Things I’d Tell My 20 Year Old Self…

My new friend over at (great blog name – no there’s no naked pictures there ;)) has a guest post series called “Things I’d tell my 20 year old self” where she gets people to, you know, tell things to their past younger selves.

Now usually it’s about life or love or career, or pretty much anything in the world *outside* of money, haha, so I thought I’d steal the idea and run with it on the financial twist. And just like they do with their before/after pictures from their 20s, you’ll see mine above too! Pretty drastic comparison, eh? Luckily though I can still have both ;)

So what would I tell MY self if I traveled back in time 10+ years ago? Well at 20 I wouldn’t have told myself anything having to do with money, haha… that was the last thing on my mind. If it wasn’t about partying or traveling or girls, I wasn’t interested. So there was no convincing me otherwise even IF I were myself going back to convince, errr, myself?

At 23 though it was a whole different story. I had just started my first “proper” job out of the dozens I’ve tried before, and I was finally getting tired of eating frozen burritos and not having a car. So to that version of me, I would have advised the following:

  1. Start contributing to your 401(k), dummy! Listen to your dad every month when he asks you if you’ve opted into your employer’s plan yet – he’s not calling it free money for nothing! (It would take me almost 2 years to finally do it…)
  2. Stop xfering money from checking to savings, and then back to your checking again. Have you ever heard of a budget??? ;)
  3. Don’t feel bad for spending money hanging out with friends and partying. These are the years to do it and have fun! Yeah it sucks you’re almost living paycheck to paycheck, but it’ll only last a year or two until you get that promotion and then get another and another and another. In 10+ years you’ll be working so hard that you’ll miss hanging out with all those guys :(
  4. It’s okay you’re renting! You don’t need to grow up fast like all your friends and settle down yet – you don’t even LIKE home ownership! It’s not for everyone, regardless of what they’re saying. So just chill out and stop trying to catch up with the “more mature” ones. Your time will come when you buy at the peak of the market and then punch yourself in the face for it, believe me ;)
  5. Stop shopping when you’re bored. In about 5 years you’ll give it up for Lent and your habit will be changed forever. Go start a new hobby instead! I hear blogging will be popular…

In case you couldn’t tell, I was pretty oblivious to stuff back then. At least when it came to money… I wasn’t ever in hardcore debt or anything, but I certainly wasn’t watching it like a hawk as I am now. Or even tracking it for that matter. And a part of me kinda misses that blissful ignorance! Life’s a lot simpler when you don’t think about your future ;)

Good times, good times…

What would you tell your 20 year old self?

PS: If you’re reading this right now and you’re 20 or younger, YOU ARE A FINANCIAL ROCK STAR!!
PPS: You also MAKE ME FEEL OLD!! :)

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  1. My Financial Independence Journey April 29, 2013 at 5:47 AM

    I would tell myself to start investing earlier. I would also tell my younger self everything I learned about diet, exercise, and how the world works. Because, seriously, I learned way too many life skills so late that it’s embarrassing.

    1. J. Money April 29, 2013 at 5:52 PM

      Maybe your old self is like my old self where we need to learn the hard way? :)

  2. Kevin April 29, 2013 at 7:16 AM

    Holy smokes, where to even start?? I think the biggest point I would tell myself from 10 years ago would be: don’t worry about that dream house with the amenities. As Dave Ramsey says, keeping up with the Joneses is pointless because the Joneses are broke. Buy smaller; it’s less to clean, less to maintain, less to PAY FOR. With all of that “less”, you can enjoy LIVING more! Hindsight’s 20/20, right?

    Great post btw!

    1. J. Money April 29, 2013 at 5:53 PM

      AGREED!! I’m all about the “less” these days – especially if/when we finally move outta my house and into a smaller one. Glad you enjoyed it :)

  3. Lance @ Money Life and More April 29, 2013 at 7:18 AM

    I’d tell myself to try to negotiate my first job’s salary and to invest more earlier. I think those are the two main financial things I wish I had done back then.

