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Money Lessons I’d Teach My Younger Self

  April 21

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Decisions we should have made or actions we should have taken in the past seem painfully obvious to us from our vantage point in the present. The only thing we can do is attempt to learn from our past mistakes to try and avoid making the wrong choice in the future. But there are still a few things I wish I could do over, some things I would change, and some lessons I would try to teach my younger self if I had the chance.

Lesson One: A Well-Paying Job Is Hard to Find

Well-paying and fun part-time jobs for teenagers in high school aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, but when I was seventeen I somehow managed to charm my way into a position at Barnes & Noble. As someone who grew up with her nose in a book, this was a dream job. I worked at the bookstore for year, and in that time I earned myself a raise, made friends with my coworkers, and got a killer discount on books. But I hated that I had to work nights and weekends and I hated the handful of customers who were rude and mean. Being the ungrateful teenager that I was, these minor complaints convinced me retail was beneath me, and I quit. Had I stuck with it, that job would have taken me through college with far more money than I actually ended up making with the job I eventually found as an administrative assistant.

Lesson Two: Stick with Quality (Even If It Means You Have Less Quantity)

It took me a very long time to figure out what style was. I don’t remember owning a dress before college, but by the time I made it to high school I had at least realized that I didn’t want to wear boot-cut jeans, baggy t-shirts, and my hair in a ponytail every day for the rest of my life. Feeling like I had to buy so many clothes to keep up with the volume of outfits other girls seemed to have and working with an extremely limited budget created my habit of buying clothes that were cheap or because they were on sale (even if they didn’t quite fit). Eventually, I made another fashion realization: my closet was full of ill-fitting clothes so cheaply made that they fell apart after two months of wear. Although I bought everything on the clearance rack, I had to replace clothes so often I ended up spending far more than I would have had I just started out buying a few high-quality, better-made staples. I wish I could tell my younger self not to buy something just because it’s on sale. Instead, invest your money in a few versatile, classic pieces that will last for years.

Lesson Three: How Much Stuff You Have Is No Indication of How Successful You Are

More than anything, I wish I had I been able to teach my younger self this financial lesson: just because you look rich doesn’t mean you’re wealthy. I had friends from rich families who drove luxury cars and they never wore the same outfit twice. I knew adults who owned multiple homes, went on overseas vacations or took cruises four times a year, and ate out at the best restaurants in Atlanta every weekend. And they all had so much stuff.

In every case my thought was always the same: how are these people affording so much stuff and why can I afford so little? I was so jealous of all these people and would endlessly compare myself them, wondering why I couldn’t be successful like they were. It never occurred to me that these “rich” people couldn’t afford it. They were living on credit, had mortgages that they couldn’t pay, were drowning in debt from all the student loans they’d taken out in college to finance their fancy lifestyles instead of their tuition, and had never saved a dollar toward retirement. The lesson for younger me? Just because someone looks rich doesn’t mean they have wealth. Because I saved and invested my money instead of flaunting it, driving it, or wearing it, today I’m far wealthier than the people I used to envy.

What money lessons do you wish you had learned sooner? What financial wisdom would you share with your younger self if you had the chance?

Is there a money tip you wish you could tell your younger self? I sure do - here are the money lessons I wish I could tell my younger self!

23 responses to “Money Lessons I’d Teach My Younger Self

  1. I agree on the high paying jobs, there are really very few out there, relatively speaking so it is important to not elevate a lifestyle that can only be supported by a handful of jobs. For me, I would warn my younger self about lifestyle inflation and trying to keep up with the Joneses. It is such a bad slippery slope to get caught in.

    1. Warning against lifestyle inflation is a good one! I had a hard time not succumbing to that for the same reason – I so wanted to keep up with those Joneses’ when I first started earning more 🙂 I’m glad I had my husband at that point to help guide me back into frugal territory!

  2. Great advice to your younger self, Cat. Personally, I would teach my younger self about passive income, specifically how you can make money work for you instead of working so hard for money (i.e., instead of trading time for money). At 27, I’m still learning about it, so knowing that 10 years ago would have been really helpful.

  3. I have to admit that I always wanted to work either in a book store or a library when I was younger. They were never hiring though! These are all great lessons. I think I would have told myself to be happy with what I had growing up. As my parents couldn’t afford the “latest and greatest,” I found myself jealous of others that could. Like you said, they were probably using credit, meanwhile my parents were working their way out of debt.

