Money Management Lessons: Not Quite 10 Years to Life


JD from Get Rich Slowly recently asked me an interesting question: Compare your personal finances today with how they were ten years ago. What have you learned?

I thank my lucky stars (and the patience of my husband) that it didn’t take me quite 10 years to get a handle on my financial situation. At 29, I’m hardly what you would consider an expert, but I do usually only have to learn each lesson once before I’m on to bigger, better experiences. Getting to sleep at night without worrying about money is the ultimate sign of “making it.” Read on to see the 6 biggest lessons I’ve learned in getting there.

Love your momma, but don’t lend her money. I’m the first to admit that my family would seem a little “close” for comfort. My parents and I live on a shared property with separate homes, and we often have to split some minor expenses (water bill, carpool costs, etc.) I maintain my position, however, that we don’t deal with loans or shared expenses bigger than what I would feel comfortable losing. I’m not about to hit my mom up for $15 or the equivalent of a bag of groceries. We usually work things out, but for the record, I’m not keeping tabs. I would suggest you do the same. (Xin Lu also has some excellent reasons to keep your money.)

No wedding ring? Keep your cash. Watch an episode or two of Judge Judy, and you won’t need to read any further. There’s no court of law for some guy you just met at a bar last week, and whom you gave $1,000 for a fake hip surgery. Seriously. Unless there’s prenuptial option or you feel really confident in your pro bono abilities, courts are usually only good for splitting hairs between legally married couples with lawyers. Even then, things can get really, really messy.

Bills are meant to be paid. You can run, and you can hide, but eventually someone pays your cell phone bill. If it’s not you, it’s the next guy, who suddenly finds there’s a 5% increase on his security deposit. Please don’t be another reason it’s harder for me to buy milk at the store. It’s just bad karma.

Fast cash is nothing but trouble. Cash-advance dealers offer you very little in return for the service – and tax refund-anticipation loans are very similar in practice. I know that sometimes you have to do what you have to do…. but think it over and do the math. It isn’t always the silver lining you’ve been hoping for.

The glove box of your car is no place for your phone bill. While I’m still wading through this bad habit, I’m getting so much better. Put your bills in a safe place where you’ll be SURE to pay them on time. Better yet, use Jason White’s method of One-Touch Money Management. It takes me a long time to earn the money for that $30 late fee.

Kids don’t cost any more than a nice car. The best thing I’ve learned is the joy and fulfillment that being a parent can bring. If I had waited to be 100% financially-stable before starting a family, I’d be doing a lot of lonely karaoke at my local beer pub instead of some of the really cool things I’m doing with my kids now. While “experts” claim that it can cost up to $93,000 per child to raise a kid (see chart at this link), the number is based largely on how much you make to begin with. Using that rationale, if you live a more simple life on a more simple income (and in an area of the country where it costs less to live), you can do it for far less. In actuality, it costs less to raise a kid than it costs to buy a mid-sized SUV. Add in the cost of gas, auto insurance, and maintenance/repairs, the kid is cheaper hands down. The next time you worry about how much kids cost, and how you’d rather wait until you’re more financial secure, take a look in your garage. Chances are, you’ve had it covered all along.

My financial situation is drastically different than it was 10 years ago. After all, I had just turned 19, and had become an adult in the eyes of my state and local government. While I had always been a bit conservative in my financial decisions, I had a lot to learn. And I still do. The balance of my bank account has had little to do with “making it.” While my life is much simpler in terms of lifestyle, purchases, and the ways I spend my time, it is also much richer.

This post is a part of the MoneyBlogNetwork Group Writing Project focusing on personal finance retrospectives. Check out other great answers to JD's question from MBN:

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Jason White's picture

This is an excellent post, Linsey!  I particularly liked the last idea that kids aren't any more expensive than a nice car.  I hear young people frequently say they can't afford to have kids, and it makes me sad.  Children are one of the most wonderful blessings in the world, and I hate to see worthy parents put off receiving that blessing because of money worries.  Nine times out of ten you can make ends meet by cutting something else from your life (like a nice car!).

Guest's picture

Yes, bills are to be paid. I work in billing and pretty much 80% of the calls end with the agent finishing their notes and muttering to themselves 'pay your *#@&#% bill.'

