What I Wish I Knew About Life and Finances In My 20s

text saying finances in your twenties with a young man facing the horizon

I was born in the Soviet Republic of Lithuania. My financial education was nonexistent for about two decades after my birth. Neither my mother, nor my grandmother ever talked to me about financial management. Money was not a taboo, it was just the way everyone was raised in our family: you lived from paycheck to paycheck, sometimes asking for advance, sometimes borrowing from friends.

I graduated from college at age twenty, got married, got my first job, and then money trouble started, followed by marriage problems. My mother was by then living in the United States, and was wrapped up in her own new life, new husband, in a new country. I was learning how to budget, plan and save. And of course, how to stash money away, spend it, and hide purchases.

Looking back, I have to admit that if I knew then what I know now, my life could have turned out differently. Do I regret it? Hell no! I probably would have lived it over just because I think that the lessons of my life are invaluable. If anything, those lessons give me plenty of post ideas for this blog.

The following points below do not represent anything new, but not being aware of them cost me quite a bit of lost and wasted money, sleepless nights, grey hair, and stress. I am not saying that knowing all the points below would set me up for a lifetime of money success. What I am attempting to say is that it would most likely make my life a little bit more responsible.

What I Wish I Knew in My 20s

  1. How to budget and plan in advance. I never thought “in advance.” I never thought about retirement. I never saved for my future vacation. I never planned into the future until I started thinking about my divorce.
  2. How to listen to your elders. Yes, they might sound stingy, cheap and not understanding. But there is truth and life long experiences in their words. Anyone can benefit from it.
  3. How to balance your checkbook, or your bank account, or your spreadsheet. Nothing new really, but it clears your mind when you see what you have left, and where your money went. Three pairs of shoes anyone?
  4. How to read pre-approved credit card offers and see evil, not free money, in them.
  5. How a credit card interest really works. I would have saved tons of money in the long run. I wish that I would use sparingly some readily available services on-line, and apply for a loan online a little less.
  6. How to save money when you start making more. Instead, I was spending more than ever. It felt good for a while.
  7. How to stop feeling rich when you make more money. You are not rich but stupid if you think that way. The oldie but goodie applies here: do not live within your means, live below your means, or your mistakes will catch up with you sooner than you think.
  8. How to stop using your emotions and start using your brains when you want things you cannot afford.
  9. How not to get sucked into the money borrowing mood, and instead borrow only for things that have a long-lasting value such as a house (hopefully) and education (most likely). I borrowed for the latter two AND everything else in-between. Yes, I financed shoes, dresses, cars, and even dinners out.
  10. How to marry wisely. My first time around was a great example of not a wise marriage. I can talk endlessly about mistakes of my first marriages, but in this post, I want to mention just one thing: if you want to marry wisely, marry your equal. I am not talking about your social status. I am talking about everything else BUT that.
  11. How to understand that whoever controls your finances, controls your life. I always thought I was in charge with my life. So naive and so wrong! I could not afford a bigger house because of my debt. I could not afford a vacation because of my debt. I could not afford that dress I wanted so badly because of my debt. I could not afford to go out with my friends because of my debt. It took me years to realize that I was lying to myself when I thought that I was in control of my life.

What about you? What do you wish you knew about finances in your twenties?


17 thoughts on “What I Wish I Knew About Life and Finances In My 20s”

  1. I would have liked to known that the obligations you’ll have once you’re no longer single and without kids is a lot. When I was single, I sort of knew that one day I’d want to be married and have kids and that would be expensive, but had no real ‘grasp’ of that concept. It’s been a big adjustment.

  2. BUT….those “mistakes” made you the person you are. You are rich in mind and experience. It’s not about looking backwards but forwards!
    As for marrying your equal…I’ve never met him – in any sense. I believe you should marry an idea – not an ideal – and then hopefully you’ll find a good match. All our “bad” experiences are painful but useful in the long run….so that we won’t repeat them….. never be afraid to make mistakes!

  3. It seems there is a lot of us with regrets about the investment decisions we made way back. But good thing is that we can always do something to make the future different.

  4. I wish I’d realized that my future self was the same person as my current self and that some decisions would be screwing future Kathleen over. I’d like to think I would be nicer to my future self if I could visualize her.

  5. I can’t have too many regrets since I got my butt in gear when I was 25, but I definitely made a lot of mistakes in the first half of my 20’s. Not feeling rich when you start making more money was the key one for me. It took me a few years to realize that earning a good salary did not make me rich. Saving as much as I possibly can and diverting annual raises directly into savings is what will make me rich.

  6. Great post, I like the fact that you are positive and don’t regret yet you are able to pass on your experience at the same time. I hope more people see this post; your words are very true. Investment decisions should really be made as early as possible to truly benefit from them.

  7. I was born in Poland and my family came to the USA when I was 3 years old. In my family, finances were the exact same way as in yours. No one ever talked about it – the only thing I ever heard was that there was never enough of it. So that led me to loads of mistakes in my 20’s when I started making money. I totally second all your thoughtful points and wish I knew all that when I hit the real world at age 21. But hey, you live, you learn, right?

  8. I wish I kept my first flat and bought 1o more I’d be a millionaire years down the road from the first purchase. I wish alot of things but now I know better and move forward. Like you I want to teach others what not to do or what I have learned in hopes they don’t make the same mistakes. Excellent Post! Mr.CBB

  9. I’m in my twenties so I wish I knew what I will eventually wish I knew? I’ve been reading a lot of PF blogs and think I’m on the right track. I’m sure I’ll find something later though that I wish I would have known. Hindsight is 20/20

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