Make 2014 Your Year of Financial Independence
Starting Outers, a new year is nearly upon us, and it's time for some "real talk." We're adults now, but, for some of us, whether intentional or not, our finances remain trapped in adolescence. Do you still rely on the Bank of Mom and Dad for emergency bailouts? Is your career stuck on the entry level? Have you started saving for retirement?
If you don't have all the right answers to those important financial questions, it's time to get your act together. You have to take charge of your career and finances and grow up already. Ditch your childish money habits, and make 2014 your year of maturation into financial adulthood. Here are four New Year's money resolutions to help you make it happen.
1. Break up with the Bank of Mom and Dad.
Begging your parents for cash each time an unexpected expense crops up is a hardly an act of monetary maturity. A more grown-up solution to surprise financial problems: Tap your own emergency fund. Aim to save six to 12 months' worth of living expenses by siphoning off 10% of your paycheck into a savings account. Also squirrel away any extra cash that comes your way throughout the year, such as bonuses, birthday money or valuable spring-cleaning finds. And if you need more ideas to drum up additional income — i.e., if you're alive — try these 11 Ways to Get Extra Cash.
Understand that it could take years to fully fund your ideal emergency stash, especially if you have to dip into it from time to time. But any sacrifices will be worth it. The account will serve as padding when a busted car, broken tooth or period of unemployment leaves you yearning for extra cash. I tapped my emergency fund last winter when pricey moving expenses, including a hefty security deposit, took a bite out of my bank account.
If you need some crisis cash before you've had time to build your fund, consider these options. And make sure to round out your emergency cushion with renters insurance, car insurance and medical insurance.
Of course, you don't want to give up your parents' financial counsel. After all, they (usually) have some good advice. And if they give you an occasional monetary gift, it'd be rude not to accept, right? The point is: You don't want to rely on them to bail you out of every crisis or, good grief, to simply balance your budget.
2. Protect your career from party pics.
Fact: 37% of hiring managers research job candidates via social media, according to a Harris Interactive poll. And guess what? That Facebook picture of you downing flaming shots during your party-monster college years (or last Saturday night — we don't judge) might be sending the wrong message to potential employers, as well as current co-workers.
The time has come to research and polish your digital fingerprint. Find out what the rest of the world can see by typing your name into Spokeo.com or Pipl.com. If the search yields unprofessional results — such as a multitude of red-cup pics, offensive tweets or inappropriate affiliations — consider deleting them or beefing up your privacy settings. Also try creating new online content, such as a resume site, a blog showcasing your knowledge and skills, or an active LinkedIn account to boost your online image and push any racy pages you can't get rid of down in search results. Set up a Google alert on your name, so you can track each time you're mentioned online.
3. Start thinking about retirement.
Unless, like Ke$ha, you plan to die young, you need to consider your future, as distant as it might seem. That means investing in a 401(k) or a Roth IRA. Just over half of workers ages 25 to 34 have saved for retirement in 2013, according to the Employee Retirement Benefit Institute. That's down almost ten percentage points from ten years ago. We can do better.
What's the benefit of getting an early start on retirement? Let's say you invest 7% of your $40,000 paycheck, starting at age 22. By the time you retire at 65, you'll have almost $1.4 million (assuming a 3% match by your employer and an annualized 8% return). Start ten years later, and you'll wind up with less than half of that — just about $609,000.
Bonus: When you start saving from the get-go, you probably won't even feel like you're sacrificing anything. I started contributing to Kiplinger's 401(k) when I first joined the company. Because I've never received a paycheck without a percentage siphoned off for retirement, I don't even miss the funds. So in three years and with no pain, I've seen my retirement savings grow into the thousands.
4. Take control of your finances by using autopilot.
It might seem counterintuitive, but automating your finances can really put you in the financial driver's seat by encouraging you to save more and helping you cut costs. Set up your bank account to automatically shave a percentage from your checking and put it in your savings account. Have your 401(k) contribution automatically deducted from your paycheck. And put your federal student loans on autopay, which can even save money by cutting 0.25% off your interest rate. It takes just a few clicks of the mouse, and you'll be set for the whole year and beyond.