Advice To My 20 Year Old Self

Advice to my former self: Avoid perms and hairspray!
Advice to my former self: Avoid perms and hairspray!

I really try to live life with no regrets. After reading Stephanie’s post about turning 28, it made me think back to my 20’s. It doesn’t help much to beat yourself up over the past and what might have been, but sometimes I do look back and wish I’d done some things differently, so here is a bit of the advice I’d give to my 20 year old self.

Start Investing Early

My friend DC wrote a great post at Young Adult Money last week about millennials and how they need to start saving early for retirement. I would have to say that’s the biggest thing I’d tell my former self. If I’d maxed out my retirement account from day one, I’d have so much money now. It seemed like a huge monthly chunk at the time, but if that’s what I’d learned to live on, it would have been fine. Going from nothing in college to even half my salary would have been an improvement. If you don’t make lots, you can still save if you keep expenses low.

Think Really Hard About Student Loans

I would have loved to travel before I started my career. I was probably too naive right out of high school, but I came out of undergrad loan free, so that would have been a perfect time. When your expectations are low, it’s no biggie to sleep in a hostel with a dozen smelly people. After optometry school, I had to start making loan payments.

Again no regrets about the career I chose or having to take loans to get it , but it killed any extended travel dreams. If you’d like to take a year off to travel, make sure you don’t have a 6 month grace period around your neck.

Work Like a Fiend

While I would encourage people to travel or do something you’ve always wanted before you start your real career, once you do, work like mad. Your 20’s will be the time when you are most motivated and most able to work. Develop your side hustle. Find out how to become a landlord. Make and save as much as you can.

Work like a fiend to pay off any debt you might have and try to avoid the pitfalls of the monthly payment lifestyle. While some things, like real estate, are worth their debt, vacations, brand new cars, and a fall wardrobe are not.

I hope you’ll be one of those people who always finds satisfaction and fulfillment with your job. If you are like most of us, though, the 9-5 grind will not seem so important someday. You won’t feel as challenged, and you will likely become more jaded as you get older. I’m not saying this to be negative, but there comes a time when most people realize that they are just a cog in the wheel. If you’ve saved and developed multiple streams of income, you have so many more options than if you are working just to keep up with monthly payments.

You Don’t Have To Follow Anyone’s Expectations

When I was in college, I used to have panic attacks. They weren’t because I was worried about grades or what I wanted to do, but they were because I tried to please everyone except myself. I love my parents, but they expected me to go to school, stay close to home, marry a local, have 2.3 kids, and live happily ever after. It was very traumatic to make the decision to move out west. It still causes more friction with my family than it should.

However, I know with 100% certainty that I would be a shell of my current self if I had stayed in my hometown. I think it’s appropriate to respect your family and friends, but you have to make your own path. Pretending to be someone you’re not will catch up with you.

Love Everything About Your 20’s

I spent my 20’s trying to get through school and get established. I never took time to appreciate that I could stay up really late and still function the next day or that I could eat pasta 5 times a week and never gain a pound if I went for a run every day. I didn’t appreciate that I could run everyday without my knees hurting.I never appreciated how flat my stomach actually was.

While I’m much smarter and less stressed these days, the fact that I have to work three times as hard just to maintain and that I turn into a troll if I stay up past 11PM is not lost on me.

You might not believe it, but I love being 40. While it sounds old to say it, my life keeps getting better, and I have lots to look forward to. That doesn’t mean I don’t look back sometimes and think about what I could have done better.

If you’re in your 20’s, are you making the most of your youth? If you’re older, what advice would you give your 20 year old self?

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  1. “You Don’t Have To Follow Anyone’s Expectations” – that’s by far the best thing about being older. I don’t have time for games and simply just don’t care anymore about what other people think.

  2. I wish I had taken more time for myself in college. Instead I worked hard, taking around 20 credit hours/semester and working nearly full time. Now that I’m out of college I work about 50 hours a week at my full time job and part-time jobs, plus my freelancing and blogging, which take up another 20+ hours/week. I wish I had appreciated and taken more free time in college.

  3. I would *force* myself to start a pension from the moment I started working rather than considering it a luxury in my 20’s. Sure, money would have been tight (it was anyway, to hey!) but think of all that compound interest! Makes me cry… 😉

  4. This is great advice! Having just turned 30, I’m happy to look back on my 20s and realize that I did a pretty good job getting my financial life in order (lots of saving and earning!). The thing I’m working on now is your advice to not follow other people’s expectations. That’s been a struggle for me and I feel like I’m just now emerging from that cycle. Thank you for the inspiration!

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