1) Define your strategy. What are you saving for? A MFH? A flip?
2) Learn about house hacking. If you're in a college area and are able/willing to move, you could jump in much sooner by buying a MFH, living in one unit, and renting out the remaining units to students.
3) Listen to one BP podcast a day and spend maybe 15-30 minutes a day here in the forums. Treat BP like a one-credit college course.
4) Get involved in your local REIA.
Welcome Brandon! From the sounds of it you have a solid plan. It is always good to constantly revisit your 1,3, and 5 year plans and make sure you're on track or make necessary adjustments to get back on track. $18k-$30k can be plenty to get started in real estate (depending on what market you're in and how you use it). If I were you, I would take 6-12 months and learn as much as I could about real estate investing. There are plenty of book recommendations floating around bigger pockets (the millionaire real estate investor, bigger pockets books, etc...) . Also, staying active in the forums and listening to the podcasts are other good ways to soak up knowledge. After taking the 6-12 months to learn about real estate investing I would refine my investing parameters... for example, do you want to invest in single family homes? Do you want to flip houses? etc.... there are many different routes you can go down. Once you've revised your parameters then it could be helpful to find other people who are pursuing the path you want to follow and network with them. Finally, after you've learned what you could and refined your investing criteria, it's time to jump into investing. You may be able to find someone to partner with (where you could bring less capital) or it may be time to purchase your own unit.
There are plenty of other people who may suggest different things but this is just a steady path to learn. gain confidence, and eventually make the jump into investing. Hope this helps!
Hey Brandon - I spent 7 years learning before I bought my first property. That was WAY too long. I should have bought a place after 6-12 months. I decided after 7 years that I would rehab and rent single family houses. I bought one, rehabbed it, and rented it. I then immediately realized that was going to be too slow for me so my next property was a 4 unit and I close on a 3 unit in a couple days.
My point it that my plan changed almost as soon as I got in the game. My advice would be to get in the game as soon as possible (via meeting helpful people at REIAs) then adjust your plan as you go. It's impossible to steer a car that isn't moving. Get moving! Good luck.