    1. You are so right – bookstores are never hiring, and I still kick myself for not appreciating the crazy good luck I had in getting hired on there for my first real job! I tried multiple times to go back to other stores (B&Ns in other locations) throughout college and never had any luck. It was a real eye-opener for me about how you need to be grateful and recognize how good you really have it, instead of whining about the handful of little insignificant things that you don’t absolutely love.

  4. This is so true! Quality over quantity is extremely important. As a broke twenty-something, I’ve been making an effort to shop my own closet more and it’s the expensive, splurge pieces which are the most versatile and still look like new years later. Meanwhile, that outfit from Forever 21–well, rest in piece dear friend.

    For more money saving tips and financial advice to keep in mind during in your terrible twenties, visit!

  5. Ummm, we have some scary similarities based on this post! 1) I’m all about quality vs quantity when it comes to clothing. It also helps that I’m not really into the latest fashion trends and don’t care if I repeat an outfit. 2) Barnes & Noble would’ve been a dream job as well. It was actually the first job I interviewed for right after college when I was in my parents’ house in Charlotte. But then I ended up moving to NYC and only finding a side gig at Starbucks (sigh).

    You’re dead on about looking wealthy not equating to wealth. It seems all “Real Housewives” and pro athletes are happy to prove this point.

    1. That’s too funny! I’ve always thought we had lots in common, girl, and I think this just continues to prove it 😉 Although I think I would have liked a side gig at Starbucks – I actually applied there and interviewed, but didn’t get any position. I’m still kinda bummed about that!

  6. Yes! I love #3 – just because you have “stuff”, it doesn’t mean you’re wealthy.
    I have to admit, I was a huge shop-a-holic in college. I didn’t care to save money – I spent it as quickly as I earned it.
    At the end of the day, I only had a closet full of stuff to show for what I earned at my part-time position. If I can talk to my younger self then, I woulda opened up a Roth-IRA and kept all that money instead 🙂
    Thanks for the great post!

    1. Yes! I certainly wish I had started investing earlier, but I try to cut myself some slack there – I really didn’t have much extra cash in college for anything, spending OR saving. But I wish I had put what money I did save into a Roth, as you said, rather than just sticking it in my .000001% interest (or something like that!) checking account with Wells Fargo.

  7. That last lesson is one that people too often learn the hard way. Now, when I see someone with a new, fancy car, I assume he or she is probably broke. The catch is when I see someone driving an older car: I’m never sure if they have money or not. Tough to say.

    1. I think the same thing! Whenever I see someone with an excess of stuff – especially when it’s fancy stuff – my first thought is, “I wonder how much debt they have versus how much they have invested.” I’m sure the answers would be interesting to say the least.

      I always assume the people driving older cars that are well-maintained are folks who have money and are frugal. But that’s just an assumption; my dad drove around in one of their older cars after someone rear-ended him for about a year. The insurance company sent them a check to cover the repair, and instead of getting a new bumper my parents saved the money instead!

  8. I wish I had realized that just because my friends had several credit cards and seemed like grown ups because they had bills to pay; didn’t mean that I needed to try to ‘out do’ them by accumulating several cards of my own.

    1. I felt that same way, too, Jessi – that people with credit cards were real “adults.” While I remember wishing I felt like an actual grown-up, I’m glad I didn’t try to hard to become one. I’m definitely not a kid anymore but I absolutely still feel like one, and I suspect I always will! At this point though, I have to admit I kinda like that.

  9. Lesson #3 was SUCH a big revelation for me. Spending on things that I care about instead of what everyone else is buying has been a really wise decision.

    1. It’s like a light bulb goes off, right?! 🙂 It is a wonderful thing to learn, when you realize you can prioritize your spending to make sure your money is going to what is important to you – not what someone else says should be valued.

  10. If I could teach my younger self one thing, it would definitely be number 3. Going to private schools all my life, I was surrounded by kids who had pretty much everything they wanted. I spent so much energy being jealous.

    1. It’s such a drain! But it is SO hard to kick that comparison habit. Even though I feel unbelievably happy with my life and I understand now that material stuff isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, I’m still susceptible to feeling those twinges of jealousy from time to time. I reckon that’s just human nature! I’m glad for the most part though I’ve learned my lesson about comparing myself to others and wanting what they have that I don’t – life is better when you appreciate and feel gratitude for the good stuff you do have!

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