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When I Got My First Job, My Dad Gave Me Advice I Still Use Today

Our experts answer readers’ investing questions and write unbiased product reviews (here’s how we assess investing products). Paid non-client promotion: In some cases, we receive a commission from our partners. Our opinions are always our own.After a successful run in graduate school, I got my first job. As with most people who had been students for a long time, I thought that salary looked like a lot of money. I graduated with little debt, so I had it in my mind that I was going to have a fabulous apartment and buy a new car.So what made me pause on my grand, new apartment and my slick new car? A conversation with my dad. He explained the importance of having money set aside in case of an emergency. He also said that I was at a stage where I couldn’t make financial decisions on a whim anymore. From this moment on, he said, it all counts.Here are two of his tips that saved me from living paycheck to paycheck:That was good advice. Since I was younger at the time, I didn’t have a lot of debt or responsibilities, and it made sense to take advantage of that and save as much money as I could. Even over a decade later, I make saving a priority. I leaned into building an emergency fund and have included an IRA into my savings mix.If you want to know how you find yourself living paycheck to paycheck, ignoring this advice is it. A bit of truth here: The thought of living paycheck to paycheck really scares me. Most Americans don’t have enough money saved to cover a $500 emergency. Being in this position means that when emergencies happen — and they will — you might not have any financial cushion, which can then lead you into high-interest debt to resolve an emergency.Just starting out and even further into your career, about 20% percent of your income might be a lot, but get into the habit of putting money into a high-yield savings account. You can never save too much money; unexpected expenses and issues can come up at any time and having that financial safety net will make it easier to deal with.I still struggle with this, but it is important. My dad had a long conversation with me about it. Knowing the difference between a need and a want is deciding whether to have money or to struggle financially.Financial needs are essential expenses for you to be able to live and work, such as housing, transportation, and food. Wants are expenses that help you live more comfortably or go directly to the lifestyle you want to live, such as travel, entertainment, designer clothes and shoes, or eating out.It’s important to know the difference and to understand how it can affect your budget. You can end up spending too much money on wants that after you take care of your needs, there isn’t any money left.When you hear people say, “I have more month than money left” that can be what is happening. It’s OK to want to go out to eat — I love trying new restaurants — to travel, or to have a few designer items, but when you do these things too often, it can put your financial stability in jeopardy.What I took from that conversation with my dad was to concentrate on building an emergency fund and to create and stick to a budget before splurging, something I still do.