Thursday, April 21, 2011

Things My 21-Year Old Self Didn't Know

Ten years ago at this time, I was wrapping up my last term in college. At this point I had no job although I had interviewed for many. I would be getting one soon, but at this time, the pressure was still on.

I had worked part time during school but had only ever held down a full time job in my life during two different summers that I had internships. They paid, but only slightly above minimum wage. The experience was the key payment here.

I was finally a "real" adult. I was 21 years old and about to go into the real world. I knew it would be hard, but I was ready...or so I thought.

Over the last 10 years I have learned a lot about finances...mostly through the school of hard knocks although over the last 1-1/2 years, I've been trying to actually educate myself more. Here are a list of the things I would tell myself if I could travel back in time 10 years:

  1. Just because you can handle a little money does not mean you can handle a lot. Logic would tell you that if you can handle a little you can handle a lot. Even the Bible teaches us that (remember that parable?). However, I was GREAT at handling tiny bills with my tiny paychecks. Once I was getting bigger paychecks, I thought I was rich. I had no idea. Lottery winners prove this again and again, but even on smaller checks than the lottery offers, money can be tempting to just spend if you haven't learned better. With more money comes more responsibility.
  2. Just because you don't like to shop at the mall, does not mean you don't like to shop. You can still easily blow money without going shopping all of the time. Most of the money we have blown in the past has been wrapped up in eating out, vacations, decor for the home, and upgrading/repairing our home. I'm not a mall rat, but I still know how to blow through some cash. Fast.
  3. You REALLY need to talk more about money in your marriage. From the beginning. I's not sexy. It's not fun. It is CRITICAL though. I will not go into how many fights, tensions, and anxieties have resulted in our marriage because we just didn't talk about money. Spending. Saving. Plans. Habits. None of it. Trust about it and save yourself the heartache. Compromises are ALWAYS better than fights.
  4. Stuff is really just stuff. It's amazing how much stuff I wanted once I had a paycheck. Stuff I didn't need. Newer stuff. Nicer stuff. Different stuff. Just stuff. Now I'm trying to get rid of some of that same stuff because it just clutters my life. I would have saved myself a lot of money and hassle by not buying it in the first place. If it doesn't serve a direct purpose and fulfill a real NEED in your life, don't buy it.
  5. Believe it or not, smart spending/saving practices will one day be more impressive than a new ______. Although some people will always be caught up in material things, those are not the people I want to impress. I now know that. I would rather be labeled as frugal than as materialistic.
  6. Don't buy something based on the monthly payment. Buy it based on the cost. This was a huge practice for long time. We have an extra $200/month, why not buy it? Forget that at $200/month it would take 7 years and thousands in interest...I could afford the monthly bill, so why not, right? Wrong. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
  7. Make sure you love your job. I know money is enticing, but if you have loads of money but are unhappy, that money will not make you happier. It will just give you the ability to buy more stuff...which will not make you happier. You must love what you do every. single. day or you will be miserable no matter how many zeros are on your paycheck.
  8. Children truly will enjoy the box more than the expensive toy that came in it. Children are truly easy to please until you teach them otherwise. They have fun with cardboard boxes and an imagination. They love flying a $1 kite. They love playing at a public park. They love running around playing in the yard with their friends. They love books that you can get from the library for free. They love playing the in hose on a hot summer day. A $1.00 bottle of bubbles can provide hours of entertainment. Some of my best childhood memories didn't cost a nickel. You don't have to buy their love or their fun.
  9. You still have a lot to learn. I think most of us are cocky at this age. We haven't grown out of that aggressiveness that we needed to get through adolescence. We feel that we have come this far and now life is just to be enjoyed. Wrong. I have learned more in the last 10 years that I ever thought possible. About my career. About my life. About my husband. About other people. About myself. There is a world out there full of possibilities that your brain has not yet wrapped itself around. Be aware that changes are coming and you have giant opportunities to learn ahead of you. Embrace them rather than resisting.

One thing I did do right:
  1. Save for retirement from Day 1. Or at least as soon as your employer allows you to get into the retirement plan. At my one-year work anniversary, I signed up for our company's 401k. I was 22 years old and although I didn't see the effects immediately I was told it was the smart thing to do. Boy am I glad I listened. I have just over $100,000 already waiting across a couple different accounts...and I'm still contributing. Those will continue to grow as time goes on. Do you think I would have saved that on my own in this time? Obviously not...our savings account has $3000 in it current and some of that is earmarked for other uses.

So, the time is drawing near that some will be graduating college soon. Some will be graduating high school soon and embarking on a bigger life. Hopefully my lessons will be able to help someone else grasp the bigger picture more easily.

I can't wait to see what the next 10 years teach me.

What about you? What lessons have you learned in the last 10 years that you'd love to pass along?

Photo credit: marygober

1 comment:

  1. Good job on saving for retirement early, you can really rack up a lot of money if you start at a young age.