No, I'm not a Millennial, I'm a Baby Boomer. While you may think that means I don't know what it is like to be in your shoes (just like I thought that of my parents' generation) what it really means is that I've already been there and done that, and along with an assortment of t-shirts, I've gotten some battle scars and some knowledge learned the hard way or by watching friends do it the hard way. Here is some advice to all of you:
Stay Out of Debt
With the exception of a house, there are very few if any things worth going into debt over.
Education? Ok, maybe, but what are your other options? Can you live at home and commute? Do you need the private school? Can you work part time? Go to the community college for a couple of years? While student loans for medical school or law school may be the only way to afford these, student loans for undergraduate work should be taken out only with caution and only in the smallest amount needed. You are supposed to live in crowded conditions with little money when you are in college. For other ideas on paying for college, see this article.
A car? An older used car perhaps, but make the loan short term. Remember, not only does it cost less to buy an old cheap car, it costs less to insure it. You can buy a lot of car repairs for the price of a car payment.
Furniture? Clothes? Vacations? Nope. They aren't necessities. Use what you have, buy used, get creative but if you can't pay the bill at the end of the month, (that mean in full, with no interest) don't buy it.
Get Married and Stay Married
And no, living together isn't the same as being married.
Finding a committed life partner who has the same goals as you make it so much easier to achieve those goals. You have someone to split the bills and work with and hopefully you have skills that compliment each others. Two may not be able to live as cheaply as one, but a couple can live more cheaply than two singles.
Divorces on the other hand are one of the big wealth-stealers in our world. Assets have to be split. Non-retirement assets may need to be sold, creating tax liability. The income that was supporting one household now has to support two. The house may need to be sold and at least one party will incur moving expenses.
Why isn't living together the same? Basically it is because the chances of splitting up are higher for couples who are living together than for couples who are married, and couples who live together before marriage split at a higher rate than do those who do not live together. Further, living with someone can delay entrance into marriage, whether or not that is your goal. In short, most couples who marry do so with the intent of staying together forever. People who choose to move in with someone may do so as a step towards marriage or may do so instead of marriage. The problem is when someone who sees it as a step toward marriage moves in with someone who sees it as something to do instead of marriage. Living together is comfortable and convenient, it allows couples to put off committing to each other while still maintaining many of the comforts of marriage (including a roommate to help with the bills). If your goal with someone is marriage, don't settle for second best--either get what you want, or, if the other party isn't interested, get out and find someone who is. Living together makes you too much a member of a couple to be available to others and not enough of a couple to give you long-term security.
Start Saving Early--You Will Never Have Enough Money to Start Saving
I know your paycheck is low but unless you are sharing a dumpy apartment with a roommate, taking public transportation and never eating (or drinking) out, then you have some disposeable income. Pick an amount per paycheck and get it automatically tranferred to a savings or investment account--even if it is just $10.
Learn About Investments and Investing--And Remember That No One Cares About Your Money as Much as You Do.
Do you understand what a share of stock is? Do you know how investing in the stock market can make you money? Do you understand how it can cause you to lose money? Do you know what a bond is? Do you understand what a mutual fund is and the differences in the types of mutual funds? Do you understand asset allocation? If not, get some good books on personal finance and/or read a bunch of personal finance blogs. It isn't that difficult a subject.
If you are tempted to hire a finanical advisor, find one who will bill by the hour and pay for advice, not portofolio managments. We hired someone on the "Assets under managment" plan and we are still paying for it. Not only did the company's picks underperform our other assets, they put us into a large number of funds that are going to cost us a small fortune in fees to get out of. If someone suggests that HD Vest will do a good job with your money run in the opposite direction.