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Ahhh, if only we could go back in time. We could take back that bad haircut in high school. We could make sure that scarring incident on the playground never happened. We could make ourselves rich with picking stocks in Google.
While I can’t go back in time, there are still plenty of things I wish I could tell my younger self. Sure, I’d heard the advice from other people. But I was young and full(er) of myself, and I didn’t heed a lot of warnings about the adult world and personal finance.
While everything worked out just fine, I could have definitely saved myself some financial pain.
Here’s the advice I would give my younger self.
Stay at home as long as you can.
Okay, okay. This sounds like “Mooch off of your parents for as long as possible.” And I’m not talking about mooching or being a burden. This completely depends on your parents’ wishes. As an adult we shouldn’t expect to be given anything for free from our parents. They’ve got bills to pay, too!
Of course, if your parents have offered to let you live at home during young adulthood, consider taking them up on it. There are plenty of ways to live with your parents without being a mooch. Pay your parents rent each month. Buy your own groceries. Cook family dinner every night. Clean the house and do chores every day. Offer to babysit younger siblings. There are plenty of ways to earn your keep to make it a fair living arrangement.
For my situation, my parents were exceedingly generous. They completely supported me throughout college and offered to let me stay for free at home after I graduated.
Did I take them up on it? Did I reap the incredible financial benefits of living rent-free, enjoying free hot meals, or having a free place to do laundry?
I moved into an apartment two weeks after I graduated from college.
I was stubborn about this for a few reasons.
First of all, I had started dating Mr. Picky Pincher in my college town. If I had moved in with my parents, who live across the state, Mr. Pincher and we would have been five hours away from each other. That’s not fun. And second, I didn’t want to take advantage of my parents. I felt like I was mooching if I moved in with my parents–who were already footing the bill for my education. I felt like it would be asking too much of them. Third, I was craving independence and wanted to finally feel like a full adult.
It all worked out, but I could have been in an even better financial state if I had taken advantage of my parents’ generosity. That would have been about $800 in savings just from not paying rent or utilities!
While this approach depends on a lot of variables, consider taking people up on generous offers like this.
Don’t take out student loans
I think everyone with a student loan wishes these debts would magically disappear. I am incredibly fortunate in that my parents are paying the bulk of my student loans. However, since my loans were pretty high (curse you, private school!), we’ve come to an agreement that I would take on $20,000 of the debt.
This is still a pretty damn small amount of loans for the education I received, so I’m still counting my lucky stars. We’ll be able to pay these bad boys off in a few months, thanks to our high savings rate.
But you know what would be even better than these loans?
Not having loans!
Mr. Picky Pincher and I go back and forth on whether our college educations were worth it. Neither of us pursued careers that were directly related to our degrees. We could have gotten online college degrees in underwater basket weaving; all we needed was a degree, ANY degree, to be accepted into the workforce.
So my advice for my past self would be this:
- Attend community college classes during high school summers.
- Do two years of community college for basic credits. Keep a part-time job on the side to save up cash. Even better if you’re able to live at home with your parents and save more money.
- Transfer to a four-year school, whether in-person or online, and finish your degree there.
- Make sure you get as many scholarships as possible.
- Pay for the rest of this in cash.
This sounds really difficult, because it is. Would I have been able to finish school in four years this way? I’m not sure. But I do know that the four-year college experience is overrated and overpriced.
Save your future self from a bottomless pit of student loan debt by avoiding loans at all costs. You can even consider skipping the college experience altogether! This is more challenging these days, since most entry level jobs still require degrees, but it’s still doable.
Don’t get a car loan
Ahhh, cars. We love new, flashy ones that make loud sounds.
But cars are nothing more than depreciating hunks of metal and rubber. Mr. Picky Pincher and I have suffered quite a lot from our car financing choices. At one point we had a combined $750 in car payments every month! That made it impossible to pay off our debts or build an emergency savings.
22-year-old me assumed that car payments were a necessary part of being an adult. I mean, who can pay cash for cars these days?
As it turns out, we could. After we got rid of my $450 monthly payment, we were able to save cash for a $6,500 truck. But that was only doable by slashing our living expenses and getting rid of our second car payment.
