Today I have a fantastic guest post from J, a twenty-something professional and lover of side hustles. She built a $200,000 net worth and paid off $100,000 debt by 27 years old. She hosts a money podcast, FIRE Drill podcast and blogs about millennial finances at millennialboss.com.
I graduated from college in 2011 with nearly $25,000 in student loans. My parents also took out another $7,000 in Parent Plus loans in my name.
I had no job, despite my efforts senior year applying to 3-4 companies each week. I was living with my parents wondering what went wrong.
I had been a straight-A student athlete. I got into a great college. I had internships.
Somehow I messed something up somewhere.
In June of 2011, I spent my last $5 and was officially broke.
I hit rock bottom.
Fast forward to 2016 and I had accumulated a $200,000 net worth, freed myself from my student loans, had an awesome job and was flying on the path to financial freedom.
If you know a young person who seems stuck after graduation, send them these 5 tips.
1. Know that all cash is green
All students want that $70,000 per year awesome job out of college and the reality is that it’s not going to happen for everyone.
Take whatever you can get and save your money.
I took an assistant job a few months out of college and saved every penny I earned. That money helped me when I snagged my dream internship at the U.S. Olympic Committee. I moved states and had money to get an apartment and build my life out west.
I also started making significant headway on my student loans.
I remember when I first took that assistant job and I was disappointed. I had friends who were making bank on Wall Street and had “prestigious” jobs with high salaries.
I felt that I had failed. I didn’t want to take a job that I thought was “beneath” my degree or my skills.
I was quite the idiot then. It wasn’t until I learned that all cash is green and I took that first assistant job that I really started improving my life.
No job is beneath anyone.
Take what you can get while you’re building your path to something better.
2. Build something from scratch
My entire resume before I graduated consisted of clubs, teams and companies that I had joined. I had nothing on my resume that I had built myself.
That changed quickly when I had a big realization a few months out of college: No one was responsible for my own career but me.
In the summer of 2011, I started a volunteer program for gifted and talented students at the local library. I advertised the class through the librarians and had 10 students for the semester. I also launched my own website about student travel at this time.
I got super into the website and it grew quickly.
A startup in the student travel space found the website and asked me to take an informational phone call. They were trying to learn more about the industry and stumbled upon my site. After talking to me and sensing my passion, they asked me to join their team.
I worked for them for two years (on top of my day job). I leveraged those two experiences to get the internship at the Olympic Committee, and my opportunities since.
99% of people are joiners not leaders.
Start a business, a side-hustle, a volunteer program and stand out from the crowd.
3. Collect skills
I was a liberal arts major, and I strongly believe in the value of liberal arts degrees.
At the same time, I should have been working toward collecting concrete “skills” in college. I didn’t realize the gap I had on my resume until after college. I taught myself basic html and website skills through building my own website.
Later in my career, I got my masters online in Information Systems and learned R, Java, SQL and other technical skills. These technical skills, along with the skills I learned in college, have made me more marketable professionally.
I’ve had the opportunity to work at Fortune 100 companies and major technology companies, and have started my own revenue-producing business leveraging those skills.
These career opportunities never would have happened had I not switched my focus to collecting skills.
4. Live close to work, not the bars
This one doesn’t apply to my own personal story as much, but I believe it is a huge mistake that young people make.
They prioritize proximity to nightlife over proximity to their day jobs. They pay a premium for the ability to walk to bars on a Thursday and on weekends.
This is a big mistake.
Think of it this way: You have to go to work 5 days per week, and chances are you’re not going to the bars 5 days per week.
Live by your work and commute to the bars, versus the other way around.
It’s often more expensive to live in a hot nightlife spot and commuting long distances to work is no fun. My recommendation is to get a bunch of roommates and live as close to work as possible.
Take the extra savings and put it toward the future (retirement, house down payment, stocks).
Use the time you save in your commute to hit the gym or start a side business. Using that extra time to workout is no joke. I gained 15 pounds after I left college because I no longer had the time in my day to work out.
Don’t sacrifice your time, health and your money to be able to walk to bars with your friends.
There is Uber, you know.
5. Start saving NOW
The first time I got a paycheck for over $1,000 I freaked out.
I bought everyone I knew $15 birthday cake shots because I felt rich.
Pretty soon I wised up and I started saving the majority of my take home pay. I also lived with my parents — and was fortunate to have the option available to me, although I did not feel fortunate about it at the time.
I stopped buying clothes and $15 shots, and started saving my money. I contributed up to the match in my 401(k).
Within 5 months I had saved $7,000.
Although I did a pretty good job right out of the gate with saving, I could have done even better. If I could do it again, I would have paid down my student loan debt more aggressively. Instead of paying off my loans in 2016, I could have been done in 2012.
I also would have opened a traditional IRA and contributed the max, $5,500 to the account.
Lastly, I would have opened up a brokerage or taxable account and bought stocks and index funds.
I waited a few years to do the latter two things because I didn’t know I should do them and I was intimated to do them.
Turns out, it’s not that hard to get started investing. Us tech-savvy generations can figure out how to do stuff online way easier than previous generations. Companies like Betterment, Robinhood, Personal Capital, and Wealthfront make it super easy and fun to save.
If I had saved back then, I would have hit a way higher net worth than $200,000 at 27.
Overall, I would advocate that young people take their twenties seriously and build the foundation that they want for their thirties.
Check out J’s podcast, FIRE Drill podcast, which she hosts with another financially-savvy millennial who also hit a net worth of $200,000 by 27. Also check out her blog, millennialboss.com for career tips and financial inspiration.