  4. John S @ Frugal Rules April 29, 2013 at 8:03 AM

    After smacking myself absolutely silly, I’d tell my younger self to get off the credit card habit…it actually has to be paid back! Who would’ve thunk it?! Beyond that, I would tell myself the same thing about investing early, it took me several years to get that one as well.

    1. J. Money April 29, 2013 at 5:54 PM

      Haha…. it’s not free money??

  5. Free Money Minute April 29, 2013 at 8:05 AM

    In some ways I with I would have told my 19 year old self that renting is not that bad. Although I have equity in my home now, I spent way more than I wanted of my time and money on my home over the last decade in a half and I feel trapped to some degree as I have a growing family and am ready to move onto something else. Remember if you are thinking about a house that there is a lot of hidden expenses in addition to the mortgage, taxes and insurance.

    1. J. Money April 29, 2013 at 5:54 PM

      YES!!! #TRUTH

  6. Edward Antrobus April 29, 2013 at 8:19 AM


    That would be the main thing I’d say. And back it up with things like, “the amount of time anyone is going to care about you having one of the first aluminum computer cases is about 6 months, so why bother spending $120 on it?”

    I’d also tell him to change majors and get some internships in the new field so she could actually graduate in a timely manner and be able to get a job afterward.

    1. J. Money April 29, 2013 at 5:55 PM

      Your old self could have used you :)

  7. maria@moneyprinciple April 29, 2013 at 8:19 AM

    I’ll tell my young self the following:

    1) Stop taking taxis!
    2) You can win at this game so don’t ignore it!
    3) Spending money on friends is OK.

    Oh, and there are. Naked pics that is (or olmost so). Then again it may be it is only me (Google Ad Sense, you have me all wrong!)

    1. J. Money April 29, 2013 at 5:56 PM

      Hahahhaha… Awesome. And now that I know what you sound like your comments are even more brilliant to read :) (See, now I’m talking like you too!)

      1. maria@moneyprinciple April 30, 2013 at 12:31 PM

        Told you so :). But watch it – sometimes people don’t understand.

  8. Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies April 29, 2013 at 8:23 AM

    I’d tell 20 year old me to stop worrying about what other people say I should do with my life and start living it for myself. Way happier that way, but it took me too many years to figure out.

  9. AverageJoe April 29, 2013 at 8:28 AM

    Ha! I’d tell myself that spending 7 years in college isn’t worth it. Get moving!

    1. J. Money April 29, 2013 at 5:56 PM

      What would you have done instead though?

  10. Cedes April 29, 2013 at 9:13 AM

    Ha ha, I’d tell myself a lot of those same things (except maybe the renting thing, but i got in when the market was low and am paying less for 3bed/2ba than my friends in 1bed/1ba apartments just down the street)

    I’d also tell myself that “love” will come and go, and not to waste so much money on those who will use you. (the repercussions of being the responsible one with a real job?/my own stupidity) Money and things aren’t what someone who truly loves you wants from you.

    Oh, and brand new isn’t always the best. Just ‘cuz a car is shiny and pretty doesn’t mean it wont suck thousands from your bank account! I swear, next time i’m buying used!

    1. J. Money April 29, 2013 at 5:57 PM

      Is that why your name spells half of MerCEDES? (Zing!)

  11. Brian April 29, 2013 at 9:33 AM

    Don’t pass up on those gold coins for your collection because they are a little pricey… Man I missed out on some stinking good deals because I thought the premium they wanted was a little high. I’m not bitter because I missed out on the run up in gold prices.. I’m bitter because now I know I won’t purchase a couple pieces I wanted for a long time.

    1. J. Money April 29, 2013 at 5:59 PM

      I very much enjoy how you relate everything to coins, I don’t have many friends who are with me there :) You better pick some up sometime during the next 10 years though before we do anther post like this and your future-future self is mad at you all over again! Haha…

      And I actually just picked up a few goldies myself last month – including the smallest of them all! An 1849 $1 dollar! The thing is like 1/2 the size of a dime – it’s incredible (and NOT in good shape, haha… but it sure fell into budget ;))

      1. Brian April 29, 2013 at 9:42 PM

        That’s pretty sweet! Just think how small a gold coin worth a dollar would have to be today…

        1. J. Money May 1, 2013 at 10:55 AM

          HAH! Never thought of it like that before :) Or how much $1.00 was worth back in 1849 either?