Guest's picture

The table you referred to in your article about the “experts claim that it can cost up to $93,000 per child to raise a kid" shows costs up to quarter of a million dollars per child. The $93k you were talking about was just housing cost per child for the highest income bracket. The grand total is all the way to the far right in the table and tops out at $250,260 for a single parent making more than $39k annually.

So kids do cost a heck of a lot more than a nice car! We're spending $1800 a month just for daycare for two while only $1200 on gas, lease payments and insurance for two nice new cars. And don't tell me that my wife could quit and we'd be ahead because it's not true when you're making close to six figures each.

You write "The balance of my bank account has had little to do with “making it.”" it just simply implies that "I'm still way behind on my retirement funding and I don't care about investing much yet, but hey at least I quit using cash advance places and I no longer lend money to strangers!"

I only need so much advice about not leaving my phone bill in my car (I have e-statements and Quicken so it's not an issue for me).

I would have been a lot more interested in seeing how much your net worth has grown over the past 10 years and where you stand financially. Kind of like did it this morning.

Your article is superficial and has a "well duh!" feeling as usual......

Guest's picture

Great points there and I can relate to the majority of them. One that I would add, which you have gone through as well I'm sure, is the desire to learn and be open to new ideas as you progress on your financial journey. I often talk about Finance 101 topics on my blog and when resarching for the posts it is amazing how much new information I pick up along the way. Just when you think you know it all, you get surprised.

Linsey Knerl's picture

And while I did notice that the $93,000 I quoted for raising a child was only for the housing column of the chart (my bad), the point is still valid that the more you make, the more you will spend.  (So I guess you can say that the cost of raising a child is no more than two nice cars in a lifetime... I still take the kid.)

For the most part, I think that the things I have learned about money and finance is pretty common for someone of my cultural background and the time I've been on this Earth.  I love learning and I thank God that I've been open to trying new ways to manage money.  It can be an uncomfortable thing to admit that you haven't done the best in the past and you need to do better (especially in front of thousands of strangers).

I enjoyed reading the other blog posts, and get the general feeling that everyone has come a long way in advancing their financial futures.

But you seriously didn't think I'd share the intimate details of my retirement plan and my investments, did you?  ;) 

As always, I'm loving the comments!

Guest's picture

I must say that I always enjoy Linsey's articles, because they speak to me as a young person who DOESN'T make 200k+ per year.

gtWSE - To be perfectly blunt, your post stinks of the nasty elitism that fuels out increasingly classist society. If you're too financially 'advanced' for this website or Linsey's articles, do us all a favor and opt out.

Linsey - please keep writing, I'm always inspired on how you and your family are successful. The middle class in America is swiftly disappearing. It get scarier and scarier every day for people like my husband and I who are just starting out, and finding that we have to save almost $80,000 in cash just to buy a small home in our city. Some might see these everyday tips and pieces of advice as 'superficial,' but to us, everything counts.



Guest's picture

But you seriously didn't think I'd share the intimate details of my retirement plan and my investments, did you? ;)

Quite honestly I kind of did :-). Well at least to the point of at least acknowledging that you indeed are vested in these areas of personal finance and are on a good path towards financial stability in your future. I don't mind posting what my family has achieved in the past 10 years but I guess it's a bit different posting retirement and investment figures anonimously than with a name. Me and my wife have graduated from collegge (me class of 99, her class of 03) paid off our student loans and over $30k in credit card debt that I accumulated in my college years and our net worth is a bit over $220k with almost half of it in 401(k) while the other half in stocks, in our house as equity, other savings and personal belongings.

If you're too financially 'advanced' for this website or Linsey's articles, do us all a favor and opt out.

I'm not too financially advanced I just expected a bit more from a 10 year financial flashback than advice on who to lend money to or where not to get quick money in a bind. I guess common sense is not so common and I tend to forget that from time to time.....

However if you were to read the other articles in this month's theme about 10 year flashbacks on what people have acomplished in personal finance you would see that this one was the most shallow with no real claim of credit or acomplishemnt other than the general "I'm way better now than 10 years ago, let's all get warm and fuzzy!".

