16 Financial Goals For The Rest Of My 20s

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I’m 26 years old today. (On the 26th! And at the beginning of possibly the biggest snowstorm in New York history! How cool!)

I will spare you guys an existential rant on what it means to be on ~the other side of 25~ because a) who gives a shit, and b) I am happy to be turning a year older, and feel awesome about where I am right now. I felt old and embarrassed at 21 when I was aimless, broke, and nowhere near getting a degree. At 26, I’ve had a book in bookstores across North America and Europe, was a Creative Director at a top-50 US website, and started a blog that John and Hank Green chose to sponsor. 26 feels impossibly young, and it is.

But it also feels like a great time — even if my blog wasn’t called The Financial Diet — to think about the tangible, actionable goals I have for the rest of my 20s. And again, even if writing about personal finance wasn’t my #personalbrand, most of my goals would be financial. I have realized a lot of my dreams and had a particularly good 2014, but I have a lot of growing left to do when it comes to money. So I wanted to write down some of the specific milestones I’d like to hit before 30.

1. Earn my full-time living through The Financial Diet, enough that I am comfortable and secure without having to do any other projects in a given month, if I can’t or don’t want to. (Also, as some of you may have noticed, I have not yet put any ads on the site, as there are things that are being updated/upgraded before there will be any. But please have faith in me that my taste in ads is second to none, and their eventual presence will not disturb your browsing experience, but rather eNhAnCe it.)

2. Live below my means to the point that I can save at least 25 percent of my monthly income, and put any extra money that I earn in a given month straight into savings/investments.

3. Get my budget game so on point that I always know where I stand with all my accounts, and am never caught off-guard by a statement (unless something totally out of my control happened).

4. Own things with actual value, instead of just a ton of shitty sweaters that I don’t wear. Like real estate.

5. Choose freelance projects with increasing discernment, widening the scope of my work as I go. Work on things that take longer, feel richer, and are more satisfying. Increase the value of an hour of my work.

6. Write a second book, and this time actually be in the U.S. for its launch so I can go from bookstore to bookstore, caressing its cover and luxuriating in my cArRiE bRaDsHaW mOmEnt.

7. Have the freedom to dedicate a portion of my weekly working hours to girls who are just starting out. Finally be of use to the young women who write me freaking out about what to do after college, or how to become a writer. Take a hundred hungry young women who are way more intelligent and motivated than I ever was at their age out for coffee.

8. Master all styles of cooking (and cooking in advance) to the point where 85 percent of my meals are cheap, satisfying, and eaten at home.

9. Purify my wardrobe enough that every purchase I make is deliberate and intelligent. (More generally, stop hemorrhaging money at fast fashion stores and only own things that look and feel great. I have been making great progress on this already this year but, you know, I can always improve.)

10. Be able to donate to various charities and causes without much consideration, even if it’s only 50 bucks here and there.

11. Master the art of sale shopping to the point that my whole life is full of high-quality items I got for a fraction of the price. Learn to separate “cheap” and “frugal,” and to never confuse the two.

12. Learn enough about my own finances and business that I feel competent and confident when talking with my lawyer and accountant, and know the exact questions to ask. Lose that feeling of being the little girl in the big city who just hopes that people aren’t taking advantage of her.

13. Keep “quality of life” as an equally important marker of success to “income,” and never think that the number in your bank account should come at the expense of your sanity, or your happiness. Know when to say “no” to things that would make you richer on paper and poorer in life.

14. Pay my fair share of taxes, always. Remember that everyone having good health care and a roof over their head is just as important as my own success, and engaging in the many tax-evading strategies of the self-employed is a moral failing, no matter what the American dream tells us.

15. Take my parents on a nice vacation, somewhere they have never been. Don’t let them pay for a thing.

16. Live in such a way that money fades to the background of my life, and provides a pleasant hum for everything to run smoothly, without being the focus of things or what defines me. Live humbly and well, and always remember that it is the distance between what we have and what we desire that makes us unhappy, and that enjoying life within our means is the key to feeling satisfied and ~dare I say~ rich.

