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It's never too early to start making smarter financial decisions. With any luck, you've already begun a good fiscal regime for yourself in your twenties and are now cultivating the good habits you'll need to be solvent as you progress in your life and your career. If you haven't begun yet and are nearing your thirtieth birthday, it's not too late to start. Begin by folding some or all of the following 7 practices into your life—your future self will thank you for it.
1. Create a budgeting plan.
You may have gone to the trouble of drawing up a budget or downloading an app to help you keep on the financial straight and narrow, but that won't do any good if you don't actually use them. Use the tool that you like the best to make sure you're not spending more than you're earning. Part of your budget should include a set minimum of earnings you're confident you can squirrel away every month.
2. Pay down debt.
The average American grad owes over $37,000 in student loans and the average household owes over $8,000 on their credit cards, so don't feel alone if you've accumulated some debt. Just make a point of paying it down as aggressively and early as possible to avoid paying twice the original amount later in life. This will likely take a fair share of effort and a whole lot of self-control. You might have to skip drinks out, scale back on your vacations, or even getting a second job, but in the end you'll be glad you didn't put off paying off your debt.
3. Don't blow every paycheck.
It's hard when rent and bills knock your paycheck down to almost nothing, but you must resist the urge to think of the remainder as fun money. Try to boil your necessities down to a small number and put the rest away in savings. If you can start saving 10% of every check now, you'll be golden. Remember, you're saving for the long term.
4. Cook for yourself.
If you succumb to the lure of take-out lunches or dinners more than one or two times a week, you're spending a ton of unnecessary cash. Add the costs of your restaurant meals one week and take a good hard look at the total. Part of budgeting involves allotting a weekly amount to spend on food. If your dining out costs exceed a sensible weekly total, you'll need to cut back. Your dollar will stretch much further when you cook for yourself with fresh, whole foods: think vegetables, grains, pasta, and beans.
5. Splurge on the items that matter.
There are plenty of things you will want to go budget on, but there are some items for which you really should pay a bit extra. Purchasing a cheap piece of furniture may seem like a smart move—until it falls apart in a year or two and you end up having to spend even more on a replacement. Shopping for quality will likely save you money in the long run, so look for furniture that won't fall apart, energy-saving appliances you won't have to replace or pay extra for on your utility bill, and a car that won't conk out after a year.
6. Save for retirement.
You should have long-term monetary goals for savings and growth. If you don't, come up with some. Talk to a financial planner or open a money market account. And don't forget to start putting away the maximum amount possible every year towards your retirement as soon as you have that flexibility. For most people, the times of sticking with a company for 25 years and getting a pension are long gone. You'll have to look out for yourself.
7. Be happy where you are.
Coveting other people's shiny things or fancy houses can lead to unrealistic goals and cause you to spend money on things you don't really need. If you spend your hard-earned money on things beyond your means to keep up with an unattainable image, you'll end up broke and unhappy. Create your own ideals, and know that it might take many, many years to reach them. And that's okay! You never know how friends with fabulous Instagram lives get their money—don't assume that you're behind if you don't match up. Keep your eyes on your own life and financial journey.