Kat, you might be correct though, I might be a bit over the struggles that other visitors of this site tend to face and Linsay likes to write about.

Lynn Truong's picture

The most important thing to consider when comparing Linsey's post to the other articles is that 10 years ago Linsey was 19 years old. Five Cent Nickel was in grad school w/a child. Free Money Finance owned a house. Mighty Bargain Hunter was in grad school (4 years in), No Credit Needed had been married for one year, and Get Rich Slowly had a full time job. They had at least 5 years of finance lessons on her.

While I'm sure if the post had focused on the last FIVE years Linsey might have more to say about the type of "accomplishments" that you wanted to see, these lessons she's chosen to focus on aren't superficial. Taken under the context of someone who was 19 years old and would in a few years be taking out pay day loans, they're completely valid, helpful, and honest.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I'll agree that to some, my writing style may seem "superficial," or even slight.  My goal is always to connect with readers, but unfortunately, we have to pick and choose our audience.  One of the great things about Wise Bread is that we have a wide variety of authors to fit the needs of several audiences.

The subject of finance is less about "making money" but more about "earning freedom"  (which I feel that I've done.)  This post was a flashback of some of the most difficult lessons I've learned, and also a celebration for the life I have today.  If this group post project was intended to cause everyone to "whip out" their net worth numbers and see who's the biggest, I'd probably lose hands down.  I have strange investements (cattle, a family farm home, a home business, the most beautiful family, and a peace that I hope to share with others.)

I never intend to dish out a number to make a reader feel inferior.  It's about building one another up, encouraging eachother to move past mistakes, and remembering what's important.  And if we can't have a little fun along the way, what's the point? 

There are plenty of other blogs that give you hard numbers.  I'm just not wired that way.  This is a labor of love for me. 


Guest's picture

@Lynn Truong,

10 years ago Linsey was 19 years old.

10 years ago I was a 21 year old international student in my junior year in college with two suitcases of clothes and $20k+ in credit card debt (they have no government subsidized student loans for foreign students). I worked 40 hour weeks while taking on 17-18 credit hours of college classes including summer school to make ends meet and be able to graduate in 3.5 years. Then we put my wife through college, this time with government subsidized student loans, grants and scholaships (she graduated with $24k in the red). So I don't quite buy the argument about someone being "only" 19 10 years ago, I only had 2 years on her.

Linsay and I made different choices; we "only" have 2 chidlren, not 4 and I rather invest in multitude of businesses via stocks than a single family business. My father owns his own business and I can't say that I envy him. It's not easy and it's certainly not for me.

One of the great things about Wise Bread is that we have a wide variety of authors to fit the needs of several audiences.
This is why I keep reading Wisebread. I usually find the more in depth articles more stimulating and interesting. I think this time I simply expected more given the context of the monthly subject.

The subject of finance is less about "making money" but more about "earning freedom" (which I feel that I've done.)
I feel humbled and I have to admit I don't think I'm there yet, despite the investments and net worth numbers. I certainly don't feel like I have earned my freedom, I think I'm another 10 years away from it. In this case Linsay seems to be ahead of the curve, or at least ahead of me if nothing else....

Myscha Theriault's picture

Lynn raised a good point, but I'd like to also add the following.

Being older than Linsey is now (or than she was 10 years ago) isn't in and of itself a guarantee of having learned any financial lessons.

I just turned 40 this year. But I know of friends several decades my senior that still haven't figured out a few items on her list and think that my husband and I have it "easy". Not so. We still work hard, but not in the way they do.

And since Linsey is 29 this year, I dare say there are many her age that haven't learned those lessons yet as well.

Please bear in mind GTWISE, that just because you spend a great deal of time figuring out your finances and reading financial blogs, doesn't mean every single person out there does. Others may just be finding their way. We all grow at different rates.


Guest's picture

Seems kind of irresponsible to claim that kids are as cheap as cars. In 18 years college tuition will cost more than 400k. Sure it builds character and makes children suffer like we did to pay of student loans, but prospective parents should make sure that they're able to finance their kid's BA (or house while they establish themselves in a trade). Otherwise get a dog.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Who would argue that you should NOT pay the whole bill for your child's college education or home. In fact, some of the best businesses minds credit having to build their own foundation as the reason they do so well. Kids have a tendency to esteem lightly what they acquire too easily.