  12. @debtblag April 29, 2013 at 9:35 AM

    I’d tell him: “Sacrifice every other investment to max out your Roth! You’re barely paying taxes now so it’ll hurt a lot less now than it will later and you’ll never get another chance to contribute for this year.”

    1. J. Money April 29, 2013 at 6:02 PM

      Hey, at least it means you’re making some bank now! :)

  13. Money Beagle April 29, 2013 at 9:38 AM

    I would tell myself to save more and make less risky investments. When I was younger, I did pretty well with saving money and it was sort of automatic. I figured it would always be such that I would make more than I spent, and as that’s grown tighter, it’s alarmed me. I think if I would have been less assuming about it, I could have saved even more in my younger years. With regards to the investments, I got caught up in the day trading craze and probably lost more than I made, and I would have defintely done things different there had I gotten a do-over.

    1. J. Money April 29, 2013 at 6:03 PM

      I bet you learned a ton though, eh? I was always too nervous to even try day trading – which is probably good cuz I would have sucked at it too!

  14. Jacob Erickson April 29, 2013 at 10:05 AM

    These are all great points. I probably would tell myself many of the same items. The biggest one would be to not worry about spending money with friends because later on you won’t have time to spend with them, so enjoy it while you can. I did start saving at a young age, but sometimes I wish I would’ve just enjoyed life a bit more and saved less, oh well.

  15. SavvyFinancialLatina April 29, 2013 at 10:10 AM

    1.Have more fun! Worry less. Easy to say now that I now things turned out okay.
    2. Negotiate your first year salary. Seriously…what the heck was I thinking by not asking for more…. Grrrrrrrrr

  16. Trinnie April 29, 2013 at 10:53 AM

    God, I don’t even know when to start…

    I know for sure: I’d tell myself to invest invest invest invest invest as early as possible. Waiting til I got a ‘real job’ was not the way to go. I should have started saving earlier on.

    I’d tell myself to listen to my parents. They actually know what they are talking about and not out to “mess me up out of spite.” (yes, that was a direct quote FROM me, shouted to my dad during an argumetn when I was 19-20)

    And the BIG thing I’d tell myself: finish college! It’s much more difficult when you’re *ahem* 34, a mom, and working full-time to finish your finance degree.

    1. Edward Antrobus April 29, 2013 at 2:03 PM

      Spot on about parents. When you are younger, you are so sure that they don’t have a clue. My boss and I were discussing that inevitable point in everyone’s life where they find themselves saying the thing their parents always told them and they swore they wouldn’t say.

      1. J. Money April 29, 2013 at 6:05 PM

        Haha yup! I don’t know how we all thought we were smarter than them when they were like double our ages and experienced??? At least we finally learn and can tell them so :)

  17. Mike@WeOnlyDoThisOnce April 29, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    The saving ideas are key; compounding makes such a huge difference in your finances even a mere decade down the line.

  18. Nick @ April 29, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    I would tell myself to go out and experience life more. As you say, J, your younger days are the perfect time to do that. I spent way too much time indoors playing video games.

    1. J. Money April 29, 2013 at 6:06 PM

      It’s as if all those wins would have somehow translated into REAL WORLD wins too! haha… but damn they were so addicting!

  19. MakinSense Babe April 29, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    That picture.

    1. J. Money April 29, 2013 at 6:07 PM

      They love you back.

  20. Mysti April 29, 2013 at 4:42 PM

    Well crap. I am going to be 38 in a few days….so that is nearly half my life ago!!!

    I guess I would say:

    1) Travel now while you can. Once you have kids, your priorities change.
    2) Even though your minimum payment is only $50 on your student loan….pay more!!!!
    3) Your parents are nuts. Get out from under their “command” ASAP.
    4) SAVE SAVE SAVE!!!!

