How Twentysomethings Can Start Off on the Right Foot Financially

Navigating the challenges of starting a career, saving money, and more.

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Today's twentysomethings inhabit a world of rampant unemployment and unsettling levels of student debt. Lise Andreana, a certified financial planner in Ontario, Canada, tackles several of these issues in her recently released book, No More Mac 'n Cheese!: The Real-World Guide to Managing Your Money for 20-Somethings.

U.S. News recently spoke with Andreana about how recent graduates can navigate the challenges of starting a career, saving money, and more. Excerpts:

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Tell us about the book. What inspired you to write it?

I'm a financial planner and my primary clients would be the parents of twentysomethings ... There's a common theme that the twentysomethings are underserved when it comes to financial planning, and parents feel frustrated because they don't feel that they're always the right source of information or that the kids maybe aren't listening. I think that was a primary driver in my own experience as a parent, and having young adults and the frustrations that they go through. When you make mistakes early on, those mistakes stay with you a long time.

What kinds of mistakes do you see young people making?

Taking on too much debt is the biggest one, student debt being a very large part of that. Going to university, piling on the debt with absolutely no idea what you're going to do when you get out. When I was doing research, I found students online who had over $100,000 of debt pursuing a degree in theology. That's a very noble pursuit, but not one where you're ever going to earn enough to pay down $100,000 of debt.

Part of the thing with twentysomethings is they either stay in the family home too long or they leave before they're ready. I think a lot of twentysomethings are out there looking for the dream job when really, they need to buckle down and just take a job, get some work, and get started. Use that opportunity while you're living at home to set a timeline for how long you're going to stay, how long you're going to look for the dream job before you take something else that's an entry-level or a basic position. And then once you've done that, use that time to accumulate money and pay down debt.

[See 12 Money Mistakes Almost Everyone Makes.]

Is the book's advice specific to twentysomethings in Canada, or do you think a lot of it applies to twentysomethings in the United States as well?

The book was designed to cross borders, so there's no specific tax advice for Canadians versus Americans. It is a basic book for financial planning for twentysomethings in Canada or the United States, maybe even Europe as well.

How do you think the financial picture of a twentysomething today differs from previous generations? Are they more or less conscientious about money?

I think it's very different. One of the big things that I found when I started to think about the book is, I had no student debt because I couldn't access student loans—and it was very typical of my generation and the generation of those who grew up through the '60s and '70s. We started earlier, we had less, we were less educated for a large part of it. We were very anxious to get out of the house, but we had zero debt and started our careers early. We weren't fussy, we would take any job.

So if somebody said, "You want to dig graves?" You'd go, "Yeah, sure, whatever." And we had more years to accumulate wealth because we had our families younger. So by 25, a lot of us had all of our children. Today's twentysomething isn't getting out of university in a lot of cases until they're 25. And they're starting with a lot of debt, they're delaying marriage, they're delaying children, they'll have to work until a later age. And as a consequence, they're starting out in a net-worth negative position rather than a net-worth positive position.

I think the primary message is that they shouldn't expect their life path to match that of their parents, nor should their parents expect their life path to match theirs. Retirement at 55 is going to be very, very difficult if you only started working at 30, because you don't have enough years.