Most of us engage in some form of unhealthy behavior or spending patterns that adversely affect our current finances and our financial future -- to varying degrees.
It is often tempting to just look at the short-term benefits and reward of our spending habits instead of properly factoring in their long-term effects on our financial health a couple years down the line. While most of us are guilty in not following the best financial practices from time to time, many people exhibit potentially self-defeating money habits in their 20s that will be hard to recover from later in life.
In order to prevent financial calamity down the road, try to avoid these three minefields in your 20s at all costs:
1. No health insurance
Young people have a tendency to not take out health insurance coverage, which is probably one of the easiest behaviors to correct.
Especially young men between 18-34 are prone to go without health insurance, whereas young women do much better than men in all adult age groups.
Saving on health insurance premiums, because you think nothing can happen to you, is a foolish way of thinking. Accidents are never planned and can't be controlled, they just happen.
The U.S. medical system is the most expensive in the world and this is particularly true when it comes to hospitals where a day as an inpatient "costs on average more than $4,000," according to information from The New York Times.
You might save some cash now in health insurance premiums, but if something happens to you, you will be on the hook for a potentially massive medical bill later on.
Taking out health insurance is one of the easiest, low-cost ways to mitigate substantial financial risk. And with the Affordable Care Act making it cheaper to buy health insurance for many lower-income workers, health insurance should be an easier trade-off than it has been in the past.
2. No retirement savings
Saving for retirement is vitally important, and it is a big plus that awareness about the need for retirement planning has increased.
As part of a retirement study by insurance company Aegon, young people aged 20-29 were surveyed on whether they thought that they would be better off in retirement compared to the current generation of retirees.
The majority of respondents, 59%, stated that they expected to be worse off, while 20% expect to reach about the same standard of life in retirement as current retirees.
Though it is a good thing to raise awareness about the need for savings, young people do need to actually step up and make the savings effort, too. Unfortunately, as noted in this study by ADP, less than half of workers in their 20s are currently contributing to a retirement plan, so there's still a pretty clear gap between knowledge and action.
Whether you have just graduated from college or are already working a couple of years in a company, make sure you start contributing to a retirement plan (whether it's a 401(k) available through your workplace or an IRA) when you're in your 20s, and preferably save a little extra on the side. The sooner you start, the more time your investments can work for you.
3. Consumer debt
When you're in your 20s and are in the early stages of your career, you might not earn as much and find yourself cash-strapped from time to time. As a result, it can be tempting to resort to credit-financed consumption. But, relying on consumer debt is a bad way of handling your money to begin with.
The simplest way to avoid consumer debt is to make it a habit to pay for everything in cash -- no exceptions (although having a credit line does have benefits, including aiding your FICO score over the long haul). That way you know exactly what you can afford and you avoid falling into a debt trap. What's most important is to understand that your reliance on consumer debt can impact your life for many years down the road with principal and interest payments that can weigh you down heavily.
The Foolish bottom line
Prudent financial planning, however, requires that people in their 20s consider the points raised above and prepare accordingly to mitigate serious potential long-term financial harm.
Taking out health insurance coverage, starting to save for retirement and steering away from consumer debt at a young age can make all the difference in the world and set the stage for your financial freedom in the not too distant future.
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