3 smart money moves to make in your 20s to be more successful

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Your 20s can be a strange decade, encompassing everything from college graduation and moving out of your parents’ house to your entry into the workforce and bringing in what’s likely the most money you’ve made in your life so far.

But figuring out exactly what to do with your paychecks can be stressful for Gen Z and young millennials.

While it’s great to live in the moment — and soak up your newfound of independence — your 20s are also a great time to put into place long-term financial habits.

If you’re questioning how to put your money to use in your 20s, here are three smart money moves to set yourself up for success later in life, according to two certified financial planners.

1. Start planning for retirement now

With the average American retiring in their early 60s, it can seem odd to begin stashing away cash for a phase of your life that’s almost four decades away.

But time is on your side, and your 20s are “the most important age” to start saving for retirement, says Andrew Fincher, a financial advisor at VLP Financial Advisors and certified financial planner.

“It’s less about the amount you’re putting in [retirement savings] and more about how much time you’re invested,” he says. “The compounding interest over a 40- or 50-year period is huge. If you do a smaller amount over 50 years, you’ll end up with a larger balance than if you didn’t start until you’re 35 and you max out.”

You can begin by seeing if your company sponsors a tax-advantaged retirement savings account, such as a 401(k). If it does, see if it also offers a company match, which is when an employer matches some or all of the contributions you make.

“There’s no other investment that I know of where you immediately get 100% on your money day one, or whatever the match is,” says Joe Conroy, certified financial planner and author of “Decades & Decisions: Financial Planning At Any Age.”

2. Focus on debt elimination

While it can be tempting to spend your money on travel or dinners with friends, be mindful of tackling debt now to prevent it from compounding later.

The most common forms of debt for twentysomethings include credit cards, auto loans, student loans and personal loans. High interest rates have made paying off debt even harder, and in 2023 people under 29 carried an average of nearly $3,000 in credit card debt.

“More people are carrying more debt, and those balances cost more than ever,” Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at, told CNBC Make It in 2023.

To tackle credit card debt, Rossman recommends either signing up for a 0% balance transfer card or consolidating your credit card debt if you have several balances on different cards.

Student loans are another common burden for many young people, with nearly 35% of adults ages 18 to 29 carrying student loan debt, according to the Education Data Initiative.

While it can be burdensome for twentysomethings to make anything more than the minimum payment on their student loans given that many are living off an entry-level salary, Fincher encourages people in their 20s to focus as much as possible on eliminating this debt.

“The problem is to look out further, when the interest on [student loans] has just accrued like crazy when you hit your 30s and really puts you in a more difficult position to be in,” he says. “To the extent that you have the ability to pay down a little bit more, focusing on that is a huge thing as well.”

3. Incorporate weddings into your budget

As you enter your mid- to late-20s, it’s likely that more and more wedding invitations will crowd your mailbox.

Attending the wedding of a friend creates lifelong memories, but can also set you back several hundred dollars if you need a new dress or suit or have to pay for travel expenses. That number often multiplies if you’re in the wedding party.

Preparing in advance for wedding attendance expenses can be helpful to avoid going into debt over pricey events, says Conroy. He recommends creating a wedding budget that you deposit a certain amount into each month, depending on how many events you have coming up.

“That way, you’re not just living off credit cards, you’ve actually set the money aside,” he says.

The same strategy could be applied to a vacation you’ve always wanted to take or a big birthday dinner. Creating a “me fund” can allow you to fit fun expenses into your lifestyle without stressing over the consequences.


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