    1. J. Money April 29, 2013 at 6:07 PM

      Ack! They’re nuts?? Usually we realize they were *right* the whole time! Haha… good thing you found out now at least :)

  21. Shafi April 29, 2013 at 5:37 PM

    Your first suggestion of contributing to 401(k) – many bloggers miss that. Instead they would talk about saving with coupons and some mundane things. They are fine but you can save many more dollars in these retirement accounts that you couldn’t possibly save in coupons. Most folks miss the big picture.

    1. J. Money April 29, 2013 at 6:09 PM

      I actually would agree with you. The “big wins” can far outrun the smaller day-to-day things for sure. And even better would be doing *both* if it didn’t drive you crazy :)

  22. Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) April 29, 2013 at 5:54 PM

    I think if I could tell my 20 year old self anything it would be to focus more on my friendships. I was super serious about my boyfriend (now hubs) at that time, and I probably spent more time with him than I should have. Then again, he’s my best friend of all so I’m glad we spent that time getting to know each other since I married the guy. ;)

    1. J. Money April 29, 2013 at 6:09 PM

      Haha… well that’s good!

  23. Amanda April 29, 2013 at 6:47 PM

    This is a good post J. I would tell myself the biggest one of them all. Instead of going to a private Catholic University where I had to take out massive loans, I would start at the community college and get a job and commute and decide on what I wanted to do. Also, once I had a job, start paying on the loans if I had to take any out at the community college. My biggest debt is student loans right now.

    1. J. Money May 1, 2013 at 10:56 AM

      That stinks :( But I really do believe a good education will be WAYYYYY more worth it in the long run. Both in money and in opportunities, so do be happy you have one!

  24. CashRebel April 29, 2013 at 7:58 PM

    There’s so many things I’d love to tell myself about finance when I was 20. Even though it’s only been 4 years since then, I feel like my entire life view has shifted a few times!

  25. J P April 29, 2013 at 8:38 PM

    I like the part about not feeling guilty for spending money on your friends. You want to take care of the people who take care of you. Money spent on real friends is money invested in good friendship. Great point.

    I’d probably encourage myself to do that more. It is amazing that you think college life will never change and you will always have your friends close by!

    1. J. Money May 1, 2013 at 10:57 AM

      I know! Scary!!! That was the hardest part for me after those years – being outside that “bubble” of friends and people you’re same age… It got boring REAL fast, haha…

  26. Aimee April 29, 2013 at 8:55 PM

    I was one of those “savvy” kids. I drove a $hitbox car until I was 26 when my 1994 Toyota Paseo with 220k+ miles on it got smashed by a Mercedes SUV, I lived at home to pay down student debt until I was 25, I’m set to pay off $40k of student loans 5 years after I went into repayment, and paid for grad school in cash. HOWEVER, what I didn’t understand when I was 20ish was that my friends were never going to catch up with me.

    “Oh my gawd Aimee we should all go on a cruise this Winter we can get a killer deal through the interweb!”

    time passes…

    “Hey guys it’s almost October where do you want to book that cruise to? I’m pretty sure I have enough saved up for flight, cruise and maybe a new bathing suit!”

    “Oh yeah, I don’t have any money”

    Cue disappointment…


    1. J. Money May 1, 2013 at 10:58 AM

      Awwww, well at least you’ve got YOUR $hit together! Better than the reversed :)

  27. Megan April 29, 2013 at 9:22 PM

    I would tell my 20 year old self to stop complaining about being skinny. You don’t know what’s gonna happen when you turn 25!

    1. J. Money May 1, 2013 at 11:03 AM

      Good one! People usually don’t think about those others who are *super* skinny, thinking it’s a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem to those of us who are self-conscious. I used to get teased alllllll the time for being too skinny as if I didn’t have the right to feel bad cuz I wasn’t fat. We can’t help if our metabolism is crazy fast!

  28. Elvin @ Journey To Millions April 29, 2013 at 11:08 PM

    I would tell my 20 year old self:

    1. Write your thoughts down
    2. Reflect on the things that happen to you
    3. Set aside money now for you to invest!

