First, thank you for protecting Us all and serving the country. Good work!
I am one of those older snowballers, and I've been a saver all my life. I've gotten independent by many means, and that includes a career in which I can drop in and out when I want or need to work, finally, at age 49 ( started working seasonally at 47)
I've lost money ($65,000 in an investment that went south) and didn't let it deter me. So how do you do it when you are debt free at age 22? Here is how. REMEMBER there is no such thing as a large amount of money if you are spending it. Always have a mortgage, but never on the home you live in. Play Monopoly, only with real houses. Stay where you are, working and saving money, and pay cash for the smallest home in a great neighborhood. When you are living in that paid-for house, make your first mortgage be on another home you would live in yourself. Rent it out. When it is paid off, buy a third. Pay off the second house by making the mortgage payment with the rent and $1000 a month of your own money. Pay off the third house mortgage by a combination of the profit from the second house plus the $1000 of your own.
Buy a broad stock index ETF and hold it, and keep buying some more and some more and some more and some more until you are age 50. A broad index mutual fund tracks the whole stock market. But a mutual fund costs more in fees than an ETF, so the ETF is better. Completely utterly ignore the stock price, just buy at steady constant intervals (dollar cost averaging).
Maximize 401k, 403b, iRA, etc.
REMEMBER: the law of compound interest says what you do BEFORE age 30 can never be made up for after age 30. In essence, every dollar saved and invested now will be worth MORE THAN 3 dollars saved after age 45.
I agree with almost all of landslave's advice except avoiding mortgage on first home. Mortgage allow for tax deduction which considering your single status will definitely help in lowering your taxable income. Mortgage rates are historically at an all time low so you are better off getting reasonable returns through market investments. Finally mortgage instead of paying with out right cash allows you to remain liquid.
Other than that I am in full agreement that you should invest early and invest a lot but keep yourself diversified. For myself I usually invest in 3 different indexes.
- A broad market index like DIA (Dow Jones ETF).
- An emerging market index like VWO to make sure I don't missing out on the growing international market.
- An internet technology index like FDN which encapsulates companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Yahoo etc.