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  • Mary Kate Pleggenkuhle

    Absolutely loved reading this list, gaining even more information from you, and knowing I was lucky enough to snag a lunch in your busy schedule before. Best of luck with the Financial Diet! It can be the little angel on my shoulder in shopping times of weakness.

  • Sally @ TinyApartmentDesign

    I am FASCINATED by this blog, having just discovered it since I’ve always enjoyed reading an article or two from you on Thought Catalog. I myself had a personal finance blog for almost 3 years where I talked about money and investing and paying off debt while maintaining some sass and originality (Here’s an excerpt of me from 2011 discussing the flawed setup of an episode of Weeds: But no one is going to buy dime bags for $500, ever. If it was that easy to market products to the affluent customer, we would all be selling cheap stuff marketed as high-end stuff and making a killing. The affluent customer doesn’t just buy it because it’s expensive. Do you know the arena where cheap crap is marketed as a high-end product and makes awesome profits? Yes, it’s celebrity-licensed or designed merchandise!). I sold that blog when I paid off my debt, happy to never look back on the basics of personal finance, as long as I kept myself in check (staying out of debt, minimizing taxes, increasing income sources, etc). And yet, I think that I may go back and build a new blog that sometimes talks about money because well, there’s big money in PF blogging, when done right. I am curious to see if you’ve ever read the personal finance “bigs”? There are the serious sites (Get Rich Slowly) and the extreme sites (Mr. Money Mustache) and the endless rotation of ladies paying off debt or into shopping (I was one of those, but I’d like to think I did it better), guys trying to build wealth and talk investing without sounding totally ignorant, moms being frugal, etc, etc. I’ve read and written enough personal finance articles for one lifetime. And while I don’t doubt you will do a good job talking about these topics, they have quite honestly been beaten to death. Grocery shopping? Budget setting? Impulse control? How to travel frugally? Check, check, check and check. I can name you dozens of bloggers I know personally who’ve covered them ad infinitum or just point you to Wisebread’s Top PF blogs list. But I have no doubt you will excel and grow far beyond those blogs because you have one element that they (nor I) never had: a huge, faithful readership. I knew I was doing something right, I guess I was just ahead of the curve.

    • Angelica

      I think one of the reasons Chelsea has a faithful readership is that she understands us, because she’s in the trenches with us. I can ask advice from a PF grownup who will give me all the right answers and tell me what I should be doing with my money – but Chelsea knows what I am interested in, how I want to live, and what my realistic financial goals and setbacks are at this stage in my life. Her advice is relateable and concrete – which makes me more likely to understand it and follow it. Great work, Chelsea!

      • Sally @ TinyApartmentDesign

        Yes, I can see that Chelsea is easy to relate to for women in their 20s, but I also know that some of those other personal finance blogs are all about growing and becoming wiser about money, and not just what’s realistic right now. When I started my blog, I was 28, making a below average salary and had close to $40k in debt. Just a little over two years later, I had well over doubled my income and paid off my debt. It came from the concrete support and advice of a community of people trying to figure out money together. While I know TFD will be very readable and relateable, because of its leanings towards being a lifestyle blog, it becomes more of a pastime than a place to learn and excel in your finances. You can find financial confessions all over the internet- what’s more interesting is what people do next, where they succeed and where they fail. Also as a side note, it’s tough for me to read here any more because I have noticed a tone of “judginess” in a lot of these articles. Reading this one again, I see “engaging in the many tax-evading strategies of the self-employed is a moral failing” which is interesting, because I don’t know what tax evading strategies she’s referring to. I’ve had self-employed income since 2010, and I deduct all kinds of expenses from mileage to meals with clients, to the cell phone, rent and internet expenses related to my business. I also speak to a CPA each year to make sure I am not missing out on other deductions I can take. I consider this smart, not a moral failing. Unless she has specifics of the fraud that she’s talking about (and evasion is fraud and definitely illegal), this point comes across as very preachy and might head readers in the wrong direction, as in “I better not take too many deductions, because then I am not fulfilling my duty as an American! Chelsea said so right in TFD!” Still, good on Chelsea for filling a need in the PF blog marketplace.