    1. J. Money May 1, 2013 at 11:04 AM

      All smart ones :) I like #1 too – I just picked up an old journal from 6 years ago and it was sooooo fun/interesting to read through! I started jotting down more thoughts again though I keep forgetting to do it daily :)

  29. Renee L. April 30, 2013 at 1:10 AM

    I would tell my 20 year old self : start to save some money!

  30. Nodrog April 30, 2013 at 6:04 AM

    Buy apple. Buy lots of apple.


  31. Jon April 30, 2013 at 12:33 PM

    I remember when I was in high school, one of my friends was talking to me about getting a credit card so he could “build credit.” Build credit? What’s that? What do you need credit for? Derrr… I didn’t get my first credit card until I was 23 years old. Prior to that, I had ZERO credit history. Pretty soon (hopefully) I’ll be trying to buy a house with only about 2 years of credit history under my belt. *eek* I would’ve told myself to start building credit much sooner. Sure, I avoided having thousands of dollars of credit card debt, but if I was just as responsible back then as I am now (I honestly think I would’ve been), I would’ve been diligent about paying the balance in full every month. Hell, while I’m telling my past self what to do, I would’ve told myself to build credit AND how to use a credit card responsibly!

    1. J. Money May 1, 2013 at 11:05 AM

      Haha there you go! You’ve got it all figured out – love it :)

  32. Mary Anne @ BillGuard May 1, 2013 at 8:17 AM

    What would I tell my 20-year-old self? Relax and don’t take things so seriously. Almost none of your employers will even ask about your college GPA or about what co-curriculars you were involved in, so don’t stress so much. Enjoy hanging out with friends. Pick a major that has good job potential. Do a lot of internships in companies you might actually want to work for. Travel more. Wake up early in the mornings — you’ll get more done. And start strong budgeting/planning habits.

  33. J. Money May 1, 2013 at 11:05 AM

    That’s a lot ;)

  34. Anton Ivanov | Dreams Cash True May 1, 2013 at 11:20 PM

    I’m only 25, so not that much later than 20, but I would tell myself to make a budget and start saving and investing more. Even if it’s not much, a regular monthly contribution can compound to large sums down the road. I would also tell myself to read more financial books instead of playing so many video games :)

  35. Bryan May 2, 2013 at 12:19 AM

    I wish i had the power to go back and talk to my 20 year old self! First off i would tell him to start eating breakfast! I would also share the importance of exercising. I would tell him to stay away from penny stocks because he will regret it. I would tell him not to drive a honda civic in 2 feet of snow!! I would tell him to check his credit report already. I would also share with him the power of savings and compound interest. I would tell him not be in such a rush to grow up and enjoy life instead of sitting on a computer surfing the internet all day. Lastly, I would also tell him not to eat crap and stay far away from the lottery and porn, lol

    1. J. Money May 3, 2013 at 2:20 PM

      Hahahahaha… I hope you have something to give up when I ask you again in 20 years! :)

  36. JoeTaxpayer May 3, 2013 at 12:52 AM

    I’d tell myself to never get started with rental property, just stick with stocks.
    By the time I was 25, I had my own place and 3 rental properties. Tenants were lousy despite prescreening, and places became money pits. I still saved in my 401(k) and IRA, but was throwing away a lot of money. It took years to get out from under the debt and sell all but one.
    If I could give one stock tip, it would be Apple, I bought before the run up, but sold most too soon. I’d say “load up at $10 and ride it to $700.” $100K, which I could have put up, would have hit $7 million. Not bad.

    1. Anton Ivanov | Dreams Cash True May 3, 2013 at 2:39 PM

      Wouldn’t necessarily agree with you about the rental properties, but I guess that’s your advice to your 20-year-old self :) I currently only have 1 investment property and haven’t had any major issues. I do have a great management company, which takes care of pretty much all the hassle for me.

