Listen 20-somethings: While you are learning all sorts of good financial advice for paying debts and saving for retirement, don't neglect to budget for dreams.
Today (April 18) at 4 p.m., the U.S. Labor Department is hosting a free webinar on good financial habits for college seniors and young workers. Click here to register. They didn't ask me to be on panel (and that's a good thing), but I want to throw in my two cents.
When you get your first pay check, put aside a small amount of money each week for your dreams. You'll have a checking account for your everyday expenses.You'll contribute to an IRA for retirement. You'll have another savings account for short-term emergencies or mid-level major expenses, such as a new tire for your car or a sofa to replace that ratty one that was in your college apartment. But this third account is for something much more wonderful.
When I got my first job, I earned $135 a week. I opened a special bank account and put $15 in it every week. After a few years, I had saved enough money to leave my job for nearly five months to travel in Europe. That same account later helped fund the down payment on my house and a five-month trip to Asia.
The key to success is to pick a very small amount -- $15 was probably too much on $135. But, and this is key, be extremely consistent. I never missed a week. It is a better to have a small amount and be consistent than to be overly ambitious and start having excuses why the money can't be saved. The best way to succeed is to somehow make sure you never have the money in your hand -- direct deposit to an account and then a direct transfer to another type of account with limited access. The account I had at that time penalized any withdrawals taken after the first 10 days in each quarter.
Having this account did mean some sacrifice, but very minor ones. I quickly stopped drinking sodas -- big waste of money. I usually packed my lunch, a habit that continues to this day. I didn't care about new cars, furniture or clothes and still don't. I lived in a modest apartment. My dream was way better than all of that.
That's why it helps to have a dream in mind. I was so ambitious to get a job that it didn't dawn on me until I had the job that I was now stuck working -- no more spring break, no more holiday break. That fueled my yearning to break free and travel. I'm glad I had a chance to live my dreams.