        • chelseafagan

          Hey, whoa, this is a little… intense.

          Two things:

          1. This blog is about the basics, but I am only six months into having it, and we haven’t even come into the final version of the site layout (or added advertisements). I have a long way to grow and learn, and the idea is that we all do it together. We have a lot of practical, literal tips about money, credit, etc, and are working to include more as we go, but the point is to do it slowly and realistically, the way it happens in real life. This is about a journey, not me descending from my post on Mount Money and telling you how to be perfect.

          2. When I am talking about avoiding paying your fair share of taxes, I am talking about unethical practices such as not bringing people on as employees (but rather keeping everyone full-time freelance), incorporating in areas which allow you to partially or totally avoid contributing to your community, or claiming fraudulent expenses. I am religious about saving my receipts and claim my work-related expenses without exception (every business owner does), but that doesn’t mean I will go the extra mile to avoid what I owe, which many business owners and self-employed people do, unfortunately.

          I may not be perfect at this moment, but that is the point. I am not trying to be anything I’m not, I’m trying to learn and grow along with my partner here at TFD and the whole community of contributors. Financial confessions might be old news to you, but it’s the first time a lot of people have been honest with these things, myself included.

          • Becca Waterloo

            Chelsea, I only recently discovered your blog a few weeks ago, but I honestly think you do such a great job. You cater to an audience similar to you, you do the blog for yourself, you report it to others, and those that follow will continue to follow. As someone with a personal blog, I’ve learned that the internet is a huge space and everyone could quite possibly be doing the same thing, which is totally fine. I have a blog for myself, and if it caters to someone else, then they’re welcome to follow. Just because tons of people have blogs that do the very same thing doesn’t mean I’m not gonna post. If you do a few articles on what others may have done already does NOT mean you’re not allowed to do it, so keep going. I think you do it really successfully.
            This shows the good and bad sides of the internet = people using it for good/productive reasons (you!), and also people using it to show off how entitled their opinion is (when it’s really not all that great or constructive!) (sally)
            Great job for keeping these comments up and don’t let it discourage you, let it empower you! 🙂

          • chelseafagan

            You’re so kind! Thank you so much Becca 🙂

          • Sally @ TinyApartmentDesign

            I was not trying to discourage her at all, I was just sharing about some of the other blogs, because I think it’s nice to know what’s out there – not that that should be discouragement from writing, but to to do it in your own way, which TFD is doing. I do think people can learn a lot from some of the other finance blogs, people are really creative and share a lot of different ideas on money, saving, investing, etc. I didn’t consider that an entitled opinion, but I guess it’s a fair comment 🙂

          • Sally @ TinyApartmentDesign

            Hey, I think that’s awesome, I am sure you are going to get into more advanced topics because they are going to affect your life too (stuff like business partnerships, working with friends, etc, it’s all stuff we’re dealing with and are often new to). And you’re right, for a lot of people it is really refreshing to talk about this stuff honestly and we don’t do it in everyday life (even amongst coworkers, friends and family). Reaching your readers and talking to them honestly about money is really a compliment- it’s nice not to ignore this and pretend it’s not there. I don’t think you should be something you’re not, and I thought the fair share of taxes was uninformed because there was no background- now I am very curious about the freelance/employee stuff and hope you write about it. Finally, no one is perfect about money and the people who pretend like they are are no fun to read either, I was just commenting on how interesting I think it is that an established blog writer like you (with a loyal following from your TC days) has entered the personal finance blog world, because it happens to be a very big, competitive blog category (that’s also a very small world) with a lot of financial potential, and that even so, I think your blog will do VERY well because you have a good writing style and an audience. So yes, it will be great to see your journey unfold (and I hope you talk about investing and business too), and now that I know you respond to comments, I am sure I will be back too.

      • chelseafagan

        Thank you so much Angelica!

  • Thanks for this list! I’m halfway through my 26th year and I’m inspired to make a list of my own like this. My partner and I are saving for a house deposit this year so that is definitely top of the list!

  • Looking forward to all of this!!

    And for #4… and stocks, right? 😉

    If I ever get the hang of #9 that will be a great day.