12 Financial Decisions I Made In My 20s That I Regretted In My 30s

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I was very fortunate in high school and college. My parents put my education first, and did not want me losing focus, so they always agreed that they would pay for “needs” while in school, so I did not have to work. I am very grateful that they were able to provide those opportunities to my sisters and I, and fully understand that not everyone is so lucky. In my case, there were not many real “needs” when I lived at home, on my parents’s insurance, eating their food, and driving their car. That opened the door for me to fund the long list of “wants” that I had. I had a job as soon as I was old enough to work, and without having to pay rent, or bills, I was able to use some of that money to afford purchases I would never spring for now. Having my own money was my attempt at financial independence, but I found that the more money I spent, the more I dug my heels into the dependence on my parents (a slight entitlement struggle) and spent the money I earned feverishly.

Now, I have a decent job, with a much better income than what I was making scooping ice cream or waiting tables. I also have a family, and bills, and I quickly regret old habits, short-sighted purchases, and my lack of discipline. It’s not that I think 20-somethings are reckless, and that they should be sitting at home pinching pennies for the day they could maybe, possibly have a family. It’s that I was a little reckless, without considering the future, and wish I had been more aware. Here are 12 financial decisions (some silly, some all too serious) that I regret:

1. Using my credit card to fund my boyfriend. I added my 22-year-old love-of-my-life to my credit card. We broke up, obviously, and it turned ugly. It took a long time, and my parents’ involvement to get any money back from him, and pay off his debt. That could have ruined my credit or gotten even worse. I never again allowed myself to get into any financial commitment with someone to whom I was not permanently attached.  It took me two years of dating, and four years of being married, before I added my now husband to my credit card. (Those issues are for a different article.)

2. Chanel. We had a brief love affair, and I still pine for it, but it’s over now.

3. Not saving more of my disposable income. You read articles with many different perspectives on how to save money at a certain age. My personal opinion is if you have ANY money, save SOME money. I wish my bank account reflected that I was a student with a job, and almost no responsibility financial responsibilities. But the truth is, my former bank account reveals that I spent a lot. When I think of the money I could have in my 401(k), it upsets me, but I’m working on that now.

4. Getting more student loans than I actually needed, to use it as spending money.  It was too easy to do, and the extra money was gone in less than a semester. It did not take less than a semester to pay off. It took many, many years.

5. Not learning about minimalism, and quality over quantity at an early age. My parents have always been very frugal. I never wanted to be. I work hard for my money, and felt deeply that I deserved to enjoy it. Through my newly discovered interest in minimizing, I have realized that saving what I earn is enjoying my money. Enjoying my hard-earned money is not about spending excessively. Saving, giving, investing, and spending on the right things are all more fulfilling than just spending money recklessly.

6. Starbucks. And the #PSL. There is something so seductive and special about wrapping your hands around a hot, fall decorated Starbucks cup with a drink so perfect and pumpkiny. But it’s not okay to make it a habit, because I didn’t need to be spending $5/day on coffee.

7. Going to a grad school I did not love, just to get an additional degree. It took a while to learn the lesson of quality over quantity with my education. I felt, after undergrad, that continuing higher education was something I needed. In my case, not being recognized for it at work made it that much more difficult to justify. Of course, everyone’s journey is different, and I would never call someone else’s degree worthless, but I just went through the paces because I thought I needed to, and it didn’t pay off.

8. Throughout college and my early twenties, going out almost every WednesdaySundayWorking Women’s WednesdayThursday college night and dollar drink night at the baseball games. Friday night happy hour or Music on Main. Saturday Shenanigans (that would start with Saturday brunch and end Sunday… at brunch). Sunday brunch and football. I went out a lot and you convince yourself it is only for one or two drinks, but that’s often a lie. Especially when karaoke is involved.

9. Eating out because everyone else was. So many unnecessary brunches. Who invented this amazing excuse for having alcohol for breakfast?

10. Letting my preference for certain brands dictate my spending habits. Even if my purchase was not functional or necessary.