Of course, the American Dream is to provide all the college costs for a child. (I intend to help them save, earn, and get financing -- along with some financing from me.) I've rarely known children to have had homes purchased for them, however. I still subscribe to the school of thought that saving for my own retirement trumps paying for what my able-bodied kids can do somewhat on their own.

I think that this list at the Wall Street Journal says it all:

10 Things the Wealthy Should Leave Their Kids — Besides Money


Guest's picture

Seems kind of irresponsible to claim that kids are as cheap as cars.
I 100% agree with you. I can't comprehend how reasonable and responsible people decide to have any kinds with less than 6 figure income. Linsay (and many other people) keeps arguing that the less you have the less kids cost and every time they see some numbers that are too high to fathom they label the people coming up with the numbers as "experts" with quotes. Linsay still thinks "that the cost of raising a child is no more than two nice cars in a lifetime". I don't know what kind of nice cars she is talking about but I sure hope she's talking about Lamborghinis..... And this from a lady who choose to raise 4 kids!!!!

Just as I pointed out earlier above, daycare cost alone is over $20k a year for my two children. Multiply that by 5 years before Kindergarten and you're looking at $100k alone in childcare costs before they even entered public school.

I have moved into a nicer bigger house so my kids can go to a public school with exemplary rating and get the best education I can give them. This move costs substantial amounts of money. I'm paying over $5k in property taxes every year for the priviledge to belong to a decent school district. My tax would be about half of that at my old house where the school district was terrible and full of drugs and violence. So I'm paying $2500 a year extra just to have my kids go to a decent elementary school and high school, mind you I'm talking about PUBLIC school, private school has yet to enter the equation. That's 20 years of higher taxes at $2500 a year extra to the note of $50k.

I'm also living in a bigger nicer house because I want the best for my kids and I don't want to feel like I'm in India where 3-4 generations share a room. I figure I have at least an extra 600 sq ft of space in my house just because of my two kids. That's another $60k at $100 a sq ft. With interest over 30 years it's over $100k easily.

So far I'm up to $250k and they haven't even started college, driving or had anything to eat or wear.

Sure, these are all my choices but anything less would feel just wrong and depriving to my children and I'd rather not have any.

I have a co-worker who says "when you have more kids, you don't divide your love, you multiply" I call BS on that one. I can only imagine all the attention kids get in a big family....NOT!

As for the argument that kids don't value a college education that is handed to them, I call another big fat BS on. This is an argument generally coming from people who can't afford to pay for their kids college education and try to hide behind and feel good about it. "Son, you're better off paying for your own college, so that's that, no money for you, nevermind the fact that your mom and dad are broke as it is and were ignorant inconsiderate parents who brought you to this world with little to no planning......"

My parents paid all my tuition, I had to come up with the money for cost of living, rent and whatever else I needed. I also paid for my wife's tuition that was not covered by student loans and/or scholarships/grants.

I value and appreciate everything my dad has done for me and I am grateful that he did so! He jumpstarted my life and made my start a lot easier. I 100% absolutely plan on doing the same for my children.

"I still subscribe to the school of thought that saving for my own retirement trumps paying for what my able-bodied kids can do somewhat on their own."

I'm not disagreeing with the above statement, however if it's an either/or case when it comes to retirement funding or schooling of your kids I question whether you made the right decision with having kids in the first place.........

Linsey Knerl's picture

Standard and cost of living play a huge factor in the "how much does it cost to raise kids" argument.   Every situation is unique, and I'd be an inconsiderate fool to try to overgeneralize anyone's financial aptitude by the number of kids they have.  Location, choice of careers, health and well-being, and so many other unknowns play into the formula for "what works for you."

And while I refuse to get into a discussion of something that is so personal of nature, you have to live with whatever decisions you make (as do I.)

I'll close the kids discussion by offering encouragement for you and your family.  Your kids are very fortunate to have hard-working parents that seem to put their needs at such a priority.  And I'll respectfully request that any judgement of mine or other's "decision with having kids in the first place" be reserved to your own quiet rumination. 

Thanks for reading.

