The following are six milestones that you should aim to hit in your twenties. In most cases, the sooner the better. And for those who already think they are hot stuff, I’ve highlighted ways that you can show you’re a true pro and earn “bonus points” in each area.
1. Graduate and move on
Very few people actually know what they want to do at the point when they start their secondary education. And many dig themselves tens of thousands of dollars into debt trying to figure it out.Student debt recently passed credit card debt for the first time ever — quite a sad statistic. And now that 60 percent of employers are completing a credit check as a reason to weed you out of the jobs you are applying for, it’s more important than ever to keep debt under control.
If you don’t know what you want to do for the rest of your life at age 22, it’s okay. You are normal. I’ve seen employers hire people from all walks of life for more general occupations. And you can then learn on the job what your strong points are and what you want to do next. If going back to school is necessary at that point, go for it. If not, don’t. But jumping from one degree to the next is not going to get you there.
Bonus Points if you pay off your student debt by age 30. It may seem ambitious, but if you can work while in school, apply for and receive scholarships and financial aid, graduate as quickly as possible and move on, it is a strong possibility.
Read on for more tips.
2. Build a bulletproof network
One of the most important things that you can do for yourself from day one of entering the workforce is to build a strong network. This may seem like tired advice, but it is so true. In a cutthroat economy like we have had over the past few years, job security is anything but certain.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 75 percent of workers ages 23 to 27 stayed with an employer for fewer than two years, and 88 percent were with their employers for fewer than five years. And 68 percent of workers ages 28 to 32 were with a given employer for fewer than two years, and 84 percent fewer than five years.
Start a LinkedIn account and connect to anyone and everyone with whom you’ve had a positive, genuine business interaction. A network means nothing if you don’t impress others with your work and generosity.
After you’ve built your network, don’t be afraid to leverage it to increase your income by moving to more challenging role in or outside of your existing employer.
Bonus Points if you hit 500 LinkedIn connections with at least 50 percent of your connections are outside your existing employer.
3. Fund your emergency fund
Stuff happens in your twenties. You may decide that the Peace Corps is more rewarding than bootlicking to climb the corporate ladder. You may have kids. You may get laid off because you don’t have seniority. Whatever happens, you want to be prepared.
At the start of the recession, my wife was laid off for four months — completely unexpected. And we had a mortgage to pay. News flash: Unemployment benefits won’t pay for most mortgages.
Luckily (or smartly), we had an emergency fund to cushion the income loss. It kept us from going into foreclosure or worse. Dave Ramsey recommends that you save the equivalent of six months’ of living expenses. Suze Orman recommends eight.
Bonus Points if you save a year’s worth of living expenses in your emergency fund and put the funds into laddered CDs so you earn interest on them.
4. Start a Roth or traditional IRA and contribute
Starting is the hardest part. I ran a financial workshop with 30 twentysomethings at my workplace and when I asked the question, “How many of you have started investing outside of your 401(k)?” the room got painfully silent. Nobody raised a hand.
Like all things in life, making that initial leap is always the scariest. Starting an online brokerage account is the first step. And it can easily be done in fewer than 15 minutes. There may not be any real advantage to investing in an IRA versus your employer’s 401(k) (unless your employer makes matching contributions), but making a move on your own to invest is much more symbolic. Another reason to open an IRA is that you’ll have one ready to go in the event that you switch jobs — and don’t we all in our twenties? You can roll over a Roth 401(k) to a Roth IRA and a traditional 401(k) to a traditional IRA.