      1. J. Money May 3, 2013 at 2:43 PM

        that’s what we’re gonna do too – use a property management company that people trust and recommend. cost more, yes, but at least there’s someone to be held somewhat accountable for too :)

      2. JoeTaxpayer May 3, 2013 at 2:56 PM

        Yes, my advise to myself. Keep in mind, from 1985 when i graduated, to 2000, the S&P grew 17%/yr compounded.
        I was young and stupid, didn’t buy the real estate at a good price, and had bad luck with the tenants. Nothing to disagree with, as this isn’t advice to anyone but my younger self. In general, one can make money at anything by being well informed and having good timing. I bought at a relative high. Good tenants are 80% of the way there.

        1. J. Money May 3, 2013 at 3:08 PM

          Haha true true.. it is to YOUR younger self. I like how we jump all over it as if it’s advice, haha… oops.

          1. JoeTaxpayer May 3, 2013 at 3:12 PM

            I wonder how many would warn against being in stock at all. A new investor in the late 90’s saw a drop and a lost decade. To him, the market is crazy. To us old guys, the 00s were an anomaly, a bad decade out of three (or four).

  37. J. Money May 3, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    You’re scaring me on the rental properties :( We’re about to put our current house onto the market to be rented out! Too underwater to sell, so we’re fixing it up and becoming automatic landlords… Excited to try it out and learn from everything, but will be MORE so if we get kickass renters :) Send some positive thoughts our way, brotha!

  38. Cat May 19, 2013 at 8:17 PM

    I always feel soooo guilty about renting. Partially because I want to “get my ducks in a line” and the rest is that I don’t want to invest in someone’s life when I can invest in my own. I just haven’t found the right moment to buy, which is probably a good thing that this point.

    1. J. Money May 20, 2013 at 10:40 PM

      I think renting is always getting a bad rap – there’s nothing wrong with it if it makes more sense for ya! :)

  39. Crystal January 26, 2014 at 6:01 PM

    I would tell my 20 year old self to start my dang blog…it definitely gave me the purpose that I was looking for. :-) I think I would also have told me at 20 that a Roth IRA would have been a nice addition to go along with my first 401k…I think I could have started contributing about 2-3 years before I did.

    1. J. Money January 28, 2014 at 6:09 PM

      Agreed! And you know our blogs would be 10x bigger too merely by being one of the “first” ones :) But we’re not doing so bad you and I, so I’m happy!

  40. Stan December 11, 2014 at 7:27 PM

    I would say listen to Dad and Mom,.. as a child he would tell me to save half of any money I got as a gift or what I earned. at the age of six I learned to make money in the town that I lived in. My mother would always test me and ask what I wanted to be when I grew up. Her point was always the same…just be happy with what you do nd you will never have to work.
    I worked every summer from 13 to the end of my second year in college and signed every check over to my parents to kep for themselves.
    I started working full time after two years of school…made a deal with my parents to pay rent..and opened up a stock brokerage account in 1974… so that I could pay for my own education and went to night school for the next five years. That got me ready for my next four years of school and I had all tuition and living exp. to cover the next four years….still had student loans to take if I neeed them.During school I still invested in the stock market and was very lucky…. Took all my student loans and banked them to have the money to start my health care practice on my own when I graduated in 1982 and prime rate was 21%. So 32 years later I am happy and have never worked a day in my life, since I enjoy what I do.
    And as far as Dad’s advice….I took it one step further…I called it my 60/20/20 progarm.
    Live on 60%…save 20% long term….and stash 20%…but were? so I bought gold and silver.
    SO what would I say….love your children….help them learn.
    My parents were just hard working middle class people that always did more for others than they did for themselves. They had the respect of everyone around them, even their two sons.
    Miss them….they were my greatest asset ever.

    1. J. Money December 11, 2014 at 8:26 PM

      Awwww what a testament to them and the love they had for you and your community! What a great story to read, thanks so much for sharing Stan. This made me happy :)

      And congrats on never having to work!

  41. Stan December 11, 2014 at 11:31 PM

    The world will always be changing…but I fear for my children and grandchildren because the situations today seem clouded. It is much harder for them to plan futures,
    I wish that the educational system would include methods to help teach everyday finance starting in the early years.
    It is a subject that each of us must deal with… it or not.
    Thanks for your article and trying to do your part.
    I found it because my 20 year old is having a hard time and I was looking for pointers to help him.
    Thanks again,