While getting some cardio at the gym, I couldn’t keep my eyes away from a talk show on the TV set in front of me. It was on mute, but I could tell the conversation among the five co-hosts was deep by their body language. Yes, there were tears. Then a graphic came on the screen that said, “What would you tell your younger self?” Suddenly, it all made sense.
The question seems like something Oprah or Phil Donahue would ask, but I think it’s a good one. As a 30-year-old, it might sound silly to try to answer that question, but I want to give it a shot, especially as it relates to finances. I promise, no tears.
Here are seven pieces of advice that I would give to my younger self:
1. “STUFF” DOESN’T MATTER
Growing up, I had plenty. Too bad I never realized it. I was so busy chasing what everyone else had. They had the hottest clothes, the latest gadgets and the nicest cars. When I flipped the switch and thought about what I truly needed in life, I began to understand that my life was full. Instead of accumulating a bunch of junk with name brands on it, focus on building your personal brand.
2. COMMUNITY COLLEGE WILL DO JUST FINE
I actually started at community college when I was 16 years old. It’s a long story, but I spent a year there before transferring to a university. Looking back, I wish I had stayed another year at community college to save money. From my experience, the education I received at community college was on par with the four-year school. It surely didn’t hurt. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts at age 19.
3. MAXIMIZE YOUR COMPANY’S MATCH
I found a full-time job a few months after finishing college, but I was hardly rolling in money. In fact, I was dirt poor. My starting salary in my chosen field was in the mid-20s. Despite having no debt, I used my low salary as an excuse not to invest in my company’s 401(k) program. I regret not taking advantage of the “free money” my company offered. I eventually started contributing to a 401(k) when I turned 25, but I would undoubtedly be in a better position had I invested in the stock market during those six years.
4. DON’T BE AFRAID TO FAIL
It’s okay to make a course correction or two in your career. If a job isn’t working out, pursue a new one. Life is too short to spend 40 hours a week doing something that you don’t love. Studies show that millennials will have 15 to 20 jobs over the course of their lifetime, so it’s okay if a couple of those aren’t perfect fits. It happens to the best of us. Just try to learn something for the next time.
5. CHOOSE YOUR FRIENDS CAREFULLY
If your friends don’t make you feel good, drop them. You don’t want to surround yourself with people who don’t accept you. If you find yourself buying things to impress people or fit in, ask yourself whether it’s a true friendship. It sounds cliche, but people should love you for who you are and those are the people you should cherish.
6. 15-YEAR MORTGAGE > 30-YEAR MORTGAGE
When I bought my first condo, I got a 30-year mortgage without even checking the rates on a 15-year loan. Do your research before signing on the dotted line. I ended up getting a 15-year mortgage on my second condo after realizing it was totally within my budget. By the way, it didn’t take me 15 years to pay off that condo. I eliminated the $86,000 mortgage in just two years.
7. CHANGE YOUR OUTLOOK ON RETIREMENT
Retirement seems so far away when you’re just starting out. That’s probably because we’re told that retirement doesn’t happen until we’re 65. Well, that’s not necessarily the case. There are plenty of people who can “retire” in their 30s and 40s because they saved 50% or more of their income from the start. Think about that. Retirement at 40. Not so far off anymore, huh?