When we’re young, financial stress can feel especially burdensome. Think back to when you were first on your own, trying to navigate the unfamiliar territory of finding a place to live, starting a new job, and configuring a budget — if only you knew then what you know now, you might have made fewer mistakes and been a little more financially savvy when apartment hunting, using credit cards, or building a savings account.
We asked members of the Thrive community to share the pieces of money advice they wish they could give to their younger selves — but can still be put in practice today.
Know that buying a home isn’t right for everyone
“I learned the hard way in my early 20s that buying a home isn’t always a wise investment depending on your current station in life. That home ate up a lot of money and time that could have been better spent on my startup. Once I offloaded that burden and rented a cheap apartment, all of a sudden I had a lot of extra time and capital to chase my dreams.”
—James Philip, serial entrepreneur, Chicago IL
Save for a rainy day
“I wish someone would have taught me the value of saving for a rainy day instead of spending everything I made. Even later on as a financial adviser, I struggled any time big expenses came up because I was too busy keeping up with the Joneses. It took me until just recently, at 32 years old, to become really intentional about saving beyond little investments.”
—Kathy Haan, business coach and blogger, Denver, IA
Don’t fall victim to credit card debt
“In my early 20s, I found myself in credit card debt post furniture and house shopping. My step-mother taught me about compound interest and I was horrified by how credit cards really worked and how companies prey on college students and young adults in new jobs. I paid off what I owed and never carried debt again! Now, I buy everything on credit cards and pay them off in full monthly, plus I get points I use for free travel.”
—Jen Whitney, sales director, Austin, TX
Use an autopay program to boost your savings account
“Learn a system of savings that works for you. Take an amount you could do without each month or each paycheck and put it on an autopay program to a savings account that you cannot get to right away. Even if it’s only $50 each month or each paycheck. I use a high yield savings account. Yes, I can get that money if I need it, but it’s at a far enough reach that I cannot just grab it for an immediate purchase. To this day, I still put money from each paycheck into that account and it’s transferred immediately after I am paid, so it’s almost like I don’t realize that it is being taken!”
—Ashley R., marketing coordinator, Bloomington, MN
Build your career network in unexpected ways
“I wish I had chosen a non-profit or charity with a local presence, and volunteered in person — even though I didn’t feel I had much to offer at the time. Besides the obvious benefit of being a change agent for an organization, it would have allowed me to build my network much earlier in my career. Repeatedly volunteering with the same organization allows you to rub shoulders with a variety of people, some at a much further point in their careers. It’s like building an extra set of professional ‘friends’ who can vouch for you and offer advice or possible job opportunities as they grow in their career and change employers. It was hard to see this potential benefit when I was new to the workforce. I wish someone had sat me down and encouraged me to adopt an organization for one or two years at a time. Building my network has had far-reaching financial benefits.”
—Leila Ansart, executive coach, Jacksonville, FL
The stock market isn’t scary…
“The one piece of financial advice I’d give to my younger self is to rent a place to live and put the home-buying money into the S&P 500. I imagine this is one of the most common financial truths that comes with age, but no doubt it would’ve had the biggest impact on my personal bottom line. Unfortunately I heard (and believed) some fables in my teens about building equity, not wasting money on rent, and avoiding the dangerous stock market. Even anecdotal evidence is rarely that misguided, so I fell for it hook, line, and sinker.”
—Justin Rhodes, mechanical engineer, Pompton Lakes, NJ
…And you should invest in it early
“The definition of financial success is deeply personal. Our decisions reflect our priorities and what financial freedom ultimately means to us. Leverage the power of compounding and time to build momentum in your financial success by investing early. This will help you build financial discipline and embrace the philosophy of buying assets to pay for liabilities. By investing early, you learn about yourself: Your risk-appetite, psychology, and the rewards that motivate you which further guide your key life decisions and lifestyle choices.”
—Vinutha Narayan, global head of strategic initiatives and special projects, San Francisco, CA
Never spend more than you make
“Don’t spend more than you make! In my 20s I spent a lot of money on clothes and it meant I ran up my credit card bill to over $15K. After my bills were paid off, I made a decision to budget and stop buying every piece of clothing that looked great on me. Learn at an early age that you can buy one item a month, pay down your credit card bill to about $50, and then buy something else. Don’t keep buying things without knowing if you have the money to pay them off each month.”
—Lisa Andria, coach, Long Beach, CA
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