11 Finance Tips You Wish You Could Tell Your Younger Self


If you could impart some of your current financial wisdom on your younger self, what would you say? Take more risks? Concentrate more on saving? Choose a less expensive education? All of us would do something differently. Perhaps one of these tips would have paved an easier financial path from then to now.

1. Start Contributing to Your 401K as Soon as You Can

When you landed your first job straight out of college, the last thing on your mind was retirement. But even a couple years' delay can defer your retirement to later than expected, or force you to tighten the purse strings mid-career to make up the difference. You're not alone. According to new research from Fidelity Investments in collaboration with the Stanford Center for Longevity, 36% of retirees wished they had saved more during their working years, and 33% wished they had started saving earlier — a statistic that isn't exactly comforting in hindsight.

To make the most of your 401K right now, max out your employer-match contribution — don't let that free cash go to waste — and negotiate to be vested sooner and/or receive a higher match opposed to $1K to $2k more annually. This is a strategy that will pay off more in the long run.

2. Never Say "I'll Pay Myself Back Later" Because You Won't

There are times when we're younger that we need to dip into our personal savings or 401K (which should always be a last resort) for emergencies or something recreational (like a bad-idea road trip with your buddies to Fort Lauderdale — not that I'm speaking from personal experience, of course). We convince ourselves that we'll pay ourselves back for the deduction so that we feel less guilty about it, but nine times out of 10, that never happens. That was then. Hopefully you've put those costly impulse decisions behind you — like you have the cargo shorts and keg stands.

3. Credit Cards Aren't Free Money

This tip is very personal to me because I was targeted by credit card companies as soon as I turned 18, and I fell right into their trap. I took whatever they were willing to throw at me — because, hahaha, I was going to beat the system! — but the joke was on me. I maxed out those cards in less than two months, and because I was a student without a job, I was unable to pay the bills. I missed payments for years until the debt was in such dire straits that I was offered payoff deals. The debt, and the indelible mark it left on my credit score, followed me for years, making it difficult to buy a car, purchase a home, or even build my savings. In this case, I'd tell my younger self to run for the hills — and keep your nose out of the J.Crew catalog.

4. You Don't Need to Impress Your Friends

As soon as you get that first high-paying job, you want to do two things — buy shiny stuff and take your friends out for dinner and drinks. Why? Because you made it, and now it's time to show it off! But guess what? Your friends don't give a lick. These are the people who enjoyed your company when you were poor; there's no need to impress them now. And if that's not the case, they're not really your friends. Instead, save your money and pretentiousness for more important things.

5. Pay Your Bills First, Yourself Second, and Everything Else After That

Cash your check and divide it into three parts every time you get paid. The largest part should pay all your bills for the month — I mean everything. Second, pay yourself. Funnel money into savings and set aside cash for budget items like groceries, gas, and rent. Lastly, if you have any left over, you can use a little for the extra things you'd like to do, like eat out, see a movie, or other non-essentials. It's not the most exciting way to live, but it is the smartest.

6. If You Don't Have the Cash for it, You Can't Afford It

This sort of goes hand-in-hand with steering clear of credit cards if at all possible. And it's as simple as the strategy suggests. If you can't pay for whatever it is you want in cash, you don't need it. Obviously that exempts major life purchases — a new car, home, etc. — but it applies to almost everything else, including fancy flat-screen TVs, expensive makeup, the hottest sneakers, or whatever your vice is that you can totally live without.

7. Stop Eating and Drinking Yourself Poor

Fifty-cent wing nights and dollar shots will not get your bills paid, but they will get you fat and house poor. Print out that motivational speech and keep it in your wallet, young buck. In general, eat healthier — and at home more often. Your 30-year-old body (and bank account) will thank you.

8. Carefully Consider the Debt-to-Income Ratio of Student Loans

Personally I don't regret my costly private college education, despite that I still have eight more years of loan to pay off. Still, I do have plenty of friends who wish they had chosen a less expensive school. Thus, carefully consider how much college will cost, the debt you'll rack up as a result, and the income earning potential of a career in your chosen field. If there's an imbalance between those variables that you don't think you can live with, choosing a cheaper school may be the right move for you.

9. Master the Money-Saving Art of Negotiation

If you can buy it, chances are you can negotiate the price down. From clearance clothing and your first new car to insurance premiums and bank fees (yep, you can even negotiate those, too), you can save a bundle if you learn how to drive a hard bargain.

10. Invest in Real Estate as Soon as You Can

If you search hard enough, you can find anything on the Internet. But I don't believe that, and my younger self didn't either — which is why I bought property as soon as I could. I'm not alone in this thinking either. Many of my friends who bought early stand by their decisions, even though it set them back financially at first. That sacrifice by way of real estate investment has paid off over the years, because instead of paying someone else a fee to live under a roof, we've paid ourselves in the form of equity that we can now use to continue to purchase real estate as a means of earning passive income. This is probably one of the most lucrative tips on this list, and one everybody should research more in depth.

11. If You Want to Be Reckless, Now's the Time to Do It

While you should have been smarter with your money when you were younger, all is not lost. Truth is, it's better to be a dummy about your finances in your 20s when you don't have much to lose than to make stupid money moves in your 30s and 40s when mismanagement can be costly. So save, spend smartly, but also have some fun — you may not have the financial freedom later in life, especially if you want nice things.

Now it's your turn. What financial tips would you tell your younger self? I'd love to hear some of the things you would change about your money management skills from 10 years ago to today.

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Guest's picture

I'm a teenager and I hope I can learn from this but honestly will probably make at least 50% of these mistakes anyway.