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Four crucial financial habits to form in your 20s

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Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters/File

(Read caption) US hundred dollar bills are seen at AYA Bank's money changer in Yangon, Myanmar.

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As someone who's now been out of undergrad for three years now, I guess I'm supposed to be an "adult" about some things, like not ditching work to go to Six Flags and maybe reading a book instead of watching Cartoon Network. Oh, and being financially responsible. That too.

 The fact is, it's hard to be financially responsible when you want to be a reckless twenty-something. Humans are social creatures, and unfortunately for those of us that live in cities, that usually means hanging out at places that cost money.

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But it doesn't have to be that way. There are some good habits to have that will set you up for a less-stressful future. These are all things I try to do to save money and make sure I don't end up under a bridge one day.

1. Pay Yourself First

This is essential. You should not be spending every dollar that comes in from your salary. So, this means setting up a savings account with a certain percentage automatically put in each month, or paying off that student loan payment first. Oh, and rent. Rent is important, too.

2. Max Out any 401k Matching

If your employer offers a 401k match plan (many do), be sure to take full advantage of it. Ten percent may seem like a lot of money to save, but with the time value of money and compound interest, the money you save now in your 20s will be worth much more than money saved down the road. Don't believe me? Look at this.

3. Pay Off Debt First

Paying off your debt can help keep your wallet out of a financial vice grip.

I wrote about this a bit in a previous article, but paying off any debt should be your first priority. Since interest costs you more money (and the longer you hold debt the more money you'll pay down the line), this is a common sense tip. If you have credit card debt, focus on that first after making any minimum payments for student loans. It carries a higher annual interest rate than student loans.

4. Work Hard

Hard work pays off. Seriously.

Hard work usually results in higher pay. Hate being a "broke" 25 year old? Work hard, learn new skills at work, and if that doesn't pay off, learn new skills on your off time. Continue to push towards your career goals, and much of your financial stress will fade to the background.