College/Living With Debt

15 20-Somethings On The One Piece Of Financial Advice They Wish They Hadn’t Ignored

By and | Monday, August 10, 2015


Everyone’s path to financial adulthood is different, and my money habits have come primarily from learning what I do and don’t want to do like my parents. Both of my parents have walked me through their financial choices in terms of retirement, stocks, credit cards, debt repayment, and monthly spending, and I’ve been taking notice of why they do what they do for years. However, when it came time for me to start making my own financial decisions, I wasn’t always great with adhering to the policies I’d set out for myself, or the ones they’d set out for me. I saved diligently, and am a stickler about my credit/credit card, but I overspent when I first got a full-time paycheck, which made it much harder to build up my savings account after I moved across the country.

To save myself from making a few more financial wrong turns, I asked 15 20-somethings to share one piece of financial advice that they wish they hadn’t ignored. Here’s what they had to say:

1. “My dad always told me to save 10% of my paycheck when I started working in college and living in the dorms. I would have actually been able to save quite a bit, but I never bothered. I recently calculated the amount of money I could’ve already had in my savings and the amount made me cringe. I’ve started saving 10% of my paychecks recently though.” – Kylie, 22

2. “Start your 401k enrollment the second you start your first job or a new job, especially if there are matching options. I didn’t sign up for a 401(k) for my first year of work. I regret it because I not only missed out on a year worth of savings and contributions from my employer, but I got used to my paycheck being a little bit higher and it was definitely harder to take a hit in how much I got in my account each month. It would have been easier to just start with less from the beginning.” – Katherine, 25

3. “My parents told me to automatically put a portion of my paycheck into savings every month and I ignored their advice for years. Then one day I changed my ADP settings and decided to give it a try. Why had I not been doing this the whole time?! I barely notice the amount it takes out of my paycheck, and every month my savings grows a little bit. Hands down, best piece of advice I ever ignored.” – Lucy, 28

4. “I never created an emergency fund, even though I said I would. I remember watching a financial piece that recommended individuals in their 20s have an emergency fund with at least $5,000 in it. As someone who lives from paycheck to paycheck, $5,000 is a good chunk of change. I used to be a great saver, and then I started paying back college loans. My payments were very high in the beginning and so I adjusted my payments, but not before cleaning out my ’emergency fund.’ The fact is that I will always have loans and monthly payments of some sort, but I wish I had been more strict about keeping my emergency fund. I’m trying to build that fund back up now. There’s about $20 in it and I’ll probably spend it on drinks later….I’ll never learn.” – Sam, 26

5. “A college counselor advised that I diligently pay my student loan payments every month, so that I ensure there’s no extra interest adding up. The more I put off paying the monthly payments I said I’d pay, the more interest gets added. It’s such a drain on your bank account to pay your student loans out of your paycheck every month, but it’s better to do it now, rather than having to pay more later.” – Mary, 24

6. “I was told to get an airline credit card and I still haven’t. I spend a lot on my credit card each month (almost all my monthly expenses go on the card) and I kick myself for the amount of miles I could have racked up by now.” – Thomas, 28

7. “Always keep $20-$40 cash somewhere just in case. My mom always does this and somehow the habit never rubbed off on me. Put the money in your top drawer, or on your night stand and don’t touch it. I learned this lesson the hard way: My card got stolen and I had exactly $1 on me. Not ideal.” – Julie, 23

8. “I hear from a lot of my younger colleagues that they disregarded the advice to start contributing to their retirement account because they didn’t want to see another deduction out of their paycheck each month. They wanted to pocket the cash initially. And now that they are getting engaged, buying houses, looking at long term savings plans, they are freaking out about retirement plans and their lack of contributions.” – Kelsey, 24

9. “I think people just automatically think their loan companies are going to be assholes and not helpful, so they don’t call or engage. I’ve always been told to not even bother calling because Sallie Mae doesn’t want to take any of our calls. But I’ve actually had pretty decent experiences with both of my loan companies, and have had them answer all of my questions. It really puts me at ease.” – Megan, 25

10. “Don’t be afraid to start investing in low-risk mutual funds, etc. They are great if you want to just leave your money there and have it for later on because the rate of return can be somewhere around 8%. Which is a heck of a lot better than leaving it in a savings account that has a .02% ROI. You don’t have to be a stock market expert to start doing little things like that. I was always told to focus on my savings and 401(k), and not look beyond that at the stock market. Now I take my tax refund every year and pretend I don’t have it and just put it right in my Vanguard account. It sucks not having some of the ‘fun’ money but I think it will be worth it in the end.” – Kayla, 27

11. “I honestly think it’s so simple but for the longest time I didn’t have a credit card because I had been so scared off by hearing stories about people wrecking their credit. My bank told me to start a card and begin building credit, but I assumed they were just trying to push me to open a card with them. Finally, I ended up getting a card through a local bank and it’s been good to have for emergencies. I also recently had the goal to establish credit using a store credit card. For instance, I love Macy’s and will always shop there. So I got a credit card through them. It not only gets me store discounts but is also improving my credit. I just wish I’d started all of this sooner.” – Laura, 25

12. “I would say that the financial advice I got in my 20s that I regret to have not followed is starting to save for retirement. I keep hearing about tax deferrals and how I’m missing out by not contributing the maximum amount to my retirement. The reason i didn’t follow the advice is because repayment on my loans kicked in and it’s an overwhelming burden. Contributing to retirement on top of that seemed too excessive.” – Jeff, 24

13. “The adage that was passed on to me was ‘live like you make less than you actually do’ and I wish I had kept that in mind when moving to NYC. It’s so difficult to live under your means in New York, that to a certain extent, I just stopped trying and I wish I hadn’t.” – Sarah, 25

14. “Pay your credit card in full every month. I got this reminder nearly every month from my parents in my early 20s, but I’ve slipped into the frustrating habit of keeping a running credit card balance. It’s honestly not the end of the world to keep a running balance on your card, but paying it in full is a good habit to get into, and it’s a precedent I’ve been wanting to set for myself for years.” – Nathan, 29

15. “I was told in college to not study abroad because the expense was an absolute waste. You can go after college for so much cheaper instead of spending a fortune to go through a fancy school program. I didn’t listen though, because I desperately wanted that experience. And while I wouldn’t trade it for the world, I wish I hadn’t set myself back financially so early on.” – Toby, 22

Maya Kachroo-Levine is a writer and Editorial Assistant at The Financial Diet. Send her an email at or follow her on Twitter.

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