Taking care of your money is an important part of caring for your whole self. Setting actionable goals to improve your finances can lead to improvements in other areas of your life as well. This five-part series maps out some key financial goals you may want to set for each decade of your life. Part 1 outlines which money moves to tackle in your 20s.

Your 20s can be a stressful time as you transition from being a student into full-blown adulting. Making time for self-care is a way to recharge emotionally, mentally and physically as you balance new experiences and challenges.

The same concept also can be applied to your money. Setting clear goals is a big part of practicing financial self-care and cultivating better money habits. As you navigate your 20s, consider these five things to aspire to while you pursue financial wellness.

1. Become a Budgeting Guru

“Budget” may sounds like a bad word to some, but it can be invaluable for promoting good financial health. A budget is a plan for how you manage your money — it reflects the balance between your income and your expenses.

Making a budget is an act of financial self-care because you’re assuming responsibility and accountability for how you spend. Getting into the budgeting habit in your 20s can set the tone for how successfully you handle money into your 30s and beyond.

Tracking your spending is an important part of the process and there are plenty of apps that can help you do it. By seeing where your dollars and cents go each month, you’re better equipped to pursue the next goal on the list: saving.

2. Save for Rainy Days

Sixty percent of Americans don’t have enough in savings to cover a $1,000 emergency, according to a January 2019 Bankrate survey. No cash in the bank means that when an unexpected expense crops up, or you find yourself temporarily out of work, you may have to lean more heavily on your credit than you’re comfortable with.

That’s probably not the kind of money pattern you want to set in your 20s, especially if you’re building your financial situation. As you plan your budget, consider how much you can reasonably commit to saving each month, after your bills are paid and you’ve allotted yourself a little fun money to spend. It may be $10 or $100 a week but, whatever it is, saving that money regularly in a high-yield savings account can make you feel more confident about your ability to handle a financial emergency.

3. Get a Jump on Retirement Planning

As a 20-something, time is literally on your side where retirement is concerned. Older millennials are already taking it seriously: 39 percent of late 20-somethings increased their retirement savings rate in 2018, says Bankrate, a larger increase in retirement savings rate than any other generation.

They’re saving now to make sure they’re financially comfortable later. If you have yet to begin saving, your employer’s retirement plan can be a good place to start. At the very least, you’ll want to save enough to receive the company match.

An Individual Retirement Account or IRA is another option if you don’t have a retirement plan through your job. If you were to save $300 per month in a traditional IRA starting at age 25 and save that amount consistently until age 65, earning a 6 percent annual return, you’d have over $590,000 before taxes socked away for your nest egg. Regardless of where you save, your future self will appreciate the effort.

4. Learn Your Credit Score

A credit score is a three-digit number that’s calculated based on how you manage credit. Lenders use credit scores to decide whether to approve you for credit and how much interest to charge. Your credit score matters because the lower the score, the more likely you are to default on debt in the eyes of creditors and lenders, and the more likely you are to receive higher interest rates on credit and loans.

In your 20s, you may be starting from scratch where your credit score is concerned and that’s okay. What’s important is that you work on establishing a positive credit history, especially if buying a home or getting a car loan is a goal down the line.

Opening a credit card may be the easiest way to started. If you don’t qualify for a traditional credit card, you can still build credit using a secured card, which requires a small cash deposit to open. Be sure to compare the annual percentage rate and fees before selecting a credit card.

The best way to care for your credit health in your 20s is by paying your bills on time each month. Second to that is keeping a low balance on your credit cards in comparison to your credit limits. These two habits have the most impact on your credit score, so it’s good to develop them early on.

5. Take Charge of Your Student Loans

Student loan debt can put a crimp in your financial plans if high payments prevent you from saving or spending as you’d like. The average class of 2017 graduate left school with $39,400 in loans, an increase of 6 percent over the previous year, says StudentLoanHero.com.

If you have student loans — or any other type of debt, for that matter — your 20s are a great time to work on paying it down. With student loans, you may consider refinancing or consolidating them into a single loan at a lower interest rate. Credit card balances may be transferred to another card with a 0 percent intro APR.

If you’re struggling with student loans, don’t ignore them. Reach out to your lender to discuss your repayment options to try and find a plan that fits your budget. Or, look into a temporary deferment or forbearance if you need a break from making payments.

Most importantly, reevaluate your budget to see if you can carve out extra money you can dedicate to debt repayment. The sooner the debt is gone, the sooner you can move on to pursuing the financial goals that are most important to you.

Over the course of your life, your finances can vary greatly and what’s most important to you may evolve as you move from your 20s to your 60s and beyond. This series is designed to help you build a blueprint for practicing financial self-care through the various stages of your life. Creating plans to improve or stabilize your money situation and reviewing them regularly may help you reach your final objectives with less stress and more security.

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