10 ways to live it up in your 20s and still get ahead with money

With spending and saving, it's often a choice between prioritising your current self and your future self.

Every now and then I ask people around me what they want to know about money. I love the questions I get from 25-year-olds, because it's always big picture and they all pretty much want the same thing.

It's less "what is the most effective strategy for managing my capital gains tax bill in transition to retirement?" and more "how can I get more money?" or "how can I have fun without spending too much?"

Otherwise known as the "champagne lifestyle on a beer budget" conundrum.

So pour yourself a glass of cheap 'n' cheerful Australian sparkling wine and let's start brainstorming.

First, understand that everything in life is a trade-off. With spending and saving, it's a choice between prioritising your current self and your future self. No one should totally do one or the other – it's about balance.

Think about what you want most in life. If you really want to own a house, hit big career goals or start a family, then you need to start working towards your goal.

If you're happy to take life's adventures as they come, that's OK too – your 20s are a time for figuring out who you are and what you want. I'd still suggest some simple financial goals to make sure you have plenty of options in your 30s and beyond.

Don't leave your 20s without ...

1. Getting comfortable with budgeting

Sit down for a few hours and go through your bank statements and understand how you're spending your money. I suggest checking out ASIC MoneySmart's BudgetPlanner tool and its TrackMySpend app.

Feel sick at the thought? When we procrastinate about something, it's usually because we fear discomfort, whether it's the fact the process is boring or because we're scared of what we might discover. Trust me, taking control can only ever be a good thing.

2. Ditching the credit cards

Make a plan to start paying off any credit cards. Swear off using them until you have the income and discipline to pay the balance in full every month. People talk about rent as dead money, but it's not – it's providing a roof over your head. But paying nearly 20% interest on a credit card really is dead money.

3. Getting what's yours

Consider having all your superannuation in one place so that you're not paying multiple sets of fees and insurance – the Tax Office has a tool on the my.gov website.

And make sure your employer is actually paying what they owe – under-payment and non-payment of super is a huge issue, especially for young people. The Tax Office recently estimated there is a shortfall of $2.85 billion a year in what employers should be paying but aren't.

4. Experimenting with money

There are so many great tools and apps to help with savings or to get you started with investment. And if you're going to take a calculated investment risk, try different jobs or courses of study, pursue a creative career or start your own business, now is the best time to do it. Try different things and learn from the experience.

5. Socialising with control

Feel confident that you don't always have to buy rounds of drinks on a night out. Don't freeload off your friends, but if you want to buy your own then don't let anyone make you feel that's not OK.

6. Minimising direct debits

These days, it seems every business wants you to pay by direct debit. Even charity collectors on the street don't want your cash. The shift to a subscription economy is great for businesses because it gives them reliable, regular income.

The downside for consumers is you can end up spending more than you would otherwise, and if payments come out at the wrong time it can send you into overdraft. Sometimes the direct debits are associated with a contract – at least with Netflix, you can pause your subscription any time, but cancelling a gym membership can be a nightmare. You can't always avoid direct debit, but there's often another way.

7. Learning to cook

Going out to eat at a restaurant with your friends or a partner is great. But too many lazy takeaways at home will wreak havoc with your waistline as well as your budget. Learn to cook some simple, healthy recipes.

Services like Hello Fresh or Aussie Farmers Direct Dinner Box can help you by delivering fresh ingredients and simple recipes. It's not quite as cost-effective as doing your own meal planning and shopping, but it's an easy way to get started and it's a lot cheaper than eating out. Eat your leftovers for lunch the next day or another meal.

8. Harnessing compound interest

My big lifestyle goal in my 20s was travel. For you it might be something else. I used to save up to travel, head overseas and blow it all, then start again. I had a great time! I have no regrets but if I had my time over I'd wait until I'd saved double what I needed, take half for my travel budget and pop the other half in superannuation, where I couldn't touch it. (I didn't have the discipline not to dip into my savings).

The reason is that I now understand the power of compound interest and why Albert Einstein described it as the eighth Wonder of the World. The truth is that money you save in your 20s works much harder for you than money you save at any other time of your life, because of the interest you earn on interest and the way that snowballs over time. It's worth contributing extra to super while you don't have commitments like a mortgage and family, even if you only do it for a few years.

9. Kicking consumerism to the kerb ...

The only way to get ahead in a capitalist economy is to tune out the constant message of buy, buy, buy. A recent survey by comparison site Finder found eight of 10 online shoppers have regretted something they've bought online. I've written before about shopping addiction and how buying things doesn't make you happy. Try culling and selling things you no longer need – the Secondhand Economy Report estimates there's about $5400 worth of unwanted items in every Australian home.

10. ... and FOMO too

FOMO (fear of missing out) and YOLO (you only live once) can be powerful in your 20s (and beyond). But here's the thing: no one can do everything. You'll be happier if you focus on what's going to be most meaningful and enjoyable for you right now – and it's OK for that to change over time.


This article was originally published by the Sydney Morning Herald on 29 October 2017. It represents the views of the author only and does not necessarily reflect the views of AMP.

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© AMP Life Limited. This provides general information and hasn’t taken your circumstances into account. It’s important to consider your particular circumstances before deciding what’s right for you. Although the information is from sources considered reliable, AMP does not guarantee that it is accurate or complete. You should not rely upon it and should seek qualified advice before making any investment decision. Except where liability under any statute cannot be excluded, AMP does not accept any liability (whether under contract, tort or otherwise) for any resulting loss or damage of the reader or any other person.