Your late teens and early 20’s are times in your life when many people are making transitions from dependency to independence. With that, comes financial independence. Maybe you’re in college, or have just moved out of the house you grew up in.
Regardless, learning to balance rent, bills, groceries and other expenses can come as quite a shock, and many young adults end up accruing large debts that can plague them for years on end.
Many young adults are targeted by usurious credit lenders, offering high interest credit facilities such as credit cards, department store-specific cards and loans. These are often sold to young adults as a safety net for emergencies, but the reality is that frequently, these credit facilities are maxed out very quickly, saddling the borrower with high-interest debts that can take years to pay off.
Here are some simple, no nonsense pieces of advice for any young adult who wants to live a debt-free, stress-free life during their best years.
1. Avoid credit cards
If we could give one piece of financial advice to anybody in their 20’s, it would be this. You may think that it’s a good idea to have a credit card for emergencies, or to use one to improve your credit rating, and although these are all well and good, the reality is that credit cards are rarely used for these purposes, and the temptation to spend on them is always there.
Credit card companies aim to get people into debt while they’re young, and keep them their by bleeding them very slowly (through minimum payments and compound interest). Credit lenders are masters of making money, and they will play on your fear of being broke to mislead you into getting a credit card.
The only real way to beat the credit card companies is not to get a credit card.
2. Overestimate your outgoings, underestimate your income
It always makes sense to have a budget for rent, bills, food and other expenses, but one thing that people seem to neglect to factor into their budget is that income and outgoings can fluctuate wildly. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to draw up a budget using your maximum estimated outgoings, and your minimum estimated income.
Remember that if you are sick one month, your income will decrease, and during the winter, your heating bills will increase. Using this method should help to ensure that there are no nasty surprises at the end of the month when the figures don’t match up.
3. Be prepared for sudden expenses
Never make the mistake of assuming that things won’t go wrong. Things will break, prices will rise and fines will be charged. When drawing up a budget, I find it’s wise to set aside 15% of your income just as a buffer against sudden expenses.
Your car might breakdown, your boiler might go on the fritz, your dog might get sick. Be prepared for this.
4. Accept that you may not be able to afford luxuries all the time
Luxury items bring fleeting and temporary happiness, which dissipate as quickly as they come. Expensive clothes, technology and furniture actually do very little (if anything) to improve your life and general satisfaction levels.
That’s why it’s better to invest in doing things rather than having things. You don’t have to live a bare-essentials lifestyle, but cutting back on unnecessary luxuries during your younger years will not only save you a mountain of debt that you’ll have to pay off, but will also allow you to live a simpler, more care-free existence.
In the words of Roger J Corless, “Happiness is not something I have, it is something I myself want to be. Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over my body.”
5. Give yourself an allowance and stick to it
Sticking to a budget is often easier said than done. We often find the easiest way to regulate spending is to have an account which your wages are paid into, and a separate account for spending, and then arrange for a set amount to be paid into the spending account (either monthly, weekly or even daily), to ensure that you can keep track of your finances without overspending.
6. Save for things you really want
One of the side effects of the western fast-food culture of instant gratification, is that we struggle to get our heads around the concept of waiting to get what we want. In fact, we have all sort of credit schemes set up to actively encourage us not to wait.
Almost anything these days can be bought on credit. This usually involves making small, monthly payments for years on end at a massively inflated interest rate. It all seems very manageable, but one small payment added to another small payment, and another and another all begins to add up.
Before long, your disposable income has shrunk down to such a small amount that you can barely afford to buy gas for that over-sized car you’re still paying off. And what happens if you lose your job and can’t afford to make the repayments? Well, then you have to hand it all back.
7. Learn to enjoy the little things
Some of the best things in life cost little to nothing. You can’t put a price on good company, laughter or fun. Anyone who claims that you can’t have fun without spending money probably isn’t much fun to begin with. Some of the best activities in your life life can absolutely be cheap or free. Trade TV and computer games for socializing, and you’ll find life becomes richer (and you, too!).
8. Use savings to pay off debts
This is one of the most obvious but commonly overlooked ways to reduce your debt level. If you have $1,000 of debt, accruing interest at 18% APR (if you were so lucky as to have it so low), and $1,000 in savings, accruing interest at 3% APR (if you were so lucky as to have it so high), then you would immediately save yourself money by paying off your debts with your savings.
There is pretty much no scenario in which you will be borrowing money at a lower rate than the interest on a savings account.
9. Pay debts on time
If you have debts to pay, make sure you have the correct direct debits/standing orders and available money to pay them on time. Often the charges for missing payments can cause your initial debt to soar, which can lead to spiraling debts and financial chaos. Always ensure you know when money is due to be paid, and ensure that you have the funds set aside to do so.
10. Interest-free credit is not free money
Just because something says it is interest free for six months, don’t assume that this means you have just been given a fistful of free cash. These offers are setup to deliberately encourage reckless spending, and as soon as the interest-free period is over, you’re saddled with a high interest rate on an insurmountable heap of debt, which you probably don’t have much to show for.
Now, we know what you’re thinking; you could just put all of the money in a savings account, wait until the six months is up, and then pay it all off, keeping all of the interest accrued for yourself.
Great idea… In theory. The reality is that less than 1% of people who attempt this actually manage it. Your creditors know this. They are not stupid, they know how to get you into debt and keep you there for as long as possible. Don’t be caught out.
Hopefully, this has given you some insight into how to avoid debt. Debt is a totally unnecessary stress that the majority of us deal with throughout our lives. Your younger years should be spent enjoying the simpler things in life, not over-complicating it with financial worries.
With a little calculation, and a lot of impulse control, you can have a fun, free and fulfilling life. Without Debt.
Featured photo credit: Flickr via farm8.staticflickr.com