Managing Money What Can Financial Wellness Look Like in Your 20s and 30s?

by Julie Anne Russell | June 06, 2023

Every young professional wants financial security in life, and to know their money can provide them with the things that bring them joy. Getting to that point doesn’t have to entail endless spreadsheets and intensive budgeting plans, but it can call for some strategic, life stage-specific thinking, according to pros.

“Financial wellness has to mean different things at different ages,” says Robert Pagliarini, president of Pacifica Wealth Advisors in Irvine, CA, and author of "Get Money Smart: Simple Lessons to Kickstart Your Financial Confidence & Grow Your Wealth."

Pagliarini looks at it as a “path and plan for the future,” explaining that actively taking steps to reach it “is what wellness is about.” The key, especially when you’re just starting out, is to find a way to balance your planning for the future with living in the moment, he says. These expert tips can help.

Examine your money habits

A good first step is to educate yourself on the fundamentals of personal finance, and then learn exactly where your money is going by mastering your cash flow, says Douglas Boneparth, president of Bone Fide Wealth in New York, NY, and co-author of "The Millennial Money Fix."

“Shooting from the hip is reactive,” says Boneparth. “You always want to be proactive. If you’re organized, you may find opportunities to refinance your loans, or be able to restructure your payment plan,” he says. “Then you’ll spend less time worrying about debt, and maybe you’ll have more time to think about increasing your income.”

A woman reviews her finances on a laptop in a coffee shop

Invest your time

Young adulthood is a critical stage to be investing in ways that don’t immediately add to the bottom line, says Pagliarini. “Most twenty-somethings feel they’re totally broke because they’re financially broke,” he says, “but I view wealth in a different way. Wealth isn’t just stocks and bonds. What they have going for them is time. And time is probably the most valuable asset any of us will ever have."

If you use that time to improve yourself — to become more confident, to network, to develop more skills, to build what he calls “human capital” — your investment will pay off financially down the line, says Pagliarini.

Take Brooklyn-based entrepreneur Ben Brown, for example, who started his own enterprise, the Association for Young Americans, while working full-time at a consulting firm in his 20s. “I was working in a demanding job, traveling quite a bit, and then was trying to start and build a company at night in my hotel and on the weekends back home,” says Brown. He made a host of financial sacrifices, such as taking a pay cut and funding the first year of the business with his own earnings, but he views them positively, as investments in his own future. “My financial goals are similar to other young entrepreneurs,” says Brown. “I want to be comfortable, but I’m willing to forego some of that now to get it in the future.”

A woman buying groceries removes money from her wallet

Hone your vision

Experts agree that having a clear idea of what you’re working toward is a critical element in attaining financial wellness. “If you don’t envision a future, you don’t know what you should be saving for,” says Pagliarini.

Picturing what will make you happy can make the idea of saving for big things like retirement feel less overwhelming and more tangible. “If I tell someone they need $2 million to retire and they have $100,000 in student loan debt, that can be truly counterproductive,” says Pagliarini. “That just makes the target so unattainable. Focusing on aspects other than a number makes a whole lot more sense.”

Once you’ve done this, you can estimate how much money you’ll need for each goal and when you would hope to complete them. It’s not hard, Boneparth says, “but it does take time to become disciplined.”

If you don’t envision a future, you don’t know what you should be saving for.
End Quote

With a vision and a plan in place, a crucial shift takes place: Suddenly you’ll find that saving money doesn’t become a game of depriving yourself of what you want, but rather one of allocating money to where you want it to go.

That said, you can still start saving for your future even if you don’t yet have a clear picture of what you want from the rest of your life, Pagliarini notes, because the simple act of saving can be transformative psychologically. It just takes a “start small” mindset. “If you go from someone who doesn’t save to someone who saves a dollar a day, you’ve changed your identity,” and that can bolster your financial wellness. It’s not about the amount, but rather about “changing who you think you are,” he says “That’s much more significant.”


— With additional reporting from Life and Money by Citi editors.

Julie Anne Russell

is a Brooklyn-based writer who enjoys empowering others (and herself) to dive into personal finance without fear. Her work includes automotive, travel and finance writing, as well as profiles for Marie Claire.