Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.
~ Henry David Thoreau
This post is in partnership with Borrowell, all opinions (and rather funny money stories) are my own.
When I was in my 20s, money was some fantastical creature. Like a Unicorn? Kind of. Hard to grasp, and full of dysfunction.
I turned 20 in 1996 a few short years before Y2K, the Dot-com technology bubble and 9/11. I was lucky to land my first real job in 1999 before everything imploded. I lived through nervous times of job cuts, budget cuts, and wondering whether my customers were going to spend money or if I’d lose my very first job — I was in technology sales where part of my salary was commission and dependent on customers spending money.
But in my household, freaking out was not an option.
First, my father wasn’t one for freaking out. Second, I had moved out of my parent’s home (they were in full-on retirement), was renting with my then-boyfriend, and in addition to rent payments, had car payments on a used 1996 Honda Civic I had bought.
Things were real.
For some odd reason, when it came to money in my 20s, I enjoyed putting the cart before the horse. I wanted everything but didn’t want to wait and save for it. I had very little patience and wanted the lifestyle before I genuinely earned it. I spent my way through my 20s, faced a lot of financial anxiety, and got myself into credit troubles more than once. I’m not proud to say it, but I was the Queen of maxing credit cards out.
Looking back, ignorance is not bliss. I’m 43 now, and I can honestly say that the way I handled my money in my 20s was shameful. It caused me unnecessary financial anxiety, led to missed opportunities, and left me indebted to my parents more than once.
In partnership with Borrowell, I sat down and pondered all I’ve learned about money and what I would teach my 20-year-old self as she was embarking on her money journey:
1. Learn everything you can about money from whoever you can.
My alternate title to this would be: Listen to your parents. No, like actually listen. While most in their 20s would offer up an eye roll for this advice, your parents can teach you both the good and the bad when it comes to money.
My father happened to be very money-wise and a hardcore saver. He’s like Warren Buffet to me. I’m grateful to be blessed with a parent who is great with money and actually wanted to share some valuable money lessons with me. But, like any 20-something, I didn’t always listen.
At 16, I learned the importance of opening a bank account, a retirement savings account, and regularly putting money into each. Sadly, I had one thing going against me — I had a spendy nature that I battled with.
Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot more about money since those days of spending wildly and feeling anxious over money. I am SO much savvier with my money.
For the last decade, I’ve educated myself about money in whatever way I could — reading books, and blogs, becoming a personal finance writer, and the most important learning of all — understanding myself and my motivations. I’ve found there are lots of ways to learn about money without spending a dime — enrol in free courses online, check out the library for books and workshops, or watch YouTube videos.
When it comes to money, knowledge is a powerful tool. Invest in your future and learn everything you can from whoever you can — both the good and the bad. It’s never too late!
2. You do you. Your relationship with money is an individual discovery.
While I learned whatever I could soak up from my Warren Buffett like father, one thing I learned quickly was that I was not like him. I didn’t have the patience or the dedication to one solid life goal, and I hated saving. I knew early on that I was a spender.
Over the years, I discovered that while you can take advice from others, read a lot of money books, and try different techniques, you also need to understand who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, and what beliefs are most important to you.
We are all unique individuals with varying money beliefs, life experiences and personality traits; all of these form the foundation of how we use money.
I learned rather quickly that I was an emotional spender. Why? Because I’m a sensitive person. And an introvert.
And budgeting? Not for me. After years of tracking my spending and trying to budget, I realized that I saw budgets in the same way as I saw sales targets — it was something to meet or exceed — which often led to overspending. Now I focus on what money means to me, what I value most, and what brings me the most happiness. I now see money as a tool to help me realize the life I want to lead.
Discovering your unique traits, beliefs, and values will help you to work with your money in a way that works for you. Apply and keep what works, ditch what doesn’t work.
3. Credit cards don’t have to be the enemy, as long as you follow the rules.
As with most things in life, there are a few golden rules and principles that will lead you to prosperity and away from a life of debt, anxiety, and money being harder than it should be. With credit cards, rules apply. And if you don’t like them, don’t get one!
- Pay your bill in full. Don’t even think about using a credit card if you aren’t responsible enough to pay it off in full each month. Credit cards are a helpful tool when building your credit score, but forgetting to pay them off will result in a less than stellar credit score and history. Missing payments or not paying in full in your 20s can easily jeopardize purchasing your first home.
- Credit cards are not bank accounts. If you have to put something on a credit card because you don’t have the cash, you can’t afford it. Simple as that. Don’t give in to the temptation! You don’t need to spend to impress anyone.
- Never let anyone entice you into anything with a free mug. This is for my young and naive twenty-something self. Thankfully, credit card companies aren’t allowed to offer free gifts anymore to entice you into signing up. But, when I was in college, this was a thing. The point? Never let someone talk you into something you don’t want to do. That includes being offered credit limit increases – if you won’t be able to comfortably pay off the new balance, just say NO!
4. When your father says he’ll buy you a car, it usually comes with a money lesson. Such as? Be realistic. Buy only what you can afford.
Here we are talking about my father again. I have to admit, he’s quite the realist. I’m an idealist, so not exactly the best father-daughter match. But, I digress.
I’ll never forget wanting my first car and the money lesson my father taught me — it’s a rather funny story.
I was headed to college and needed a car instead of borrowing the family car. My father generously offered to buy me a car, so I asked, will you buy me a BRAND NEW car?
His answer? Sure, but you have to be able to pay the car insurance, gas, and maintenance yourself. Go price out the car, the insurance, how much gas you’ll have to put in it, the maintenance, and get back to me.
Well, hooray for parents! I pulled the wool over on him, now, didn’t I? Or did I?
Get ready to laugh…
I priced the car – 1994 Chevy Cavalier Z24 – $20,000 (hey, it was 1994 and a sporty car). Yea, he’ll go for that.
Next, car insurance – $350 a month!!? Yikes, what!!??
Gas – $40 a month
Maintenance – oh, I give up.
I went back to my father who knew precisely what had happened. I couldn’t afford the insanely high car insurance, let alone anything else with my minimum wage part-time job.
So, what did you learn?
That you have to buy a car you can afford, not just a nice new one you want really badly.
Exactly. I’ll buy you the neighbours’ 1988 Plymouth for $700, sound good?
Like any teen who’s been run through a wringer, I compromised and accepted. Surprisingly, that car got me through college and beyond – albeit with one Canadian winter and the thermostat stuck open, which left me wearing my scarf, hat and mittens while driving.
The moral? Be realistic. Research before you buy. Buy what you can afford. And, I learned the valuable lessons of wants versus needs.
5. BE abundant.
Start practicing abundance early, practice it before your bank account reflects it. When you practice and embody abundance, you feel incredible and you become an unstoppable force. You become a magnet for all the goodness to flow into your life.
When I’m feeling less than about my money situation, I have a gratitude moment to focus on all the abundance I have right now at this moment. I like to call it My Joyful List. I write down all the ways I am rich and abundant in my life – even the simple things most of us take for granted.
I am healthy. I have parents who are loving and understanding. I have healthy food in the fridge. Money and opportunities are always flowing to me. I have a warm and comfortable bed to sleep in each night. I have a roof over my head.
Before you know it, I feel like a million bucks, and I know that any money situation can be figured out.
There are so many more things I could add to this list, but ultimately, a lot of it takes time to learn and experience. While I wish I could go back in a time machine to fix a few things, at the same time, my experiences have enriched my life and made me realize that money is a tool, it’s energy, and you can create a fabulous relationship with money.