best to avoid taking on any additional debt by creating and living within a budget that works for your lifestyle.”

Sign up for Employer-Sponsored Retirement Benefits

When you’re in your 20s, you will likely get your very first job offer. Congrats — go you! In addition to a great work/life balance culture and a good starting salary, give a long, hard analysis into the employer-sponsored retirement benefits, recommends Kendall Clayborne, a certified financial planner at SoFi.

“If your employer offers a match on your 401(k), you should treat it as free money and leverage this benefit as much as is feasible for your financial circumstances,” she says. This means if they max up to six percent, you should do everything you can to maximize your contributions. This may mean subscribing to an online gym membership vs. an in-person one, but your 40-something self will appreciate your sacrifice.

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