Jumpstart Your Financial Future

Jumpstart Your Financial Future: A Guide to Smart Financial Decisions in Your 20s

by Jocelyn Black | July 5th, 2024

Life in your 20s can be full of exciting firsts. Whether it’s moving into your first apartment, landing your first serious job, or beginning your higher education journey–possibilities abound!

With so much on the horizon, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You might be experiencing a deluge of advice about how to move forward, or maybe you’re on your own and have no idea what to do next.

What kinds of long-term decisions should you be considering for your financial future? Here is a simple guide to help you navigate your finances throughout this life stage.

Higher Education And Repaying Student Debt

According to Pew Research Center, women today earn about 57% of all bachelor’s degrees. But more education often comes with more debt, and with student loans at an all-time high, a strategic after-college financial plan includes developing a strategy to start paying back any student loans immediately.

If you’re approaching graduation or have just recently graduated, you’ve likely gotten some guidance on your options for repaying your student loans. There is a ton of information to digest when it comes to loan repayment. You’ll need to weigh these options carefully to determine what outcome best suits both your current situation and your future goals.

Understanding Student Loans

Student loans tend to have fairly low interest rates and it can be prudent to use deferments or income-based repayment plans to stretch your budget, but consider the long-term effects. Not only will these loans continue to accrue interest during periods where you’re making no payments or reduced payments, but it’s also a large amount of debt that can affect you in terms of future loans and purchases. You also may be eligible for loan forgiveness programs, but these typically require a 10-year commitment of working for qualifying employers (five for those working in low-income education).

Consider setting up your budget in such a way that allows you to pay down your student debt quickly. Paying more than the minimum required is ideal. You can use tools such as this loan simulator through www.studentaid.gov to get a better idea of how repayment will look, depending on the strategies you choose.

Key Takeaway: Once you settle on how you’ll repay your loans, make repayment a high priority.

Starting Your Career

Landing your first serious job is an exciting accomplishment! If you have only worked part-time previously, or maybe didn’t work at all while in college, you’ll have a lot of new financial choices to consider when stepping into a full-time career. Making smart decisions about how you utilize the options offered by your company can set you up for further financial success down the line.

Many employers offer comprehensive compensation plans that include more than just your salary. Often, employers will match up to a certain percentage or dollar amount of what you choose to contribute and more employers are offering student loan repayment as an added benefit.

Moving Up And Forward

Take advantage of this to the best of your ability by signing up for company-sponsored retirement plans and contributing at least the maximum they’ll match, if possible. If you are fortunate to be living with family or roommates to reduce your expenses, put even more in your retirement plan. The more you can put away now for later the better, thanks to compound interest.

It’s likely your new career comes with a higher salary than you’ve previously had. It’s tempting to spend more when you start making more, but being smart about your choices now will serve you better in the long run.

It’s fine to splurge on things you love within your budget–like the occasional iced coffee or even a new iPhone (you’ve earned it!)–but be wary of taking on significant new debts or monthly payments. Ask yourself what you really want in the future, whether it’s a dream trip, a new car, or buying your first home, and keep these valuable goals in mind and literally in sight via a sticky note on the fridge or bathroom mirror.

These reminders can help you stay mindful of your priorities and what’s most important so that you can more easily avoid wasting money on stuff you don’t need.

Key Takeaways: Take advantage of employer-backed retirement programs ASAP and manage your new wealth wisely.

Getting Engaged

In 2019, the median age of marriage for a woman was 28, according to the Census Bureau. If wedded life is on the horizon in your 20s, make it a priority to discuss money well before the big day so you can continue the trend as a couple.

At least until you tie the knot, keep your own money separate with your own checking account and credit cards. Once you’re married, be smart about money that’s saved or spent jointly by setting a monthly meeting to discuss your budget and financial goals.

Expectations for money management is a top contender when it comes to things couples fight about, especially in the early years of marriage. Starting these conversations sooner can save you a lifetime of frustration down the road, and can even help make finances an issue you enjoy discussing and planning for together!

Key Takeaway: Have real, honest conversations about finances with your partner and make a plan together.

Protect Yourself With an Emergency Fund

A financial emergency can significantly hinder your ability to fulfill financial obligations. It’s impossible to predict the future, so an emergency fund–money you can use in case of an unexpected job loss, excessive medical expenses, car repairs, or even a market crash–is essential.

Your circumstances will inform the size of your emergency fund. A good rule of thumb is for individuals to have three to six months’ worth of typical expenses in an emergency fund.

Women without a partner’s income and who still tend to earn less than men may want to save even more, but everyone should have at least $1,000 saved in a high-yield savings account where you can earn more competitive interest than the big, traditional banks offer.

Consider job security, average monthly expenses, general health outlook, financial obligations, and future plans when building an appropriately sized emergency fund.

Key Takeaway: Consider the possibility of unexpected life changes and have extra finances in place to protect yourself.

Get Comfortable with Investing

You can’t just save your way to wealth, so investing often makes sense when creating a long-term financial plan. And because women have longer life expectancies than men as well as more systemic financial challenges, they often have to save and invest more strategically to have enough money for a secure future.

When it comes to investing, prioritize your retirement savings first. You want to ensure you have enough money invested for your retirement (which may last several decades) so that you don’t have to work your entire life or can pivot in your career sooner rather than never.

If you have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, make sure you’re investing at least enough to take advantage of any matches offered. From there, experts recommend investing at least 15% of your income in a retirement account, although you may want to invest more depending on your future needs and goals.

If you have additional discretionary income after monthly retirement savings goals, consider investing in taxable investment accounts or alternative assets (such as real estate) to continue building wealth. The earlier you start investing, the more your future will benefit from the power of compound interest.

Key Takeaway: Start investing as early as possible to help secure your financial future.


“Nothing that’s worthwhile is ever easy” might seem like a trope, but if you’re living through your 20s, you’ve probably learned that it’s true. You’re moving through a lot of growth and change, and you have many important decisions to make.

Your financial future is just one aspect of this ever-changing landscape, but it’s a crucial component. It’s well worth your time and effort to really consider the way your current financial choices will impact what comes next.

Ready to take your first steps toward shaping your financial future? Want a little help along the way? Consider working with our team at Better Money Decisions for expert solutions and strategies to guide you as you grow.

Our team is available for holistic financial planning and professional investment management to ensure you are on the right track to achieve your future goals.


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