While I try not to live with a lot of regret – I have found myself (from time to time) wishing I could counsel my former young self about personal finance issues. I have certainly paid my share of “stupid tax” over the years – which has cost me a lot of time and money.
Granted, the mistakes we often make lead us to really important lessons and help us to grow. So, you can't totally begrudge the “bad” things that happen to you. If you believe in God (like I do) – He is often using both the blessings and the challenging things to mold and direct you.
But if I could tell my younger, teen-aged self a few things, here are some items I'd like to pass along (but knowing teenagers, he probably wouldn't listen – unless, of course, it's someone other than his parents and/or family members). If are you around this age – I hope you might find them useful. One thing I have tried to do during my own journey is to learn from other's mistakes. It's better that way – because then you can skip doin' them yourself (and the heartache that comes after).
- You don't need all that crap. When I was younger, I was fairly foolish with money. My dad always used to repeat the famous adage, “money doesn't grow on trees” – but I thought it did. My room was full of stuff and I bought more and more junk to fill it. This idea that money is there to be spent carried all the way through college and into my early years working my first jobs. It wasn't until I amassed a lot of debt that I finally came to my senses.
- Save some of your money. Because I was a spender of money – I never really set any aside. I wish I had. I sometimes think, had I just put aside 10% of the money I was making (starting at my first job as a paper carrier), I would have put myself on a better trajectory with my finances.
- Don't compare yourself with friends/others. I think a lot of our money problems stem from comparing ourselves to others. Seeing what they have and you don't. I was a little prone to this myself as a youngen (and still have tendencies to do so today). Keeping up with the Jones' will keep you on a never-ending treadmill of dissatisfaction.
- Give some away. I remember putting some of our coins in the offering during Sunday School – but I also recall my dad had given these coins to us before the class started. I know now he was trying to teach us an important lesson – yet, I don't think giving means too much unless it costs you something. Giving teaches us that we can't take these treasures with us – and you can gain a lot from blessing others.
- Practice more gratitude. Both my mom and dad worked hard to provide for us. I'm sure many of your parents were the same. Though we were not rich – I never felt like we were in want or in need. We had enough. I wish I acknowledged the work my father put into his humble job and my mother for her share as well. Years later, I can see the sacrifices they made – and appreciate it more profoundly.
Are there any things you wish you could tell the younger YOU about finances?
I would have told my younger self, “baseball cards aren’t going to go up in value like they did when dad was younger.” Seriously, I poured so much money into them and now they are hardly worth anything. However, I still hang on to them just in case.
Another thing I wish I would have told my younger self is to start building a nest egg and don’t touch it. I did save up chunk of money, but I cashed it all in to pay for my freshman year of college. Yes, paying that off was great and saved me some school loans, but left me with $0 until I started working after college.
@Christian – haha, those are great
@Mike – ah, I remember buying a bunch of cards too..
I would have told myself, “Hey! You don’t need a car, dummy. You’re 16! That means you’re young and in good enough shape to ride a bike. After all, you never leave a three-mile radius from your house!”
I’d probably echo your suggestion that I had too much crap. And I bought too many things new, probably because I compared myself to others. Stupid teenage years. Oh, and I would have ditched the girlfriend who just wanted me to work so I could take her on dates.
-Christian L. @ Smart Military Money