I have just entered a new decade. Yesterday, I turned 30. Which being that it happened on a Wednesday meant working and celebrating with a cupcake. However, I’ll do my real celebrating this weekend when I travel to the west coast to visit and celebrate with family and attend Activate EBA Live a blogging conference/workshop in Portland, OR.
So given that I’m entering a new era, I thought I’d share 30 money lessons I’ve learned in my 30 years. Here we go:
1. If you have no clue where to start dealing with your money, start with a budget.
It doesn’t matter if you use YNAB, Mint, or a spreadsheet, just get started with a budget.
2. Remember that no budget is the same or perfect
Your budget will be different from mine and also we’re both human which means our budgets will never be perfect. Just as you get into the swing of things something will change and you’ll need to adjust, which is why budgets must be flexible.
3. Money stays saved if it’s out of sight, out of mind.
Which is why I have all my savings accounts at a separate bank from my checking account.
4. It’s easier to save if you automate saving.
I first did this by having part of my paycheck directly deposited in my savings account. Now I use an app, Qapital. Next thing I know there is $2,000 sitting in my savings account.
5. Pay yourself first, means pay your goals first.
So if you want to make paying off debt a priority, make your debt payment the first thing you do with your money as soon as it gets in your hot little hands. Don’t wait to see what you have left over for extra debt payments.
Related: The 5 Steps to Paying Off Debt
6. Employer match on your retirement savings is the best free money.
Just make sure you understand the vesting schedule to ensure when you leave the company you get to take that money with you.
7. Credit Card Debt Sucks
I’ve been credit card debt free since Feb. 2015, but was in credit card debt that just got worse for about the 5 years prior. The stress and anxiety and not to mention wasted money on interest sucked. A lot.
Now when I use credit cards I pay them off every month and cash in on the rewards. In fact I’m flying to two conferences for mostly free (have to pay a $22 in fees) thanks credit card rewards
Related: How Important is My Credit Score?
8. Student loan debt sucks more (student loans and interest)
As much as credit card debt sucks, student loan debt sucks more. Especially if you are on income driven repayment where the amount you owe increases each month you make a payment. If you check out my Debt Accountability page, you’ll notice I’ve put more than $38,000 towards my debt, but I’ve only paid off $15,000. Gross.
9. A side hustle will provide you with more security than just one job
When I got laid off from my job at the end of 2016 I was kind of excited, it gave me the opportunity to pursue my side hustles full time. Freelance writing, driving for Lyft, dog sitting with Rover, more than financial security having side hustles gave me my life back. Because I wasn’t constantly traveling and exhausted I could take on more, more work, more social plans, and even a dog.
10. Money mindset is just as important to financial success as making more money is
I’ve recently started reading more Mr. Money Mustache, it’s not that I haven’t been aware of this blog for years, it just that when I first came across it, I wasn’t mentally ready to accept and try many of his suggestions.
When I first started blogging over three years ago, I couldn’t fathom working for myself, but now I am. Mental shifts can take time, but just starting down that road helps. Start setting yourself up mentally for the financial goals you want to achieve, for me that is debt freedom, perhaps after that I’ll start thinking about FIRE. But I’m starting with just the one goal for now.
11. A Penny saved can be two pennies earned
Oh compound interest, how I love the. I invested about $14,000 into my retirement account, thanks to contributions from my old company and compound interest the balance is now over $30,000.
12. A penny spent can turn turn into 5 pennies spent
Oh compound interest, how I loathe the. When I graduated I had $193K in student loan debt, I now have over $250k.
13. You can afford to enjoy life no matter your budget (because the best things in life are free)
The best things in life are free, friends, family, and undying love from your dog. But that doesn’t mean you don’t still want to go out from time to time. No matter your budget, where there is a will there is a way, you can still take part in entertainment.
14. Meal planning really does go a long way in saving money and cutting stress during the week
I’m just going to say it, I suck at meal planning. But on the occasion that I do actually take the time to meal plan and stick to it, it’s fantastic. I save money, I don’t stress about what to make. Life just is simpler. I really do recommend meal planning, this is definitely a do as I say not as I do lesson.
