You're young free and single, and your 20's are your playground, but they're also a decade in your life that will count a whole lot towards your future. While financial planning may seem boring and unnecessary, the smart, savvy you will recognise the need to plan for a future that could be difficult and one where you may run into some bumps on the road. Here are five relatively easy moves you can make to make your financial future a more stable one.
Write Down Your Goals
Without creating a list of long- and short-term goals, it is impossible to determine if you are making the right financial decisions. Consider things like: ;
How you envision your retirement;
If and when you'd like to become a homeowner;
Whether you plan to have children;
Which debts you want to focus on paying off first
Credit Cards are a necessary evil. Choose yours carefully and monitor your spending with mobile banking apps.
And remember, you don't need to map out your entire life. These goals will change and evolve over time, but thinking about where you want to be in 1, 5, 15 years can help you hone in on what kinds of financial decisions you should be making day-to-day.
Start Saving for Retirement
I know what you're thinking. “I'm only in my 20s, I can save for retirement later, right?" Technically, yes, but it is in your best interest to start now. The sooner you start, the less you'll have to save, because the effects of compound interest will have longer to mature. This means you can contribute less and end up with more than if you were to wait to start saving in your 30s. Check with your employer to see if they have a 401(k) plan that you can make automatic contributions to through your paycheck. If they offer a matching plan, this is essentially free money, so try to contribute enough to maximize the amount they'll match.
Stop Maxing Out Your Credit Cards
Young adults are often guilty of treating credit cards like free money. There is often a “charge now, worry about it later" mentality when it comes to credit card usage. Now is the time to stop. Not only is this hurting your credit score, but it's costing you a ton of money in interest. Your 20s should be a time when you start taking your finances more seriously and thinking long-term. You'll also likely be dealing with a whole new set of financial responsibilities such as rent, utilities, student loan payments, perhaps a car loan – and worrying about how you're going to pay off a high credit card balance is the last thing you need to be thinking about.
Rather than charging a vacation or nights out with friends to your credit card, take some time to create a budget and determine how much you can reasonably spend on your social life and other indulgences, while still being able to save and pay for necessities. A credit card should only be used when you know you can pay off the balance in full at the end of the month.
Take Control of Your Credit Score
Excellent credit takes years to build, so if you haven't started building a credit history, or if you haven't used your credit responsibly, now is the time to start taking charge. Your credit score is calculated based on the length of your credit history, your payment history, the amount of debt you owe, the amount of new credit accounts you have opened, and the types of credit accounts you have. You can check your credit reports and score with each of the 3 major bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax). It is in your best interest to ensure you are on the path to having a great credit score so that when the time comes to borrow money (such as when applying for a mortgage or a car loan) you'll be seen as an excellent candidate to lenders.
Create an Emergency Fund
Life is full of ups and down and unfortunately that sometimes means unexpected payments. Since funds and income are typically somewhat limited in your 20s, you don't want to suffer a major setback when an unexpected expense comes your way. Instead, open a separate savings account and designate it as your “emergency fund". Ideally, an emergency fund should cover 3-6 months' worth of expenses. While it may take some time to build up, make this a priority so that you have it ready as your “secret weapon" when you need it.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.