I made a lot of bad financial moves in my 20s, as most people do: credit cards, spending, and no eye for investing a penny. However, I grew up and started taking positive steps in my 30s. There were three specific moves I made, goals I reached, that have completely made a difference in my future.
The first and best thing I did in my 30s was to completely obliterate my debt. I was in the red for $48,000 by age 29½ . I owed $37,000 in student loans and had $11,000 in credit card debt. This was all by age 30, and on my 30 th birthday (a depressing event in itself), I took a hard look at my situation. I resolved not to be one many Americans hopelessly mired in debt for life. I started making double and triple student loan payments, and paid extra on every credit card, every month. I stopped spending like a drunken sailor, and got my debt under control. By age 35 by credit card balances were 0, and by age 37, my student loans were finally paid off.
Ever since then, I have lived a 100% debt-free life. I don't pay interest or fees to anyone! This is the most important step anyone can take to secure his future. I use credit cards to pay for airline tickets and larger purchases, but I always pay them off within two months.
I finally opened a savings account and an IRA. This was done with very small balances, just $500 in each. The amount wasn't important. The accounts just needed to be "open" and ready for deposits. Some years I barely swept another $200 into each account, but during one good year I put an extra few thousand in each. The key is to get your savings/IRA, etc. opened and ready for regular deposits. Every little bit helps, even $100 a year. The sooner, the better.
A final step I'm most proud of: I discovered that renting is cheaper than buying. I passed up the chance to buy a house and enter into an endless whirlpool of debt. By renting, I don't pay property taxes, I don't pay for repairs, and I don't have a debt load hanging over my head. Best of all: I have the freedom to move as I wish. Now that houses are well below market value, I could consider buying one in later years for pennies on the dollar. I will probably buy a condo after I retire, but only if I can pay in cash. I'm committed to a debt free life. I love it. Renting is total freedom.
Now that I am in my mid 40s, I am in a much better financial position because of the smart choices I made in my 30s. I have a savings account, an IRA, and no debt at all. It's never too late to wake up and smell the coffee.
*Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Do you have a personal finance story that you'd like to share? Sign up with the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own finance articles.
More from this contributor: