Money Advice We Would Give Our Younger Selves

Updated on March 23, 2024 Updated on March 23, 2024
Listen Money Matters is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. How we make money.
Table of Contents  
  1. Show Notes

    Oh to be young again or even just younger than you are now. Just think of all the things you would do differently. You wouldn’t waste so much time dating losers, you would have taken better care of your health. So many mistakes. Youth is wasted on the young as the saying goes. But perhaps no mistakes sting quite so much as the money mistakes we made.

    Maybe you got into credit card debt, bought a house you couldn’t really afford or lost a bundle on a bad investment. Or perhaps worse, waited so long to invest that you’re scrambling to catch up so you can have enough money to retire. 

  1. We all have the benefit of hindsight when it comes to the dumb things we did or did not do when we were younger. We can’t change those mistakes but we can learn from them, correct them where we can, and not make them again.

    We have made a lot of money mistakes and we’ll probably make more in the future. But looking back, this is the money advice we would give ourselves.

  2. Patience is a Virtue
  3. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Patience is an important factor when it comes to personal finance too. We’ve written about compounding interest and it is magic. But it takes time, a lot of time to do its thing. Don’t believe it? Take it from the greatest investor you’ve never heard of.

    Dr. Herbie, as he is known to friends, is a self-made billionaire worth $2.3 billion by Forbes’ reckoning—not including the $100 million he has donated to Florida’s public universities. His fortune comes not from some flash of entrepreneurial brilliance or dogged devotion to career, but from a lifetime of prudent do-it-yourself buy-and-hold investing.

    It works the same way when you’re trying to pay off debt. It can feel like you’ve been paying and paying and the balance never gets any smaller. But if you’re going about it the right way, you will eventually have that debt paid off.

    Patience pays off in your personal life too. Don’t overreach, when you set unrealistic goals, you give up because the goal always seems so far away. Instead, aim to improve 1% a day, just do one or two things a day that slow march you to your goal whether that is de-cluttering your home before Hoarders shows up or losing weight.

  4. Pay Yourself First
  5. You are the most important thing in your budget, up there with housing and healthcare. Ideally, we’re saving 20% of our money but if that feels out of reach for you, start with 10% or even 5%. Budget to put $100 a month into Betterment.


    When you decide to save whatever money is left over at the end of each month, what you’ll often find is that there is no money left over. You can’t leave saving to chance. Pay yourself first. 

  6. Be Money Mindful
  7. Money shouldn’t rule your life but it should have a prominent place. What does that mean? Keep a budget and check in on it monthly to see where you’re doing well and where you need to improve.

    If you can’t seem to make budgeting work, try the refrigerator method. This actually works for a lot of things. I read one of those “How to improve your life in 2019” types of articles at the start of the year and one of the tips was to try to eat the whole alphabet of fruits and vegetables each month.

    I took a sheet of paper and wrote the alphabet down the side and stuck it to my fridge. Each time I eat a different fruit or vegetable, I write it next to the corresponding letter. For February, the shortest month, I ate 28 different varieties. Seeing the list on my fridge every day made me mindful of what I was eating.

  8. Price is What You Pay, Value is What You Get
  9. Rental property is a good example of this. The house costs X in dollars and X in time. The value is how much money that rental property earns for you. Do you get more than you paid? Then that house has value.

    Time has value too. I pay someone to clean my house. Could I do it myself and save that money? Sure I could. But my time is more valuable than the amount of money paying someone else to clean my house costs me.

    Both in terms of real dollars, I can make more working than I would save paying someone and in terms of priorities. I don’t like cleaning the house. I would rather do something fun. So I get value from the price of having someone else do something I don’t want to do.

  10. College Isn’t for Everyone
  11. College is expensive and time-consuming. That isn’t to say attending college isn’t worthwhile but it’s not for everyone. If you’re going to make the investment, make sure the degree you get is well paying. If you’re on the fence about attending, wait. There’s no law stating you have to go to college the fall after graduating high school.

