When it comes to things we need to know about ourselves, it’s easy to limit the numbers to things we want to think about: the years we’ve lived in our city, the deal we get on rent, the friends we’ve kept through our more serious, adult years. But it’s arguably more important — and more rewarding — to think about the numbers that don’t always leap to our minds when we want to think of our self-definition and self-determination: our credit score, our interest rates, our salary, or our nutrition breakdown. If we think of ourselves in terms of those more unforgiving, “adult” numbers, we can quickly feel inadequate, if not entirely falling behind. But the more we force ourselves to confront the hard numbers of our development, the more likely we are to do something great with the numbers before us.
Luckily, The Financial Diet has partnered with TransUnion to talk about the numbers that make us not just who we are, but the people we are almost certainly going to be throughout adulthood. Because while it’s easy to treat our 20s like a time when nothing really matters and the scores are made up (where are my Whose Line? fans?), there is something incredibly liberating and even empowering about knowing the details of where you fall on these various spectrums. So, without further ado, here are the five numbers every 20-something should know about themselves
1. Your credit score.
Without a doubt, the number that will in many ways most define you in your 20s without ever feeling like it should is your credit score. I should know, I neglected and/or sabotaged mine for many years in my young life, and it somehow never impacted my feeling that I was doing generally okay because I had a little bit in savings and an extremely general plan for my future. Little did I know that not knowing my credit score, and not doing basic things to improve it (both of which you can do, right now, with TransUnion) would change my prospects immediately. At the time, I couldn’t rent an apartment, buy a car, or even get a decent cell phone: if I had known my score and worked to improve it, all of those things would have been within my reach.
2. Your interest rate on student loans.
At TFD, we generally recommend that you do a once-yearly check-in at least of your student loan repayment plan. What you started out with may not at all be the best thing for your financial goals or needs, and more importantly, you may have improved enough in your general financial health to be able to qualify for something much more interesting. For example, if you have a great credit score that you didn’t have when you started your repayment plan — and you can find out right now with TransUnion — you could very easily be getting better terms and a better timeline.
3. Your nutrition.
It sounds cliche, maybe, but it’s so damn true: when you are young, it’s really easy to maintain a healthy BMI without knowing what the hell is actually going into your body. I was always a generally-skinny person, so when I started gaining weight about five years ago for “seemingly no reason,” it took some serious personal interrogation to figure out that, oh, right, I wasn’t actually eating well at all — I’d just been used to being skinny while putting in no effort. And it wasn’t til about two years ago, when I started practicing intermittent fasting and tracking my macronutrients, that I realized that overall nutrition was part of the equation, and needed to be tracked just like I would my exercise or sleep patterns. Just because you are in your 20s, and have a relatively-easy time maintaining your weight, doesn’t mean you don’t need to be aware of what you’re taking in.
4. Your salary in comparison with your industry.
Here’s the thing: very few people just starting out in an industry have either the foresight or the courage to really negotiate a salary, and more importantly, few people just starting out know that the average salaries and competitive breakdowns for people in any given industry are generally available on places like forums and Glassdoor. Without doing the research up-front, we are almost guaranteed to be starting on a bit of a disadvantage, but when you combine that with how difficult it can be to negotiate as a just-starting-out employee, it can feel almost impossible to get what you really deserve. Forcing yourself to confront not just your individual numbers, but how it stacks up against your industry at large, insures that you will be armed and ready for any negotiation, and always aware of what you deserve.
5. Your retirement.
The truth is that, unfortunately, most 20-somethings have no desire to think about retirement, much less plan and save for it. But when you combine the retirement funds many employers provide to employees (401ks), with the widespread availability of self-sought retirement funds (IRAs, Roth IRAs, etc), it becomes increasingly difficult to justify the “plug-my-ears-and-wait” approach of so many people in their 20s. Yes, thinking of retirement is scary, and it seems like an entirely different person who doesn’t want or need the same things you have. But simply put, retired-you is not all that different from current-you, in the sense that they will want a good life and to not have to worry every day about living it. Just like your credit score will open up important opportunities in your day-to-day life when it comes to financial decisions, having a strong handle on your retirement plan and savings means you will never be caught off-guard. The more you know where you are in terms of money saved for retirement, and how you plan to get to a solid number, the more you will be able to plan the rest of your investments securely around it.
Yes, these concepts and numbers might feel scary on face value, but they are ultimately the keys to living the life you want to live, on your own terms. And coming from someone who thought that ignoring the important money numbers was just as good as working on improving them, they deserve to be paid attention to.
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