Fred Lee's picture
Fred Lee

Great Job, Linsey, you seem to have touched a nerve, always a good thing.

Ten years is a good amount of time to take stock of where you've been and where you're going. 

As for the thread, I'm always fascinated by the income trap, and how it gets to the point where it is never enough, even if the parents both make six-figures. And then to have to point that out to people speaks volumes.

Besides, how can you put a price on the anxiety, angst, pain and suffering of being a parent? They're priceless. Sure, a car will give you a headache now and then, but with parenting, it's the gift that keeps on giving, and no elite private school, expensive daycare, or for that matter, exclusive neighborhood can replace it.

Why can't people understand this?

BTW, is it "it's" or "its?"

Guest's picture
Not a mother yet

It's interesting to me that the comments are focusing so much on raising kids. I'm Linsey's age and my life took a very different turn than hers. I find it annoying that everyone assumes a woman without children is somehow unfulfilled. Many of my friends who have children feel unfulfilled because they don't have a career or anything besides their children to focus their life on. I also know many people who do not want kids at all who are fulfilled just as they are.

Linsey, you're a smart and creative woman. I doubt very much that if you didn't have children, you would be left "doing a lot of lonely karaoke at my local beer pub". Please stop looking down childless people as somehow having a life inferior to your own. It's simply not true. Having kids may have been the best decision for your life, but it's may not be the road to happiness and fulfillment for everyone else.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Most definitely kids are not for everyone.  I am only speaking from my own personal experience.  You have to understand that kids for me were a wake-up call to better things in my life (as noted by my quip about the karoake bar.)

Trent over at the Simple Dollar has a very thorough post about raising kids, in which he respectfully supports the decision to be "child-free."  I found it to be a great analysis what it takes to raise kids, and also a brilliant discussion of how personal a choice it is. 

Whether you have 4 (like me) or none, it is not the sole determination in a quality of life.  I only know that kids for me was a wonderful opportunity to put some ways behind me that might have been difficult to shed otherwise.  But I do appreciate your kind words regarding my potential either way.  We as a society need to do a better job of giving value and worth to every woman (and man, for that matter) as individuals who are free to choose what works for them.

I appreciate your honest perspective on this point. 


Guest's picture

I always pay bills right away so that I don't forget.

Guest's picture

Kudos to you Lindsey. For a 29yr old you certainly have you priorities straight.

When I was 29yrs old I was a world-class hellraiser young guy. It took me years to realize what you know - I really was the the world's oldest adolescent! When I finally married at the advanced age of 44 and had my first child a couple of years later, I figured things out. Children are a miracle which you can't explain to those who don't have them. Because, I got a late start we just have the one - a beautiful, smart 8 year old daughter. Had I known then what I finally figured out, I would have had a houseful!

Guest's picture
Not a mother yet

Linsey, I apologize if I seemed harsh in my earlier comments :) It's not the outright criticism of the "childless" that wears people down, it's the subtle comments. Not knowing your background, I misinterpreted what you said. I enjoy your writing and your perspective, especially since it is often quite different than my own.

Linsey Knerl's picture

No apology needed.  You may not be a mother, but I'm sure you're plenty of other equally great things.  I appreciate hearing from all sides of these issues, and it is especially nice when the commenters (like yourself) are of good taste and form.   Thanks for bringing your voice to the discussion!

Guest's picture

College tuition will not cost $400,000 in 18 years.

Kids don't need their own room, nor do they need to live in the "right" school district to get an education, though parents often use those reasons as excuses to buy that McMansion they've been craving.

Yes, your kids will treat college as a 4, 5, or 6 year vacation if they have nothing invested in it.

I went to the most expensive college in my state ( and saw plenty of unmotivated kids waste their parents' money year after year.

Guest's picture

We agree with you that tuition will not cost in the six digit but a solution can be to help students see that they can earn(and that is the key word "earn") a scholarship or grant. We have a variety of awards for kids that only have a 2.5 gpa up to a 5.0 gpa. So there is hope for the next generation. Check out and search our free database.



Guest's picture

I particularly like the part about how an suv can sometimes cost more than a kid. I am always sitting around wondering whether I'll have enough money to start a family. I am now thinking twice about that worry. I find this podcast useful regarding money management. Check it out.