Level Up your Finances in your 20's with the Sunshine Suitcase

Financing your Future- How to Take Control of Money

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Do you feel like a little more money might make your life just a little bit easier? I thought that way for years! Until I started taking strategic steps to make the money I had work for me. Thus improving my finances and my life drastically!

Growing up, my parents weren’t great with money. It seemed like there was never “enough.” Worrying about money seemed like a constant problem. In order to help myself get started financially, I began working at a local ski chalet when I was 14 years old. It wasn’t unusual for me to work two or more jobs at a time.

Following college I was very lost when it came to finances and a career. I had an adult job (not in my field) and was making a lower than desired but steady income. Until I chose to leave my manager job earlier this year to live the freelance life.

I was only able to do this because I had set myself up to succeed. If I hadn’t taken the following steps to correct my bad money habits, I wouldn’t have been able to take the leap from worker bee to freelancer.

It is important to me to be able to live a life I enjoy rather than working every day to only enjoy the weekends.

My story below details the steps I took to pay off $38,000 in Student Loans (before interest). How I’ve visited 5+ countries. Maintain a savings account with $1,000 in it. And have invested over $10,000 into my future.

The Sunshine Suitcase Snorkeling in Hawaii- level up your finances and live your dreams
Summer snorkeling on the shores of sunny Oahu, Hawaii

1) Credit Karma- get the skinny on the history of your finances

Knowledge is power and Credit Karma is an amazing tool to help give you information and power when it comes to your finances. Credit Karma is a free app that gives you access to your credit report.

I used Credit Karma to give me the full picture of my debt. It showed me all of my student loans, car loan, credit card debt and more. Knowing how far I was in debt gave me a realistic idea of how to pay off my debt.

Using this tool I was able to raise my credit score over 5 years by over 200 points. Having an improved credit score helps you to get better interest rates for loans and leases.

2) Budgeting to Improve your Finances

When it comes to leveling up on your finances the first step is setting a budget. Budget can be a scary word for many people. But a budget is just a guideline to help you track how much you spend each month. The guidelines you set for yourself will help to keep you spending within your means.

Budgets should include:

  • Rent
  • Utilities such as water, electricity, and sewer
  • Phone, Cable, Internet
  • Food- Including going out to eat, lunch for work, and groceries.
  • Transportation- Includes gas, car payments, bus passes, insurance and a repair fund.
  • Entertainment- Movies, Bowling, Going Out, Hobbies, etc.
  • Toiletries and other home goods-
  • Loan/Credit Card Payments

Apps to Help with Your Budget

Using an app can help to give you a guideline for what to include in a budget. As well as help you keep track in real time of your spending.


The Mint App allows you to set a budget, track your bills, and even your credit score. Set each category of your budget and get real-time notifications when you spend money on any of your linked accounts/cards.

It makes budgeting effortless. This app is free and was one of the very first budget apps on the market so, it’s time tested. A great rule of thumb for budgeting is the 50/30/20 Rule of Thumb.

This guide suggests 50% of your budget is spent on needs such as housing, utilities, food, etc. Your wants makeup 30% of your budget and include shopping, dining out, and entertainment. The other 20% of your budget should go into savings (or to paying off debt.)

Using Mint helped me to make sure I wasn’t overspending in any one category each month. I loved using mint to track my spending. Although, I no longer track my budget using an app, as my expenses are more predictable now.

3) Savings-

When I first started getting my finances in order, I set a goal to always keep $1,000 in savings. This money could be used for any emergencies or unexpected things that came up.

The reason I chose $1,000 to start was that I had a lot of Student Loan Debt that was gaining interest quickly! I knew I needed a little wiggle room just in case but wanted to focus on paying off my debt first.

Savings accounts are great to have, however, they do not gain interest quickly. The national average right now is .10% annually. Finding a higher paying savings account like the ones on this list here can help you to maximize your savings.

Summer at The Sunshine Suitcase Graduates Finances for your Future
My Dad and I at my College Graduation! I’m stoked to have graduated, but was sitting on $38,000 in Student Loan Debt!

4) Paying Off Debt-

After saving up $1,000 for emergencies, I started tackling my debt. My goals were to make use my money to pay off my student loans as quickly as possible and pay as little interest as I could. And do this all without eating ramen for every meal another 4 years.

How I paid off $38,000 in loans in just 6 years

My first step was utilizing automatic payment options to help me achieve a discount on the interest rate on my loans. Many top student loan companies now offer discounts to borrowers who do automatic payments.

Secondly, I paid half of my loans every two weeks, instead of the full amount every month. Instead of paying $363 once a month, I paid $181.50 every two weeks. I ended up sneaking in extra payments and paying $4,719 instead of $4,356 each year. And the impact on my budget was very low from this small switch.

Thirdly, I applied for income-based repayment on all federal loans. This dropped my monthly expected payments from $363/month to $142/month.

Lastly, because I had budgeted the $363/month to repay my loans originally, I took the difference of $121 from step 2 and applied this to the principal on my highest interest student loan. I did have to call the loan company and make sure they took these extra payments off the principal of my loan and not off the interest.

This allowed me to pay off that loan in full as quickly as possible. After I paid this loan off fully, I started paying the extra $121 on my next highest interest loan.

However, this is not the greatest method for someone looking to build their credit score! Each time you close out a loan it closes out a line of credit and can cause your credit score to drop.

One way around this is to pay each loan down to a balance of $100-$200. Then switch back to just paying the minimum payment each month and putting your other money onto another high-interest loan with a bigger balance.

Acorns- Invest in Your Finances
An actual snapshot of my Acorns Investment accounts.

5) Acorns Investing in your future finances

Investing is all about saving up for your future. Investing allows you to save up money and earn interest on it to put towards your future. There are many ways you can invest your money. From mutual funds, CD’s to IRA’s.

Using Acorns because allowed me to invest in bite-size pieces. You don’t have to invest $1,000 or more dollars to get started. I started with just $5 in my account.

You can set up a weekly recurring investment to help grow your investment account, just like I did. Also, I used Acorns Round-Ups to invest small amounts from each purchase I made. This allowed my account to grow quickly. And this momentum kept me investing.

Get $5 FREE Dollars invested into your future by signing up with Acorns through this Link! 

6) Experiences vs. Things

Another step I highly recommend to level up your finances is to adopt experiences over things approach to spending. Instead of spending money on things I don’t need, I use my money for experiences.

Since I cut my spending on things, I have a much more fulfilling and enjoyable relationship with my money. I’ve been on numerous vacations to over 5 different countries. Gone shark diving, parasailing, learned to paint, gone jet skiing and so much more.

And luck should have it, my financial stability helped me to move all the way to sunny Hawaii in 2015! Check out my budget guide to Oahu, Hawaii to see some of my favorite inexpensive adventures! Yes, I do still follow a budget to keep my savings account growing 🙂

Level Up your Finances in your 20's with the Sunshine Suitcase

Money doesn’t buy happiness! But it can help you reduce stress and prepare for your future to get your finances in control.

By following the above steps (even just one at a time) you can work towards a healthier money future. Budgeting, saving and investing can seem like a lot of work but taking baby steps over time can lead to big results in the long run!

Check out this awesome guide to compound interest to see how small steps can lead to big triumphs later on.

Comment below and let us know what tricks and tips you use to keep your finances in check!