Financially Responsible 23-Year-Old Shares 3 Things That Keep People In Their 20s Broke

Her advice was solid but didn't take structural inequity into account.

woman on laptop making a budget Halfpoint / Shutterstock

Having financial literacy isn’t something that’s taught in schools, which is one reason why so many young people leave college without a solid safety net or a strong understanding of how to manage their money.

Lillian Zhang uses her social media presence to help other people in their 20s level up their finances and career.

The financially responsible 23-year-old shared 3 things that keep people in their 20s broke.

1. Living beyond your means

First on Zhang’s list was living beyond your means and spending money you don’t have.

@lillianzhang_ as the saying goes: “if you cant manage $1,000 you cant manage $100,000” #personalfinance #money #genz #financialliteracy #financialeducation #finance101 ♬ Aesthetic Vibes - Megacreate

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“I think with social media especially, it’s really emphasized because you’re not seeing only what your friends and people at work are doing,” Zhang said, touching on the negative impact of comparison culture.

Scrolling through social media allows us to see how other people live, yet it’s easy to forget that what we see on Instagram isn’t necessarily someone’s real life but rather the facade they’re presenting to the world.

Zhang emphasized the importance of saving as your income increases, saying, “There are a lot of people who are increasing their lifestyle as their income increases, but not their savings, which is why you still see a lot of six-figure earners living paycheck to paycheck.”

2. Buying on credit

Zhang believes that using services like Buy Now, Pay Later keeps a lot of young people in debt, as they’re spending money they don’t actually have.


“I know a lot of people use them for essentials sometimes, but I think it could really lead to a slippery slope of debt,” she explained.

She advises against using services that can put you in debt and “Only purchase items you can pay in full.”

woman shopping Ollyy / Shutterstock

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Taken at face value, this piece of advice sounds solid, yet it overlooks the possibility of emergency economic situations, like how to cover the cost of a medical emergency or what to do when your car breaks down, and you need it to get to work.

The reality is that most people who live on a mid-range income are one emergency away from having their bank account wiped out, which is less the fault of any individual and more an issue with how our society is set up.

3. Using savings to justify spending

“People say that they’re gonna save a certain amount of money, they put it away, and they say, ‘I’m not gonna touch this money unless there’s an emergency or I’m saving up for a bigger purchase,’” Zhang said, noting that “taking out money as an excuse to use it on unnecessary spending, then it literally destroys the purpose of you saving money.”

She believes that taking funds out of a savings account “keeps a lot of people in the cycle of not having enough money.”


woman with credit card - Yuri A. / Shutterstock

“If you’re having trouble doing this, I would recommend putting away your savings into a separate account that you don’t touch that’s not connected to your checking,” she said. “Just pretend the savings aren’t there.”

Zhang’s financial advice for 20-somethings isn’t bad, but it doesn’t take into account the reality of the world we live in, where wage stagnation, inflation, and rising costs of living make it impossible to have any semblance of savings.


Many people in the comments expressed the perspective that being broke has less to do with personal decisions and more to do with our larger economic and social landscape.

“This is all solid advice, but I feel like what’s keeping most people broke in their 20s is wages staying the same but the cost of living skyrocketing,” said one person.


How much a single person needs make to live comfortably in the 5 highest cost of living cities in the US according to @cnbc


Another person noted that it “would be nice if I could find a job that actually pays me a living wage first.”


“Simply being alive is living above my means,” said someone else.

Personal responsibility and understanding your own financial situation go a long way, but they’re not a match for the structural inequities that hold people back when it comes to being in a financially stable situation. 

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Alexandra Blogier is a writer on YourTango's news and entertainment team. She covers social issues, pop culture, and all things to do with the entertainment industry.