Paying off debt and buying a house by 30 matter way less than you think
We've all been there: the family dinner that's going great until some relative asks, "When are you finally going to get a real job?" or "Did you really need to spend money on that?" While our parents might often get overbearing in their lines of questioning, the greatest pressures to hit financial milestones — i.e. starting a business, seeing the world, paying off debt, or buying a house — tend to come not from our families, but from our peers.
“From the millennials we’ve worked with, the pressure to follow a certain financial trajectory [comes from] social media," Christopher Tracy, chief operating officer at Finicity, tells Mic. "As one recently commented, ‘It’s hard to avoid the Instagram post from your friend vacationing on a beach in Bali and think, I need to do that too.’”
According to a study from the journal Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, social networking sites are instrumental in shaping young adults’ goals and identities. When we see our friends achieve certain milestones — especially in terms of financial success — we compare ourselves to them and feel rushed to hit the same goals. Of course, there’s no one designated timeframe for, say, paying off debt or buying an apartment, but the old rhetoric (thanks, problematic shows like Sex and the City) is that we need to have everything figured out by age 30 — and when our peers seem to be accomplishing this, we worry why we're not doing the same.
“Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat are great platforms, but can also lead millennials into the ‘me too’ condition where there’s pressure to keep up and to share this on various mediums,” explains Tracy. “It’s like the ‘Keeping up with the Jones’ mentality that their parents fought, but on steroids with social media.”
The pressure may be real, but there are actually several good reasons not to rush into hitting financial milestones, according to experts — or even care about hitting them at all. Here’s why it’s totally OK to go at your own pace when it comes to money-related goals.
You’ll be healthier
According to The Balance, you should be well on your way to paying off your student loans by 30 because “you potentially have your children’s (or future children’s) college to think about soon.” First of all, not everyone wants to have kids — and second of all, even if you do or aren't sure how you feel yet, you shouldn’t sacrifice your current financial well-being for the sake of children that may or may not eventually exist. This concern over the future can seriously affect your mental health; according to the journal Future Science OA, stress can put you at risk of developing depression and anxiety, lower the immune system, increase inflammation in the body, and play a role in the development of cancer cells.
If you’re allocating all your funds towards paying off your student debt as fast as possible, for instance, and not spending any money on your health and enjoyment, you're most certainly raising your stress levels. That isn't to say you shouldn't care about paying off debt, of course; according to Value Penguin, 60 percent of college students take out student loans at an average of $32,721 and over the last 13 years, student loan debt has ballooned more than 302 percent. Those numbers are huge, and it's natural that you'd want to get rid of your debt as soon as possible. But feeling pressured to pay off student loans in just a few short years after college rather than a longer period can wreak havoc your body. Pay what you can, but not so much each month that it jeopardizes your health and happiness.
You’ll save money
Out of any generation, millennials are most likely to go into debt for a dream trip, according to a recent Vrbo US Traveler Survey. While it's great to pursue your dreams, make sure your dream is actually something you want, not just what you see others doing on Instagram.
In addition, consider postponing the "big" trip for awhile — or not doing it at all — and instead focusing on more unique trips that are better for your wallet. Traveling is expensive, especially to the kind of super-hyped "Bucket List" places always on lists like The New York Times' "52 Places to Go" or Travel+Leisure's "50 Best Places to Travel." The high demand to visit those places means prices skyrocket, and so while countries like Iceland and The Seychelles, for instance, may be stunning, exploring more underrated destinations first could mean a lot more cash in your pocket.
You’ll be more prepared
Buying real estate at a young age may sound exciting, but it isn’t always the wisest choice, especially if you desire the flexibility of living in different cities for a large part of your life. "I didn't buy my first property until the age of 48 and I don't regret waiting until the time was right for me,” Lisa Shields, founder and CEO of FI.SPAN, tells Mic.
By putting off that goal until you feel ready and using that money elsewhere (or saving it!), you'll have more freedom to focus on your current interests. Says Shields, “Don’t be afraid to say no to things outside of your budget or unrelated to the goals most important to you."
That advice doesn't just apply to real estate. If opening up a business early on feels important, make sure you're doing it because you truly have a great idea, not just because it sounds like a necessary financial milestone. After all, a recent study from Intuit found that 75 percent of small business owners dipped into their personal savings to get started, and 90 percent of startups fail. “You have to count the cost,” says Tracy. “Consider the risk and the reward. No one can do that for you.”
There’s no need to write off entrepreneurship entirely, however. Simply restructure your timeline based on your actual financial situation, not your ideal one. Tracy notes that if you wait to start a business until you're more financially comfortable, you’ll likely be more established in your career, have better credentials for fundraising, and be able to refer clients to testimonials you’ve garnered during those extra years of experience.
You’ll develop a backbone
If you opt out of buying property, traveling the world, paying off loans, or starting a business until you're actually ready — even when your Instagram timeline is littered with glitzy images of your peers in those life stages — you’ll develop a sense of conviction and independence. This strength will translate into every facet of your life, not just your financial decisions. It'll allow you to enjoy what you currently have instead of constantly yearning for more, and even help you succeed in the workplace. If you play by your own rules, rather than someone else's, you'll perform better in the projects you’re currently working on instead of being distracted by ideas of what you should be doing or buying instead.
It's more than OK to deviate from an outdated, prescriptive financial trajectory, and forging your own path doesn't mean you're lazy or less competent than your peers. It simply means you're more in touch with your specific needs. “There are exceptional individuals, exceptional opportunities, and exceptional moments that must be seized, but there’s always going to be risk in taking those leaps, too,” says Tracy. “The wisest paths will tend to be the longer ones. They’ll be harder in the beginning, but easier in the long run.”