It’s never too soon to develop the savings habit. The money choices you make in your 20s can benefit you well into your 30s, 40s and beyond. Unfortunately, many 20-somethings fall short when it comes to building an emergency fund or socking away money for retirement.
According to a GOBankingRates survey, 67 percent of young adults ages 18 to 24 have less than $1,000 in savings. The numbers aren’t much better for older millennials. Sixty-one percent of those between 25 and 34 have less than $1,000 in a financial safety net.
Saving money in your 20s can be tough if you’re paying down a big student loan debt, or you’re not crushing it with your paycheck at work yet. But with a little planning, it’s possible to carve out some savings and fund your financial goals.
1. Get a Budget
Saving in your 20s, or at any age for that matter, is a lot harder when you have no clue where your money’s going. That’s where a budget comes in.
A budget is a plan for spending your money each month. You map out your income for the month, then begin deducting your expenses. That includes necessities like housing and utilities, as well as food, transportation and extras like entertainment.
Your budget should be able to tell you at a glance how much money you’re spending each month. The goal is to spend less than what you earn, with the difference representing what you save. Writing down what you spend or linking your bank account to a budgeting app can help you find areas where you can cut back if you find that you have little or nothing left over to save at the end of the month.
2. Make Your Debt More Affordable
Student loan debt is the big elephant in the room that you can’t afford to ignore in your 20s. The average Class of 2016 graduate left school with more than $37,000 in student loans. If you have a similar debt load, that can be a huge barrier to saving.
Refinancing or consolidating your loans could help bring some of the cost down. If you’re able to roll multiple loans into a single loan at a lower rate, that could lower your payment. A smaller payment means more money you might have in your budget to add to savings.
If you have credit card debt, you should consider making it less expensive too. Transferring a balance on a card with a high annual percentage rate to a card with a lower APR could help you gain some ground in paying it off. Once your credit card debt is gone, you can funnel that money into your savings each month.
3. Open a Savings Account
Having a student checking account can cut costs, but if you’ve already graduated that may not be an option. Switching to an online bank could make sense if you’re stuck paying big bucks in fees to your bank each month.
While you’re at it, you can open a savings account if you don’t have one already. That way, you can set up automatic deposits from your checking to savings. You can label your savings accounts for an extra motivational push. If you’ve always wanted to backpack through the Andes, for example, you could create a savings account just for that goal.
4. Find Savings with Your Mobile Device
Your smartphone is good for more than posting to Instagram or playing Candy Crush. You can also use it to carve out savings on just about everything. Some apps even do the work of saving for you.
Qapital and Acorns, for example, round up your purchases and then use your spare change to save. Qapital adds the money to a savings goal account, while Acorns allows you to invest your extra nickels and dimes. Still other apps like Ibotta, Honey and Shopkick help you find coupons, discount codes and savings at thousands of retailers.
5. Don’t Leave Free Money on the Table
If you’ve got access to a 401(k) plan at work, that’s a savings opportunity you don’t want to pass up. According to a recent Bankrate survey, 27 percent of 18-to-36-year-olds are saving for retirement, surpassing other generations. That doesn’t mean, however, that they’re getting the full value their 401(k) has to offer.
Research from Betterment found that 23 percent of American workers don’t save enough in their employer’s retirement plan to get the full matching contribution. If you’re in your 20s, your goal should be to save at least enough to get the full match. Here’s why this matters.
Assume you’re 25 years old, making $40,000 a year. You contribute 3 percent of your income to your 401(k), with a 2 percent raise each year. Your employer matches 100 percent of your contributions, up to the first 6 percent of your salary.
If you stick with the same 3 percent contribution rate until age 65 and earn a 6 percent annual return, you’d have just over $500,000 saved for retirement. That’s not too bad—but when you kick your contributions up to 6 percent, you double that to more than $1 million. That’s the power of compound interest and it’s particularly powerful when you’re still in your 20s and have decades for your money to grow before you retire. That’s why some financial experts say it’s better to start saving for retirement in your 20s than to put that money to paying down student loans ahead of time, especially if the loans are at relatively low interest.
Increasing your contributions to your 401(k) in your 20s might be tough if you’re not making a lot, but it’s worth it in the long run. If you can’t afford a huge jump in contributions all at once, check to see if your plan offers auto-escalation. That way, you can increase your contribution rate incrementally each year to coincide with your annual raise.
Don’t fret if you don’t have a retirement plan at work. You can still get a head start on retirement with a Traditional or Roth IRA. The contribution limit for these accounts is lower than a 401(k), but they can still be valuable ways for 20-somethings to save for retirement, while potentially snagging some tax breaks.