11. Letting my preference for quantity dictate my spending habits. I’d rather have one nice piece than the 20 Forever 21 tank tops I owned at one point.

12. Not spending more of my money on travel when I had less responsibility. Travel can be budgeted for and affordable if the focus is not shopping, tourist traps, and staying at fancy hotels — and if you are diligent and strict about savings. My focus was always the adventure and immersion into the local culture. I wish I had not wasted money on meaningless material things, and considered saving for one big experience. And while I would’ve hoped that most of the money I might’ve saved would have gone into investments, or savings, I would’ve wanted to use a small portion for travel. (Disclaimer: I would never travel in lieu of a job, this would be travel in spite — and thanks to — a job.)

Knowing how to manage finances is something that I was not taught in school, or by my parents. I am so thankful that I had frugal parents that unintentionally modeled helpful money behaviors, but I wish I’d started implementing them sooner. If I could do it over again, or give advice to someone else, I would say: do not wait until a life milestone to start saving. If you think you can’t, just do it, and you will surprise yourself with what you can achieve.  If you have direct deposit, create what I’ve always called a “secret account” and automatically put whatever you can afford (whether it’s $25, $100, $200) into that account every paycheck, before it even touches your checking account. Don’t wait until you are planning a wedding, buying a home, or having a child, to start being good with money.

Tania is a compensation and HR professional, mother, wife, and cupcake lover.  She’s getting the hang of Twitter, and loves traveling and writing.

Image via Unsplash

  • SB

    Did your parents know you spent as you did? I’m just curious/ nosy, so don’t feel obligated to answer. I ask only because the people that I know whose parent’s paid for their “needs” were also not allowed to work – “school was the job”, or whatever. So they didn’t want for anything but they also had no money to spend as they pleased. Separately, the people who did work had to pay for basically everything so they ended up also having no money, even if parents might have supplemented where they could.

    Net/net, as someone who worked quite a bit but also had parents who paid what they could, if they had EVER seen me with Chanel I would have been cut off with a “sell that bag to pay your sorority dues this semester, honey.” I did go out quite a bit in college and spent some, but it was rural with $7 pitchers so it was impossible to spend too much. I am just surprised your parents didn’t step in, and wondering what you think their motivation was for not doing so, particularly given that they were so frugal.

    • jdub

      My parents were not involved in my finances whatsoever and I don’t live with them, but they still side-eye me from time to time when they see me making purchases that they don’t think are responsible.

      They made an abundance of financial mistakes in their own lives, so I know it’s because they want to make sure I’m not repeating them, being responsible and learning from their mistakes.

      • SB

        Ugh i get the side eye all the time. “Yes I’m making an extravagant purchase but I saved up for it and also I max out my retirement accounts and haven’t asked you for money in eight years. Relax a little, I earned this.”

    • Tania

      Great question and happy to share. My parents didn’t get involved with my finances, even though they were involved how they were. My Chanel “love affair” was more on the jewelry side (and supported by the guy I was dating, so not just me) and my parents had NO idea what Chanel was. (Your name starts with ‘T’, so why are you wearing “Cs”? :-)!) When they found out what it was, they thought I was an idiot! Lol. In high school, I worked as long as it did not impact my grades; a little slip and my parents were giving me the pink slip. In college, I only worked on campus and, to my chagrin, used my extra loan dollars, for spending – for someone with no responsibilities, this was a good bit. Again, if my grades slipped, I was cut off and/or could not work anymore. My parents did not give me regular spending money, so this was my way of earning my own money to use on all my extras. And $7 pitchers always made life better! 😉

  • Liv

    Thank you for sharing! I keep reading articles like this in the hopes of being better with my income, but it just hasn’t stuck yet. Maybe someday. I do appreciate your love affair for something so specific, like your Chanel perfume. We all have our vices 🙂

    Liv

  • You are so right about discovering minimalism early. I first heard about it while still in high school, and it is such a blessing. I started downsizing right away, and since I hadn’t had years to accumulate stuff or even get used to a high salary, it was a very painless process. I have lived like that ever since!
    http://currentlylovingsimplicity.wordpress.com/