The fastest way for a student or graduate to get off on the wrong financial foot is by dropping cash on the wrong kinds of big-ticket items. On the other hand, wise and targeted spending on the right things is an investment that will pay off in the long run. Take a quick look at seven items that are worth spending your hard-earned money on—along with a handful to steer clear of.
1. A GOOD MATTRESS
You might be able to cut corners on a lot of furnishings for a new or rented living space, but opting for an economical crash pad is going to haunt you every night. Good spring mattress and box spring sets can be had for as little as $500, with some online providers offering high-quality memory foam for roughly the same amount. Go cheaper and you risk sleepless nights—or worse, having to buy a replacement in just a few short years.
2. A 401(K)…
You don’t necessarily have to look at it as a purchase—though many do—but a 401(k), or retirement account, is some of the best money you’ll ever spend. Socking away even a small portion of your paycheck every month can pay literal dividends down the road.
… AND/OR A ROTH IRA.
The type of account you use to save for retirement is ultimately up to you—the point is to put as much money as you can away starting as early as you can. If your employer will match your 401(k) contributions up to a certain amount, max that out first (because why would you turn down free money?). However, if your employer doesn’t match funds, a Roth IRA (or other personal retirement account) might be your better bet. With a Roth IRA, it’s up to you to deposit a portion of your hard-earned paycheck. The benefit to that, though, is you’ll be able to withdraw money from the account during retirement tax-free.
3. QUALITY TOOLS
You may not believe you’re that handy, but the time will come when you’re in desperate need of fixing a faucet, hanging a picture, or assembling a new bookshelf. While it might be tempting to pick up the cheapest hammer at the hardware store, spending a little more is likely to get you a tool that will last a lifetime.
4. A CROCK POT
You might balk at paying $100 for a good crock pot when fast food is cheap, but the experience of coming home to a hot, fresh meal after a long day is priceless. It’s not fancy and probably won’t come in amazing colors, but a crock pot is an essential kitchen item that can make food to last you for days—saving you lots of money (and lots of disappointment over sad takeout meals) in the long run.
5. INSURANCE (FOR YOUR HOME, YOUR HEALTH, AND YOURSELF)
It never feels like it’s worth the money … until one day when it is. And trust us when we say that after your upstairs neighbor’s bathroom floods all over your bedroom, or you need emergency surgery, or—God forbid—something terrible happens, you and your loved ones will be glad you shelled out the cash. Life insurance in particular may seem like an unnecessary expense, but even as a young person, it can help shield your family from having to take on any debts you may owe or incurring major funeral costs. And though your company may automatically enroll you in a group policy if you’re employed, that protection generally doesn’t follow you around if you leave your job.
6. A SET OF GOOD TIRES
Giant pieces of circular rubber tend to look the same in a dealer showroom, but opting for a more durable tread can save you more than just breakdown hassles—a proper set of new tires can maintain car-to-road traction, increase driver comfort, and prevent accidents.
7. A SOLID PAIR OF SHOES
Not sneakers—shoes. A well-crafted pair can see you through years of travel, work, social activities, and spare you the trouble of having to keep purchasing the same middling quality pair over and over again. If you need to visit a cobbler to make sure your boots are in good shape a few years from now, it’s a sign you’ve made the right choice.
AND A FEW THAT AREN’T, SUCH AS:
EXPENSIVE HOTEL ROOMS
You shouldn’t knock yourself for taking a vacation, but opting for the most elaborate room when you’re likely to just be sleeping or changing in it isn’t the wisest use of your discretionary funds. Unless you’re paying for close proximity to your destinations, opt for the best room and board you can find that doesn’t have a walk-in closet.
Overpriced and buggy, brand-new electronic equipment can be a money vacuum. Don’t fall for sensational showroom displays or hyped-up reviews: it’s likely that an older model discounted to move will offer many of the same features.
The idea that someone should shell out two months of their hard-earned cash for a stone for his or her betrothed? Yeah, that’s the work of a mid-20th century advertising campaign. For the most part, diamonds are terrible investments—in fact, they lose more than 50 percent of their resale value as soon as you leave the store. To sell one back, you’d likely have to offer up your diamond for less than what a retailer paid for it wholesale—which is generally 100-200 percent less than what you, the customer, paid for it. Diamonds aren’t even especially rare—the only reason they seemed that way is, again, because one major diamond corporation artificially restricted the supply to keep prices sky-high.
Over budget? Under budget? What’s a budget? Answer these questions and more with tools like Slice-a-Budget on Prudential.com.