I often joke that I was frugal before frugal was cool. I was clipping coupons in college and paying off debt in my late 20s. I was blogging about saving money before the recession really hit home.
But I’m definitely not perfect when it comes to handling money. Sometimes when I look back at decisions I made when I was in my 20s, I wince a little.
If I could go back in time, I’d pull my 20-something self aside and I’d tell her these things:
Start investing when you’re young. When I first started my career as a fledgling journalist, I was barely earning enough money to survive. The thought of putting aside money in a retirement account seemed impossible, and the need for the money seemed so far away. Now that I’ve crunched enough numbers in various retirement calculators, I see that even if I’d put just a tiny bit of money away back then, I would have amassed so much more money for retirement than I will by waiting.
Don’t be an early adopter of technology. Anytime I bought something that was considered the latest and greatest hot new gadget, either it disappointment me or was replaced by an even cooler, less expensive gadget within weeks of my purchase. When you buy something brand-spankin’ new, you’re also buying a lot of hype. If I had it to do over again, I would have exercised a bit of patinence when it comes to purchases.
You don’t need a brand new car. I’ve owned a half dozen cars in my time on the road, and I can honestly say that having a brand new, fresh of the lot car, is really not much different from buying a pre-owned vehicle with 10,000 miles on it. Except for price! HUGE difference.
Stop eating out so much. Of all of the things I have done with money in my 20s, eating out all .the. time. was probably one of my biggest financial mistakes. Since I became a stay-at-home mom, I’ve had to do a lot more cooking at home and cooking from scratch to make ends meet. I wish I’d learned those skills a decade ago, so it wouldn’t feel like such a challenge now.
Take care of yourself. I always told myself I would exercise tomorrow. I’d lose 10 pounds. I’d eat healthier. But I got lazy, and now that there are kids in the picture, it is so much harder to fight an aging metabolism and carve out some time to fit in a workout. It’s a lot easier to maintain good habits in your 30s than it is to form new ones, and I know that I would have saved a lot of money if my clothing sizes hadn’t fluctuated so much.
You can’t plan for everything. I was such an organized and structured 20-something. I would over-analyze and carefully plan every little thing in my life. Getting married, changing jobs, moving, building a home, having a child, then having twins – all of those things have taught me that you never know what life will bring your way. It’s a true blessing to go with the flow sometimes.
I know I can’t predict the future, but by looking back at where I’ve been, maybe I can avoid repeating my mistakes. Experience is a great teacher. I wonder what lessons I will learn in my 30s.
Now it’s your turn: What do you wish you’d known when you were in your 20s?
This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2012. For more posts about Money in Your Life, visit the Money in Your 20’s/30’s/40’s/50’s/Retirement Roundup.