Career

9 Unconventional Things I Did In My Early 20s To Become Financially Stable

By Hannah Leah
·  9 min read
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You’re not alone if you’re a young adult feeling unstable in your finances. Most people aren’t really taught how to handle their money. But there are things you can do to set yourself up for a better financial future.

A major issue with our education system is we don’t teach kids many real life skills. When you graduate high school, you have little to no knowledge of taxes, insurance, or how to handle your money. After high school, you’re expected to take out student loans and get a degree that you might never use, and then by your 20s, you’ve racked up thousands in debt. I consider myself very blessed to have parents who gave me a lot of non-traditional advice that has made me financially stable over the years. So today I'm going to share this advice with you. 

1. I Paid Cash for My Car 

Most people I know have a car payment, and usually, it's a few hundred dollars a month. And when you lease a car, you’re paying so much in interest. Do we really need a brand new car in our early 20s? One of the best things my parents made me do as a teenager was to put all the money I earned toward my first car. I paid for it in cash. It wasn’t an expensive car, but it was reliable. 

I’m now in my mid-20s, and since then, I have bought two other vehicles in cash, each one a little nicer than the last. Pay cash for a decent used car, and drive that around while you save money each week. Then sell your current vehicle, and take that money plus the money you saved and get a nicer car. As you get older and have more money to play with, you can get yourself a better vehicle with each purchase. 

2. I Started a Retirement Fund at 22

This sounds odd, setting up a retirement fund many, many years before I’ll ever retire, but it’s so financially wise. You don’t really realize how much more money you can save for the future when you start young. Here is an example from Ramsey Solutions: “Let’s say Henry graduates debt-free from college and begins his first job making around $50,000 a year….Instead of saving for retirement, Henry opts to spend his income his way – paying for a nice computer, a new car and several trips abroad. Fast-forward a few years. Henry is now 30, newly married, and starting to think about the future. He begins investing $2,000 a year in his retirement fund. At age 65, he’ll have around $593,000 for retirement. That’s great. But had Henry started investing when he was 24, he could have retired with over $1 million in his account!”

Some jobs offer retirement options like 401k’s or Roth IRAs. But even if your job doesn’t offer any form of retirement investing, you can set up your own and put a little bit of each paycheck toward it. It's harder to work as you get older, so it’s smart to start investing money when you’re young to avoid having to work in your old age. 

3. I Signed Up for a Credit Card I Only Use for Gas

A financial planning class I took once told me not to ever get a credit card. That’s because it’s too tempting to rack up debt for a lot of people. But I found that it’s very hard to build your credit when you have no credit card and pay cash for a car. So, for my very first credit card, I only ever used it to buy gas for my car. And right after buying the gas, I paid off the card. This way I could build credit and “practice” using and paying off the card before I used it for anything else. 

Don’t get a credit card unless you can discipline yourself to pay it off completely on time. 

I opened a credit card that had a very good cash back deal, and as I earned cash back, I used it to pay off the card, so sometimes I got a free tank of gas. A couple years later, I started using the card more toward my benefit (for cash back and points) and I bought more things with it, because I was very disciplined with paying it off. I have had a credit card for eight years, and I have absolutely no credit card debt and a very good credit score. My general rule of thumb is don’t get a credit card unless you can discipline yourself to pay it off completely on time. 

4. I Learned a Trade Instead of Going to College

This one all depends on your career goals, but I always knew being a hairstylist was my plan after high school. It’s common for kids coming out of high school to go right into college even without a career in mind. They spend years not working or saving money, and when they leave college they don’t use their degree and they have so much student loan debt. My parents never told me I had to go to college, they just said if I don’t attend college, I need to be working. 

We rarely encourage young people to go to trade school instead of college. But doing a trade job can make just as much money as a career out of college. Some jobs just require a certificate or license. Here’s the average salary for a few different trades:

  • Plumber: 45k-76k

  • Electrician: 40k-69k

  • Makeup artist: 22k-59k

  • Paramedic: 37k-56k

  • Phlebotomist: 30k-93k

  • Clinical laboratory technician: 35k-71k

  • App developer: 73k-120k

This isn’t to say that college isn’t ever necessary, it’s just to encourage people to go into college with a reason, rather than taking out loans and setting yourself up for debt. If you’re interested in a trade, it might be worth trying that instead of college. Or take a year after high school and work full time to save money for college until you have a career path in mind. 

5. I Started an Emergency Savings Fund

Ever have a car issue where you had to replace something unexpectedly? You can end up dropping hundreds of dollars out of the blue. Or maybe you had a medical expense you needed to take care of? No matter the situation, it’s good to have some money set aside for emergency situations like these. Financial advisors typically suggest putting aside 3-6 months' worth of expenses. Then, when the time comes, it won’t be a big deal to pay your bills and pay off an emergency expense because you were prepared. 

6. I Keep a Cash Savings Stashed Away

When I still lived at home, I wanted to be sure I was saving money, so I decided to pay “fake rent.” My parents didn’t make me pay rent, so I started putting $800 a month in cash savings. I did this every single month, and when I did move out I had so much money saved up to help me move out without going into any sort of debt. Even now, I still always keep a small stash of cash. It’s almost like a second little emergency fund, and I use it for Christmas gifts, bills, or small unexpected expenses. 

7. I Furnished My First Home with Second-Hand Appliances and Furniture.

When I moved into my own place, I knew it wouldn’t be my forever home, and I didn’t want it to be too costly. I furnished about 95% of the place with second-hand items. You can buy so many used things online. Some people were just giving away appliances or décor when they decided to upgrade their own things. 

Some people were just giving away appliances or décor when they decided to upgrade their own things. 

My fridge and stove were free. The people I got them from got better ones and said first come, first serve for their old stuff. My couch was $40 from Facebook Marketplace. Some family heard I was moving out and gave me a coffee table, their old washer and dryer, and a recliner chair. And I deep cleaned each thing after purchase to be sure they were sanitary. It isn’t my dream home, but it’s perfect for my current situation, and honestly, I love it so much.

8. I Cook Instead Of Ordering Out Most Nights

Most people my age go out to eat a lot. I think in previous generations, cooking and homemaking from a young age were a bigger focus than they are today. But a meal ordered out can be $15 or more sometimes. I don’t personally enjoy cooking, but I have found that I can make a big batch of one meal, and eat it for multiple meals throughout the week. I try to eat out only if it's because I’m hanging out with friends.

I am nowhere near being considered a great cook, but I have gotten better the more I do it. Pinterest and food blogs are my go-to for recipes and cooking instructions. Cooking instead of eating out has also made me eat healthier. My main meal is chicken, rice, and Brussel sprouts. And my air fryer has been a life-changing purchase that I highly recommend if you aren’t a fan of spending lots of time in the kitchen! 

9. I Prioritized Spending on Needs vs Wants

Another thing about our generation is we promote self-love and self-care. But to be honest, sometimes you have to skip the massage or getting your nails done to pay the bills. It’s not self-care if you’re overspending because later it will become a financial burden and put you in a bad place. Budget out your wants and needs. First, you need to figure out how much you spend on bills and expenses. Then, you need to find out how much money you’re bringing in each month. If you have money left over after paying your bills, then you can treat yourself. 

Closing Thoughts

I’m no financial genius, but I do think what I’m doing is working out well. I don’t make a lot of money compared to some people, but I’m spreading it out and using it to my benefit. It’s hard to get financially stable when everything is so expensive, but it’s possible if you’re disciplined and work hard. No matter what amount you make, learn to use your money to your benefit. 

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