11 Smart Money Moves Every 21-Year-Old Should Make This Year

Happy friends partying on the rooftop with drinks and sparklers
martin-dm/Getty Images


Turning 21 is a pretty big milestone.

Aside from the ability to legally drink alcohol and all the responsibility that comes with that, your 21st birthday serves as the final stepping stone into adulthood and all the responsibilities that come with that.

And while it’s all rosé-colored glasses for the first few months, you quickly realize just how much a good bottle of your favorite Cab Sav costs.

Financial Tips and Tricks Every 21-Year-Old Should Know

If you’re freshly 21 — or getting close to it — we’ve got some tips and tricks for making, saving and managing your money so you don’t end up blowing this whole adulthood thing on your first try.

1. Let This Financial Assistant Negotiate Your Internet Bill Down

man sitting at a desk by a window at home, paying bills.
kali9/Getty Images

On the phone with your cell phone or internet provider, trying to haggle a lower monthly bill?

Go ahead and hang up. (We know you’re probably listening to crappy music while sitting on hold, anyway.)

Download TrueBill, an app that’ll negotiate your bills, cancel unwanted subscriptions and refund your bank fees.

After downloading the app, create an account and link your bank account and/or credit cards. Turn on the bill negotiation and outage protection features. Boom. TrueBill is already searching for potential refunds — it might get you a refund even when you didn’t know an outage occurred.

On average, Truebill customers get $12 in credits off their cable bills each month.

The app will also remind you of all those sneaky subscriptions you’ve signed up for through the years, so you can cancel what you don’t use and reclaim your monthly budget.

Signing up and using the service is free, though there are some paid premium services that are totally optional — but could totally be worth it.

2. See How Your Credit Score Compares to Your Peers'

credit score on chalkboard
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

If you’re just starting out in the adult world, you’ll quickly learn your credit score is the key that opens nearly every door. (Sometimes frustrating, but true.)

But how do you know if yours is good enough?

Picture this: You’re sitting across from your longtime friend at the local diner. You catch up on life, then, because you’re curious, you ask your friend about her income, her student loan debt and her savings.

How many of you just cringed?

Most of us don’t have friends — or even family members — who are willing to talk explicitly about these numbers.

Status Money is an app that allows you to anonymously compare your financial situation with your peers without asking those awkward, prying questions. Tap into this database and you’ll be able to compare your income, debt, interest rates, credit score, spending… you name it.

By seeing how others are doing, you can see what you need to work on — or where you can sit back a little and just breathe easy.

3. Wow Your Friends by Becoming a Real Estate Investor

house for sale in st. petersburg
Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Listen, it’s not every day a 21-year-old can say they invest in real estate.

But this one isn’t just for the street cred — it’s also a smart way to dip your toes into the world of real estate investing without handing over thousands (or even hundreds of thousands) of dollars.

Twenty-one-year-old Katie Smith, who recently graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., had some money sitting in a regular, low-interest savings account.

She knew her money could be making more money and liked the idea of investing in real estate, she didn’t really have “buy a house” kind of money.

Then she heard about Fundrise.

You can start investing in real estate with a minimum investment of just $500, and Fundrise does all the heavy lifting for you.

Through the Fundrise Starter Portfolio, your money will be split into two portfolios that support private real estate around the United States.

This isn’t an obscure investment, though. You can see exactly which properties are included in your portfolios.

“I can go into my Fundrise account and see what I actually own,” Smith says. “I own a piece of an apartment complex in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Property on the West Coast.

4. Make a Little Wiggle Room in Your Bar Budget

hand holding glass of beer on table
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

Look, I understand. You’re finally legal. You’re ready to hit the very bars that have been turning you away for years. (Just remember to drink like a responsible adult!)

But if you’re not careful, it’s easy to blow your entire beer budget in one weekend — after which you’ll be stuck drinking $3 wine at home by yourself while your coworkers hit up happy hour.

Luckily, there’s a way to earn cash back on alcohol.

Yeah, seriously.

Ibotta is an easy-to-use cash-back app that’s partnered with more than 50 retailers offering deals on many of your favorite brands.

The app features both liquor store deals and cash back on drinks from any restaurant or bar.

We’ve seen deals like $5 back on 750-milliliter or 1-liter bottles of Absolut vodka, $3 back on any pitcher or bucket of Budweiser or Bud Light and $3 back on any mixed drink or cocktail featuring 1800 Tequila.

Those are some pretty sweet deals.

Did you know you had so much money just lying around?

5. See Whether You’re Paying Too Much for Car Insurance

General View of the city of Chicago
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

For most people, car insurance rates will begin to drop dramatically once you hit 25. But even at 21, you might be overpaying for car insurance and not even know it.

While there’s no way to completely avoid paying for car insurance if you own a car, one way you could save money is by shopping around and comparing rates at least once a year.

If you’re a smart shopper, you already compare prices, right? So just like you compare the prices of flights, shoes and laptops before purchasing, why not compare car insurance?

The Zebra, an online car insurance search engine that offers “insurance in black and white,” compares your options from 204 providers in just a few minutes.

Artie Januario was paying $95 a month for car insurance, and because one of his best friends was his insurance agent, Januario didn’t question it. (Question everything, guys.)

After a cross-country move from Boston to Austin, Texas, he decided to try out The Zebra’s services. Within half an hour of starting his search, Januario had new insurance, and his monthly payment was just $65 — a pretty big deal, because car insurance rates in Texas are generally higher than those in Massachusetts, where he’d been living before.

6. Cut Your Debt Interest Rates

Credit card being cut with scissors
Elenathewise/Getty Images

Like so many other young people these days, if you grew up in a home where debt wasn’t discussed, you probably weren’t aware of just how easily you could get sucked into the quicksand pit of credit card debt.

And you probably didn’t understand the impact it would have on your young life, either.

If you’re sitting on an account showing a few too many zeros (and not the positive kind), but find yourself unable to dig yourself out because of sky-high interest rates, it might be time to look into refinancing or consolidating your credit card debt.

A good resource is consumer financial technology platform Even Financial, which can help match you with the right refinancing loan to meet your needs.

Even searches the top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer in less than 60 seconds. Its platform can help you borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.

All it takes is three easy steps to know what kind of loan you qualify for.

7. Snag a Free $10 Walmart Gift Card

Close-up photo of the Walmart logo on a store front
Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

One of our favorite ways to save is with Ebates, a cash-back site that rewards you nearly every time you buy something. For example, Ebates gives you 10% cash-back on purchases at Walmart.

Plus you’ll get a free $10 gift card to Walmart for giving the site a try.

To earn your gift card:

  1. Sign up for Ebates with your email or Facebook account.
  2. Use the Ebates portal the next time you need to buy something. It’s connected to thousands of stores, including Walmart, Amazon and Target. You’ll need to make your first purchase through the site within 90 days and spend at least $25.
  3. Your account will be credited with rewards points you can cash in for your $10 Walmart gift card.

Bonus: You’ll get a free $10 gift card to Walmart after you make your first purchase through Ebates.

8. Let This Site Find You the Best Utility Rates

Margo Macys is the trusty mascot of a home office in Tampa Florida
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

It’s important to make sure you’re getting a good deal on any product or service you use, and this is a lot easier than you might think.

Hop on Squeeze, a website that allows you to compare rates for mortgages, auto loans, student loans, renters insurance, and mobile and internet plans (among others) for free.

Say you want to compare internet prices. Based on your location, the site aggregates all your options and shows you companies alongside price points and download speeds.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

9. Make Money While You Netflix and Chill

A pair of crossed legs dangle off a green couch as a Mac laptop sits on the person's lap.
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Surveys aren't our favorite way to make money, but if you're just vegging out on the couch — or shielding your eyes while being forced to watch “Final Fantasy 113” — why not click a couple buttons and earn a few bucks?

There are a bunch of paid survey sites out there, but here are some of our faves: 

  • Swagbucks is definitely a reader favorite, probably because of the wide variety of ways to make money beyond taking surveys. Plus, you get $5 just for signing up and taking your first survey.
  • Opinion Outpost: What sets this apart from other survey sites is it gives away $40,000 every year. It has a quarterly drawing for a $10,000 cash prize — and for every survey you complete, you’ll get one entry into the sweepstakes!
  • VIP Voice surveys are relatively quick to complete and reward you with points you can redeem for cash or gift cards. Plan to login a few times each week. You’ll have no trouble earning an extra $30 this month with almost no work. 

10. Save Without Trying

A man and woman wearing sunglasses hold hands as they walk through a city.
Photo courtesy of Grant Gunderson

Saving money is tough. So what if you could do it in a way where you wouldn't even notice?

Digit makes that possible.

This innovative app automates saving for you. Simply link it to your checking account, and its algorithms will determine small (and safe!) amounts of money to withdraw into a separate, FDIC-insured savings account.

Bonus: Penny Hoarders will get an extra $5 just for signing up! Additionally, savers will receive a 1% bonus every three months.

Using this set-it-and-forget-it strategy, one Penny Hoarder saved $4,300 without noticing — read his Digit review.

If you need that money sooner than expected, you’ll always have access to it within one business day.

Digit is free to use for the first 30 days, then it’s $2.99 per month afterward.

11. Start Investing Like an Adult

Derek Mateo handles cash in Orlando Florida
Carmen Mandato/The Penny Hoarder

As you venture further into adulthood, you’ll hear more and more people at more and more social functions talking about things like investing.

If you want to get ahead of the financial game (the small-talk-at-adult-dinner-parties potential is an added perk), try investing with Stash.

Stash lets you start investing with as little as $5 and for just a $1 monthly fee for balances under $5,000.

The app curates investments from professional fund managers and investors and lets you choose where to put your money — but it leaves the complicated investment terms out of it.

You just choose from a set of simple portfolios reflecting your beliefs, interests and goals.

Plus, right now, The Penny Hoarder is teaming up with Stash to fund your first investment — so you’ll get a $5 bonus to get started!

If you want a more conservative (read: typically lower risk) investment, look into bonds.

Worthy is free app that invests your money in bonds and pays out a fixed 5% annual interest rate — around 100 times more than what you’d get from the bank. You can start investing with as little as $10.

A Real Adult With Real Adult Finances

Yeah, that’s you — the real adult.

And whether your plans involve grad school, a life of travel and adventure, or getting a jumpstart on your career goals, you’ll need to keep a close eye on your finances to ensure they’re going to get you where you want to go.

In the meantime, though, feel free to pop a few bottles to celebrate the last birthday people will actually get excited about.  

Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

Do you think this article might help you put more money in your pocket?Thumbs UpThumbs Down