I wish past me had considered other alternatives to a car loan. I could have been car-free for a while and opted to take the bus everywhere. I could have gotten a bicycle to make grocery trips. I could have carpooled with my friends. I could have done all of these things in the interim while saving cash for a car.
Sure, driving an older car is not very glamorous. But crying every night over your empty bank account is also not very glamorous.
Start saving for retirement right now.
And I mean RIGHT NOW.
It sounds completely weird that you should be saving money that you won’t see again for four decades. Especially when you might barely be able to pay rent right now.
But it’s this “put it off until later” attitude that gets people into trouble. A lot of people don’t have enough money saved for retirement. And that just sucks.
Do future you a favor and open a retirement account. Since you’re so young and probably have a lower income, a Roth IRA might be the way to go. Research to figure out what’s best for you.
Even if you can put away $5 a month, you have plenty of time on your side for that money to grow, so you can reap the larger dividends later. All for the cost of a coffee.
Don’t start accruing credit card debt.
I’m all about using credit cards to gain reward points. But 22-year-old me wasn’t that smart. My past self wondered at the power of being able to get something “for free” right now and pay it off whenever I wanted. Magic!
Well, we all know that’s not how credit cards work. A lot of young people fall prey to credit card interest and debt, since they aren’t always thinking about future ramifications. While credit cards can be helpful in some ways, carrying a balance month-to-month is a great way to put yourself in a Land O’ Debt.
After overhauling our lifestyle, we were able to pay off $14,000 in credit card debt. Eliminating this debt has been one of the most freeing feelings in the world.
Get a well-paying job out of school
People might hate on me for this one.
“Do what you love!”
“Work somewhere fun!”
“You’re only young once; take that low-paying job that you love!”
This sounds like wonderful advice, because it’s wonderful advice only if you’re in the right place in your life to work for low wages at your dream job.
I’m glad that this is something 22-year-old me realized awfully quick. Our city is pretty cheap to live in, but I was barely able to buy groceries with my first post-grad job. It paid $15 an hour, which sounded all right, until I realized my hours were cut often, so my wages were actually much lower. Not good.
While I moved on from this job to look for more stability and professional growth, I couldn’t imagine going to work somewhere for even less pay, even if it was my dream job.
Sure, I think it’s important to find a dream job at least once in your life. But when you’re fresh in the adult world and carrying a high debt load, it just isn’t the right time to be happily working for pennies.
Find a decently-paying job out of school, live lean, and pay off your debts. Then go work at that badass ice cream shop/bookstore full time. 🙂
Learn how to cook for yourself
I can’t tell you how many PB&J sandwiches I had for dinner as a new adult. I was exhausted from trying to figure out the world all day. A quick sandwich was all I could muster for sustenance.
As you can imagine, I felt totally gross. I wish 22-year-old me had learned how to properly meal plan. And that includes cooking proper portions for one person, which can actually be really tricky! I ended up wasting a lot of food, which was disastrous for my tiny grocery budget. I also wished I had experimented with more healthy foods.
Even if you aren’t a great cook, slowly experiment with healthy, hot meals to save money.
Build your emergency savings
When I was at my $15/hour job, I would scoff at the idea of saving three months’ worth of expenses. “Only millionaires can afford to do that! I can barely afford $40 a week in groceries!”
It hurts so much to save money when you’re first starting out. But that’s what needs to be done. I managed to put $300 into savings while at my low-paying first job job. This meant I made sacrifices: I didn’t go out for drinks, I didn’t go out to eat, and I didn’t even have Internet.
But I put a minimum of $20 a month into my savings. And I was so very, very thankful I did that. When I left my first job for my second job, I went a month without a paycheck, since the payment cycles were different. That meant I had zero income for 30 days. I lived off of my seemingly meager emergency savings, which meant I avoided putting expenses on my credit card.
While my savings were drained at the end of the month, it saved me from debt. Even if you can put only $5 in savings, do it. Set up an automatic transfer so you don’t even have to think about it.
The Bottom Line
While I’m loving the way my life has turned out, I wish I had made a few more prudent financial decisions when I was younger. But we can’t turn back the hands of time–we have to deal with the situations we’ve created. The frugal lifestyle is all about learning and improving as we work towards financial independence.
We want to know: What advice would you give your younger self?