    College tuition

    Maybe there is a less expensive, time-consuming path to the career you want. A trade school, certification, or a boot camp. If college is definitely something you want to do or something the career you want to pursue requires, consider alternatives to going to the best school you can get into and graduating in four years, the most expensive path.

    Do your prerequisites at a local community college and then transfer to a more prestigious college. Go half time and work part-time so you aren’t paying for everything with student loans. Work for an employer who will subsidize some of your college costs. There are a lot of ways to make college more affordable.

  12. Job Security is a Myth
  13. Lehman Brothers was a prestigious company run by smart people who employed smart people. And one day, all of those people were stood in front of the building clutching a box of their belongings looking bewildered. How do we know? Because Andrew was one of them.

    He did everything right and it didn’t matter. No one is indispensable and no company is too big to fail. The days of working for the same company for thirty years and retiring with a gold watch and a pension are over. Any of us could lose our jobs at any time through no fault of our own.

    That means you have to diversify your income as much as your investments. Get a side hustle, consult, drive for Uber. You don’t have to make a ton of money on the side but should you lose your regular job, even a little bit of money coming in helps.

  14. Use Credit Cards Responsibly
  15. This is probably a regret a lot of us have because the consequences of not doing so are really dire. It can take years to dig yourself out of credit card debt and when you’re doing it, every other financial goal, saving an emergency fund, investing, buying a home, are pushed back and you can’t make up for the lost time easily.

    how to improve your credit score stop charging

    If it’s too late for you, make a plan to pay off your credit card debt. The avalanche method will save you the most money in interest so that’s the method we recommend.

  16. People Don’t Fail, They Give Up
  17. Be honest, how many things have you failed at and how many have you just given up on? It’s actually hard to fail. But it is temptingly easy to give up. And that’s why it’s so hard to fail because everyone around you trying to do the same thing will just give up.

    That leaves you as the last person standing and by default, the winner. You can burn out and take a break, that happens to everyone. But never, ever give up.

  18. Track Your Spending
  19. There is nothing more important in personal finance than budgeting, nothing. Because having a budget is the foundation all other personal finance goals are built on. Want to save money? Budget. Trying to get out of debt? Budget. Want to retire early? Budget

    What gets measured gets managed.

    Tweet This

    If you don’t have a budget, you don’t know where your money is going. If you don’t know where your money is going, you can’t make it work for you. Seriously, start a Mint or Personal Capital account. They’re both free and easy to use and will give you an eye-opening experience.

  20. Don’t Invest in Something You Don’t Understand
  21. If you want to buy individual stock rather than investing with an ETF, you have to do some research. It’s not the most exciting activity in the world but it is necessary so why make it harder than it has to be? You know how Apple works. They sell tech products that everyone wants and at this point, most of us need. That’s at least a good jumping off point.

    What do you know about BitCoin? Maybe nothing more than the name and that people claim to have made an absolute fortune on it. That means you are going to have to do a lot of research because you don’t even know what you don’t know. Who has time for that?

    how to invest in bitcoin

    You can still make a bad investment investing in what you know but you’ve at least stacked the odds a little in your favor.

  22. So Young, So Dumb
  23. We didn’t do this to make you beat yourself up. We don’t get much personal finance education in the American school system and if your parents didn’t have or didn’t teach you good personal finance habits, how can you be expected to know anything? 

    We did it in the hopes that people who have not yet made this mistakes might see this and avoid them and so that those who continue to make the same mistakes more than once might recognize themselves and stop making those mistakes.

    Because we were all young and dumb once.

    Show Notes

    Grim Blended Mix: A Cultured Sour Ale

    High Fiving a Million Angels: Matt’s own brew, a New England Style IPA

Get our best strategies, tools, and support sent straight to your inbox.

Candice Elliott - Senior Editor Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.

What's next?

learn courses podcast popular toolbox