I am 18 years old, live in the US outside a major city, and have been working in IT for a pharmaceutical company for about 4 months now. I recently received a raise going from $66k to about $80k per year (Pre-Tax). I live with my parents and work from 6:30 A.M. to 2:30 P.M. I began attending a university two months ago as a full-time student, but take a mix of online and in-person classes all of which begin after 5:30 P.M. With AP, dual enrollment, and a Prior Learning Assessment, I was able to start with 45 out of 120 required credits. I take five 3-credit classes which costs a total of around 8k per semester. I pay this tuition at the beginning of each semester avoiding the need to take out a loan. Continuing at this rate, I will graduate in about two years with a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology. They offer a plus one Master’s program for Computer Science/related field at a slightly increased cost per credit which I am still considering. I understand I could attend a community/state school for a lower cost, but the university is one of the top 50 in the US and allows for a lot of flexibility which makes it worth it to me. Aside from this, I currently have no outstanding debt. My current monthly income is \~$5,000 after taxes and I have a credit score of about 700.
I feel incredibly fortunate to be in my current position, but I know close to nothing when it comes to personal finance and have no clue who to turn to for advice so I thought I would ask here. So far I have done the following:
* Read some financial books that were recommended to me like “The Simple Path to Wealth” by JL Collins
* Contribute to my 401(k) up to my employer match (Investing in a total stock market index fund)
* Opened and began contributing to a Roth IRA which I plan to max out every year (Investing in a total stock market index fund)
* Give myself $500 to spend per month on transportation, groceries, entertainment, etc. and contribute the rest to a high yield savings account which I recently opened that has an APY of over 2%
A few specific topics I am looking for advice with:
* I drive an early 2000s minivan with about 200k miles on it that is at Death’s door. The mechanic said I’d be lucky if it lasted another year which means I will need to buy another car pretty soon. How should I go about doing that in today’s market? (Buying a heavily used car with cash / a new affordable car with the best gas mileage / a used car that has been shown to hold its value pretty well / etc.)
* My parents are lovely people, but it is not fair to rely on them forever. However, I know rent and housing prices are all over the place at the moment, but I am trying to figure out the best strategy for moving out. For instance, would it be best to find a good deal and start renting now, should I hold off for about two years until I can afford a 20% down payment on a house, etc.?
* A strategy I keep hearing is buying to rent, but as a first time home buyer, is it really worth buying say a duplex and renting out the other side?
* One expense I can definitely save money on is groceries. To cut down costs, I want to get into meal prepping for every week, but I am a completely novice at cooking/nutrition. Any pointers for learning to make simple, healthy, and cost-effective meals?
I want to utilize my current situation as best as I can. I am completely open to critiques and any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!