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The 3 Most Helpful Things I Did to Build Savings in My Twenties

If you’re in your twenties, chances are you need to pay off some debt and build a savings. Or at least that was me. At 23, I was facing $6,752 in debt without a penny to pay it back. It. Was. Scary.

What did it mean if I took on the debt? How would I ever pay it back? Maybe I should just push it off for now? These were all thoughts running through my head.

However, another thought were my dad’s words, “Ryland, Never take on debt. Seriously. Do whatever it takes.” I followed the words of my dad. And it paid off. In just over three years, I was debt free and had saved over $97k from working a job with an average salary of $55k/yr.

I’m not going to tell you to do that. Instead, I want to share with you the three most helpful actions I took to get out of debt and start stashing for financial freedom.

1. Housing

If you’ve ever been frustrated by your rent price you’ve probably thought: How am I suppose to find “cheap” rent when I want ____? What if I want to live somewhere I enjoy? How about if I want a home I can feel relaxed in? Or I want to live in the most expensive city in the nation?

These are totally common issues, and I hear ya. But let me show you how I pulled it off. 🙂

Year 1

My first year was a buffer year. In this year I did something I told myself I’d never do — I moved in with my parents. Looking back I’d do this again in a second.

They gave me a rent price that was incredibly kind, around $400/mo. It helped me pay off my debt and build up a savings incredibly fast and helped them financially too. It was a great win-win.

And, during that time, I reconnected with my parents in a whole new way, as an adult. I’ll look back fondly on those memories forever.

Don’t hold your mind to only your family here. This is possible with family friends as well! Even three to four months of this can make all the difference.

Year 2+

After building a savings that way for 11 months, I felt 100% confident and stress-free about moving into the city with friends and co-workers. And crazy enough, I was able to score a beach front apartment in San Francisco for $700 less than the median rental price.

Here’s exactly how I did it:

1. I gave myself unlimited time to find the perfect home.

To do this I got together with a group of friends who didn’t need to move. We all just agreed that if the “dream house” came up, we’d transition our lives. This was huge because it didn’t force me into a rental that I wasn’t completely happy with.

2. I set up If This, Then That, (IFTTT) Craiglist alerts, so only the “perfect” homes were sent to my inbox.

Using IFTTT I was able (very simply!) to select the neighborhood, price range, and other home features that defined my perfect home on Craigslist. And what would happen was IFTTT would email all of us as soon as a listing that matched our dream situation was listed.

No more clicking back in to Craigslist to search. I just put it on auto drive, and watched as the perfect places came in each day. Because we had the alert set, we were the first to know about every listing. So when the dream home came up, we called immediately and got the place.

In that home I chose the smallest room and I had a closet in the hallway. Despite the fact that it was a tight fit, it didn’t matter because I spent most of my time in the living room and kitchen, and also out and about hanging with friends. The inconvenience was minuscule, and it was 100% worth being able to save an extra $700/mo.

If you can be flexible, finding a way to achieve less expensive rent will change your life. It’s the easiest way to do well with your finances in your twenties, if you were to ask me.

2. Travel

A lot of my peers would save for a few months, and then spend it all on crazy expensive travel. When they came back they were often stressed out because of the new lack of cash. I didn’t want that stress, but I definitely wanted to travel!

Here’s what I did to keep saving and have fun traveling:

1. I did tons of weekday micro adventures.

These were bike trips to work, sunrise urban hikes, etc. And they were so much fun! My goal was to do something everyday either before or after my 9-5 job. It kept life fresh and kept my wallet growing

2. I did tons of weekend trips.

However,  for these instead of renting out posh AirBnB’s or flying somewhere for a few days, I did mini-backpacking and car camping trips. And I did things like “double day-trips” (where friends and I would go on an two all-day adventures) and come home to ready-to-cook tacos, music, and Coronas — a total blast.

3. I did my long term travel in a smart way.

While most of my peers spent 30 hours of their 336 hour (14 day) vacations in a plane, I spent only a small fraction of that driving for road trips. It is incredible how many amazing different landscapes and cultures there are to experience only a drive away.

These trips would cost me $800-$1000 for two weeks, rather than the $3000 twice/yr trips my peers were taking. And if you’ve never done a road trip, you literally wouldn’t believe how much fun they are with friends.

4. An Adventure Car.

This is where I got tripped up. Here’s the thing, cars are the double edged sword of finances.

We focus on finances to gain freedom. And in one sense cars can provide that utter freedom we all yearn for. On the other hand, cars (done wrong) can taint that freedom with constant underlying financial stress.

My first car purchase was my biggest mistake. It cost me $5400 to buy. I paid over $4000 in mechanic fees. And 8 months later, I sold it for a gut wrenching $900. Yikes! That hurts to share. But it’s true!

The big thing at that point was I threw in the towel. If you don’t follow the sunk cost fallacy, it’s going to continue to eat away at your ability to pay off your debt and build a savings. (And to be honest, I was probably a few months too late. Haha! But, hey, I still got rid of it!)

And as I built back up, I treated it a lot like I moved through my housing sequentially. First I lived without a car. I used Lyft for trips over 5 miles and biked otherwise. I can’t tell you how good of  shape I got in doing this! And it was super fun too.

After 2-3 months of this, I bought a scooter for $1500. This was perfect! I had the freedom to move around the city as well as nab any parking spot I wanted. For weekend trips, I just rented a car, and it allowed me to continue building my savings for the future car purchase.

After about a year, I began to want a bit more of the freedom that an adventure car could provide, so I timidly went off to purchase one. But this time I followed the rules laid out in this article, How to Come Out WAY AHEAD When Buying a Car. And I am happy to say I’ve had my adventure car for over 2 years, took a 3 month West Coast road trip in it. It cost $4k to buy, and I’ve had zero dollars in mechanic fees — a total godsend!

Especially if you compare that to the average cost of a new car in 2017 ($33,560!). It’s literally night and day for your wallet, and your enjoyable life stays pretty much the same.

In Summary…

If you can nail these three things in your twenties it will provide freedom for the rest of your life. I promise you that.

Ultimately, compared to the average of my peers: I saved $700/mo on rent, $4000/yr on travel, and $30k on my car purchase. Over a 2.5 year period that’s an extra $61k I had! And I used that to pay off debt, build a savings, and unlock financial freedom to work on projects I enjoy more.

If you want to start right now, jump on over to IFTTT and set up an alert for your perfect home. Hopefully in a number of months you’ll be taking down your debt and championing your savings!

By Ryland King

Ryland is a writer, outdoorsman and surfer. His goal is to make money easy for outdoor loving people so they can stay focused on life’s adventures. His site, The Hidden Green, is aimed at giving adventurous people peace of mind with their personal finances.

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