- As my younger sister, Janna, gets older into her 20s, she's been coming to me more frequently with questions about how to spend and save money.
- To get the best answers for her, I consulted with financial advisors and experts.
When my younger sister, Janna, and I hang out — which is a lot because we live on different floors of the same apartment building — what we talk about usually doesn't involve money.
We exchange stories about our friends and therapists, commiserate over the latest thing we're trying to write or go over funny memories.
Yet as Janna, who is a filmmaker, gets older, she's been coming to me more frequently with financial questions. It seems that when money is causing stress, everything else can feel fraught.
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"I think with each year in your 20s, you take on more freedoms," Janna said. "But to exercise and really enjoy those freedoms, you need a certain amount of financial stability."
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To get the best answers for Janna about how she should be spending and saving, I consulted with financial advisors and experts.
Here's how they answered 5 of her questions.
1. How much should I have in savings?
To begin, Carolyn McClanahan, a certified financial planner and founder of Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Florida, recommends always having at least one month of your bills in your checking account. "This way if something happens to my paycheck, I don't have to scramble," said McClanahan, who is also a member of CNBC's Financial Advisor Council.
Beyond that, you should have at least three months of expenses easily available in an emergency fund, McClanahan said. "If they have a less stable job, they should aim for six months to a year's worth of easy to access savings," she added.
This cash should be in a high-yield savings account, experts say. These accounts offer higher-than-average returns. You can find an online savings account with an interest rate of 3% or more, for example, while the typical savings account rate is around 0.4%.
Make sure the savings account you choose is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which means up to $250,000 of your deposit is protected from loss.
2. Where should I invest money?
Douglas Boneparth, a certified financial planner and founder of Bone Fide Wealth in New York City, recommends people start investing in tax-advantaged accounts designated for retirement.
First of all, starting to invest early for your old age gives you the long time horizon that's ideal for reaping the benefits of compound interest, experts say.
Retirement accounts, including workplace 401(k) plans and Roth IRAs, also offer tax benefits that you can't get elsewhere, said Boneparth, another member of CNBC's Financial Advisor Council.
For example, traditional 401(k) contributions reduce your current taxable income, while after-tax contributions to a Roth IRA can be withdrawn in retirement tax-free.
Before you move on to any other goals, McClanahan says people should make sure they're saving in their 401(k) at work, especially if their employer offers a match on their contributions. If you meet income qualifications, it's also smart to salt away as much as you can each year in a Roth IRA (in 2023, the limit is $6,500).
For other things you hope to be able to accomplish, such as buying a house or returning to school, you'll want to consider your timeline to decide if you should save or invest for it.
Typically, you don't want to invest for anything you'll have to come up with the money for within five years, McClanahan said. Money for those purposes should instead also be in your high-yield savings account.
If you are on track for retirement and any near-term goals and still have money available to invest, you should look to put that cash into low-cost index funds that are offered through robo-advisors and brokerage houses, experts say.
3. How many credit cards should I have? How do I find one with the best benefits?
As long as you use them carefully, credit cards can help you to build credit and pick up different perks, said Ted Rossman, senior analyst at Bankrate.com.
"I'd vote for starting small," Rossman said. To do that, he recommends getting a credit card with no annual fee and putting some routine expenses on there, and always paying your balance in full every month. (Carrying a balance is incredibly expensive because of the high interest rates.)
You can pretty easily find a card that offers 2% cash back on your purchases, Rossman said.
Beyond that, he said, you want to think about where you spend most of your money. If a lot of your income goes to groceries, look for a card that pays back 6% at supermarkets. Other cards have more generous cash back offers on dining or travel.
"Know what you want to get out of your rewards," Rossman said.
4. How do I budget without becoming obsessive?
To get a better understanding of your spending, experts recommend looking back at your purchases over the past couple of months.
McClanahan then breaks down spending into three main categories: "needs," "wants" and "savings."
When you look at your spending on "wants," she said, "make sure that that spending is really bringing value to your life. Too many people spend thoughtlessly."
One helpful rule of thumb is the 50/30/20 budget, which allocates 50% of your take-home pay toward essential expenses, 30% toward discretionary purchases and 20% toward savings and debt.
Automating your savings each month can help you stay on track, McClanahan said.
5. How do I draw boundaries with friends and family who earn more?
If someone is asking you to do something you can't afford, McClanahan recommends being as direct as possible with them.
"Say that you are working on saving for other goals and suggest a less expensive alternative," she said. "This shows them your backbone and might actually encourage them to start saving."
You might also take control of the plans yourself, McClanahan said.
"Instead of waiting for people to invite you to an expensive place, invite them to something that fits within your budget."
Any other questions, Janna? You know where to reach me.