Build A Better Safety Net To Avoid Financial Disaster

Have you ever consider what your money might look like if you began building a financial safety net in your twenties? I was recently asked the question if I could go back to my 20s, what would I do differently to build a better financial safety net and grow my net worth faster? 

Flashback to 1990, this was the year I turned twenty. Thinking back, I guess I could have better used my money than spending it on dial-up internet access with AOL, or my first cell phone the Motorola 5200, or trying to perfect my grunge look with all that flannel. 

I never really thought about building wealth. When I earned money, once my bills were paid, I looked for ways to spend what was left. At least I was aware that my bills should be paid each month. If I had a time machine and could travel back to 1990, here are the things I wish I did differently.

Education Safety Net

My parents taught me the basics when it came to money. The helped me open a bank account, showed me how to balance a checkbook, but beyond that, there wasn't much guidance. I'm not sure they knew much more than this.

I don't ever recall covering anything on the subject in High School or College, either. I do, however, remember the credit card applications and the gifts being offered in the student center each week. 

If I had the chance to do it over, I would certainly educate myself a bit more on the topic of personal finance. The podcast wasn't a thing in the 90s, but there were plenty of books I could have read. Having picked up education would give me an excellent foundation for years to come as my earned income began to increase. It's also important to stay connected to your money and practice continuing education on the topic.

It's one of the things my wife and I are doing differently with our three children. Although they probably will never use a checkbook, we talk about money often, and they have access to books, and podcasts to increase their financial knowledge as young adults.

Save More Money Safety Net

I don't ever recall savings being a part of my overall plan. From my first part-time jobs on to my full-time jobs post-college. I'm not sure why. I wish someone would have introduced me to compound interest in 1990.

I ran the quick numbers using a compound interest calculator, and if I were saving $100 a month since I was 20, I'd have an additional $114k saved if I put away $500 I'd have almost $570k saved. 

It helps today to have apps and net worth tools at your fingertips to keep track of your overall spending and generally keep your money better organized. 

My three children have never set foot in a bank. They manage their money all online, via their banking app, and mobile phones.

Paying yourself first, establishing a cash saving for emergencies, and understanding the power of compound interest are three pillars of a financial safety net. Mastering these early on in life will serve you well throughout your lifetime.

Although I don't have the opportunity to do it again, these are the lessons my three children are surely learning about.

Spend Less than I Made

Spending less then you make ties directly into saving more money. If you pay yourself first, it's hard to overspend. I never had any money to save because I was always spending all of it. In my twenties, I wasn't thinking about the unexpected things life can throw at you or even retirement yet.

I was concerned about what my plans were for Friday night, which typically meant eating and drinking out somewhere and spending a good bit of cash. Rethinking it, I would still go out, but make sure my savings goals were met first.

So may consider a value-based approach with their spending, making sure all of their basic needs are met first and then spending based on their goals and priorities in their life. The key is to remember that you can afford anything, not everything.

It's a lesson my three children are learning to master. As young adults, it's a balance. Earning your own money for the first time takes some trial and error. All three children approach their money differently, each saves and spends but at different rates. It's good to see they have a solid foundation. They are much further ahead then I was at their age.

Use Credit Cards as a Tool, Not a Crutch

My credit cards were always used to cover cash shortages or purchase things we should have saved for in the first place. Once a balance was established, it became all about managing the minimum payment. 

As long as the minimum payment could be made, the card would continue to be used. Over time the credit line would be increased, and more spending would occur. 

I never saw this as a problem until one card turns into five, and after years of abuse, a $100,000 worth of consumer debt crippled us. 

I know better now, credit cards should be paid in full every month and, if appropriately used, can gain you rewards, saving you additional money on several things. It's a simple rule, and if you can't follow it, you shouldn't own a credit card.

My three children have avoided credit cards so far. They understand the value of saving and waiting to purchase larger items until cash is saved. It has helped to reinforce this behavior by witnessing some of their friends already go into credit card debt. I don't like to hear these stories of a 20 something-year-old already being in several thousands of dollars of debt, but it serves as a giant reminder of the traps of credit cards if not used responsibly.

Final Thoughts on Building a Financial Safety Net

There no gaining back the 20 years I've lost mismanaging my money, but I don't get hung up in the past. I continue to move forward every day, building our financial safety net slow and steady. I look forward to the financial futures of my three children. 

They are armed with a ton more information about money than I ever was at their age. How will their financial futures turn out? Only time will tell, but they do know mom and dad are always up for a money conversation.

If you could go back to your 20s, what would you do differently to build a better financial safety net? What tips do you use to grow your net worth?

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