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The Best Financial Advice I Wish I Could Give My 22-Year-Old Self

Christine Burke  |  January 9, 2020

The money-savvy women in the HerMoney Facebook group weighed in on the money guidance they wish they could give their younger selves. Here’s a look at some of our favorites.

On a hot summer day after my freshman year in college, I went to a local bank to open my first account. As the bank teller took my information and set up my account, my eyes glazed over as she discussed interest rates and bank fees. At the time, I remember thinking that she was a grown up and that 20-year-olds couldn’t possibly be expected to understand the intricacies of banking. That, and I pretty much told her I wanted a checking account simply because I wanted personalized Looney Tunes checks.

The truth was, though, I was too embarrassed to admit to the bank teller that I didn’t understand a word coming out of her mouth. 

During my college years, as I wrote checks emblazoned with Tweety Bird and the Tasmanian Devil for my BMG music subscription, phone bill, and other college expenses, I didn’t have the first clue how to balance my checkbook or manage my finances. In fact, when my now husband and I combined finances before we got married, I’m pretty sure he almost dropped dead when I said, “I’ve never balanced that thing in my life.” 

I’m not proud of my early days of personal financial management, but over the years, my financial mistakes have helped me grow into a financially secure 40-something woman.

While I still stumble on concepts like compound interest, amortization, and interest rates, I have learned to ask questions until I understand the financial decisions in front of me … and I no longer have Looney Tunes checks, much to my husband’s relief. 

Recently, one of our younger HerMoney staffers delightedly told me she is moving into her first apartment. She’s 22 and poised to set out on her own for the first time. Though I’m excited for her, a part of me was protective as she described her new apartment: I wanted to save her from making some of the mistakes I made at her age when it came to finances. Because those first few years on your own are scary when it comes to finances.

Even our own Jean Chatzky has advice for her 22-year old self (yes, really!). “I wish my 22-year-old self knew that it’s not so hard to save and plan for your future. I shied away from better management and understanding of money. I thought there was a secret behind a wall that wasn’t meant for me,” she says.

I posed the question, “What financial advice would you tell your 22-year-old self now?” to the women in our HerMoney Facebook group. And, the money-savvy women in our group delivered a treasure trove of advice. Read on to see what they would tell their younger selves and do differently when it comes to money.

On Retirement:

Lauren H.– “I would tell my 22 yo self to put money into a retirement account of my very own from day 1, even if it’s not employer sponsored or matched. Set it and forget it, and reap the rewards later.”

Anne M. –“Save at least 10% in a retirement account, and start investing (apart from retirement) sooner.”

Ellen R.–Understand your retirement accounts. I work for the state and didn’t realize I needed to sign up to convert my first two years of service from the 401(k).”

On Budgeting:

Maygan A.– “Some of the best advice I’ve gotten is to make a list of all the things you think will make you happy (e.g., buying that new dress, a vacation) and to make a list of things have actually made you happy (e.g., spending time with friends, having a night in, cooking a healthy meal) and compare the lists. Or set goals and reflect on them a year later. Reflection will usually show you that what you need to be actually happy isn’t something you can buy.”

On Saving:

Lisa D.– “Me (60) to my 22-year-old self. Don’t EVER cash out a retirement fund. And also, all your savings will add up to freedom to walk away from a job that doesn’t feel right. You will thank yourself in the future.”

Vicky A.– “Get in the habit of saving. Even if it’s $5 a week, if you make it part of your plan early, it will be easier later when you have more to contribute.”

Cathy H.– “I’m grateful for my parents’ guidance in starting an IRA. I wish I had contributed even $10 at the time as opposed to waiting until I felt like I could contribute, so I could reap those compounding interest benefits.”

On Your First Job:

Laura B.–”Understand your value and negotiate your salary every single time you get a new job. Then, pay yourself first by saving.”

On Moving Out/Your First Place:

Joanna W.–Staying with mom and dad will be worth it!! I moved in with my parents right after college, even after getting my first job. Not only was it quality time with them (my dad and I carpooled and took the Metro into the city together), but I saved A LOT and was able to establish a solid financial footing that laid the foundation for the net worth I have today.”

On 401(k)s:

Sara S.–”With your first job out of school, max out your 401(k) annually. You weren’t used to having money in college so you won’t miss it. And you will be amazed how it grows!”

Nancy A.I started saving for retirement at my first job (401k) but only 10-15% which is not bad, but I wish I would have known that I could save more!!!”

Heather B.–”Never pass up a 401(k) match! It’s free money. I got too focused on debt payoff (good thing) but feel like I missed the 401k match/growth opportunity.”

And our hats off to:

Alison D.– who commented, “Twenty-year-old here! I’ll be debt-free in about 11 months. Since 22 is the future for me, I hope by then I’ll be married, have a fully funded emergency fund, and saving for a house. We have a pretty solid plan, with wiggle room for anything that comes our way.” Here’s a HerMoney high five, Alison!

Sure, we all have regrets about our finances and it’s easy to get bogged down in the “if I had only” mentality but Chatzky reminds us even if we didn’t start saving when we were young, we can make up for lost savings time now.

“One of my Money Rules states that you can make up time by saving more,” she says. If you have savings ground to make up, Chatzky says to be honest about your financial numbers and figure out just how much money you need to save. “And then set your life up to accommodate your new financial goals. You can do it, I promise.”

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