15. Dogs are expensive and worth it
I got my first dog on my own in February of this year and I’ve spent a ton of money on her, primarily in vet bills. Turns out she has a sensitive stomach and allergies.
Related: Why You Should Wait to Get a Pet
Every night when I hear her snoring loudly, I’m reminded it’s totally worth it. Pets make life better and can save you money. My dog and cat have done wonderful things for my mental health and my dog in particular has helped my physical health as well.
Related: How Having Pets Can Save You Money
16. Blogs can be a great way to learn about money
In April 2014 as I was trying to figure out how I would pay for my apartment without a roommate for three months, I started reading personal finance blogs. I started with Budgets Are Sexy and Frugaling (now owned by someone else) and kept diving deeper into the world of personal finance blogs from there.
I would not have the life I have now if I hadn’t. So thank you to my roommates that moved out and to the one that turned out to be a horrible roommate for not being able to move in for three months.
17. Starting a blog can be a great way to earn money
Yes you can make money blogging, but also blogging can also be a great motivator to try new ways of making money. Not going to lie, I signed up to drive for Lyft because I figured it would make for a good blog post. A year later I still occasionally drive for Lyft.
Related: How to Start a Blog
18. There are lots of great ways to earn money on the side, but letting others know you’re looking for extra work can work best
I managed to pay off most of credit card debt because of a gig my friend suggested me for to her boss. They were swamped and needed some extra help, she knew I was looking for extra work. A few grand later I was well on my way to credit card debt freedom.
19. Not all credit cards are created equal
Some credit cards suck, they have high interest rates and no rewards. Now maybe you need a credit card like that because they offer a 0% balance transfer or something. But in my mind the only credit cards I want to use are ones that give me free stuff, particularly travel rewards.
20. For that matter, not all bank accounts and savings accounts are created equal either
Some banks charge for you to have an account with them, while others will actually pay you interest on your checking account. Do your homework and make sure you are opening the best account for you and your goals. The book Broke Millennial does an excellent job of outlining different kinds of account and what to look for in an account.
Related: Broke Millennial Book Review
21. All money stories are sexy
One of the best blog posts I’ve read this year was Michelle Jackson’s about how she was told her personal finance story wasn’t “sexy enough” for publication on a big site. Don’t get me wrong those stories of people paying off $100k in a year is great, but I don’t really relate to them as much. Stories like Michelle’s where she eliminated $13,000 worth of expenses are far more relatable in mind. You should absolutely read her post and be inspired to share your own money story.
22. Emergency funds are the best stress relievers
You need an emergency fund, if only because it will help you sleep better at night, more than any mattress could. It’s your back up when shit hits the fan. Emergency funds are the best stress relievers. Period.
Related: Why You Need an Emergency Fund
23. What works for someone else’s finances may not work for yours
Everyone’s financial situation is different. Meaning what works for someone else might not work for you. No two financial plans will be exactly the same.
24. Slow and steady wins the debt race, so does fast sprints
Paying off my credit card debt was a sprint, I worked my butt off and got it all paid off in six months, then was burned out.
Paying off my car loan on the other hand has been slow and steady with a few sprints sprinkled in, I continue to make progress but it is taking longer than I’d like.
25. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best
I’ve got a dog and a cat and they can be destructive little beasts. While I don’t plan on moving anytime soon, I really don’t think that when the time comes I’ll get my security deposit back. I’m preparing for that by not counting on that money coming back to me.
26. Wine and finance really do go together
If they didn’t, I probably would have given up on personal finance and this blog a long time ago. Drink up and Cheers!
Your health is worth investing in
The cost of medical procedures far outweighs the cost of investing in being healthier. You may not need to spend nearly as much as you think, you don’t need to join a gym or pay for a personal trainer.
You don’t have to be super drastic about this, try to increase your average number of steps (I use my FitBit to track this) and slowly work in healthier foods into your diet (my biggest struggle).
Don’t put off the dentist or other routine appointments, if there is something to catch they can usually catch it sooner and thus reduce the overall work/procedure that needs to be done.
28. You don’t have to work for someone else to earn a living
This was a radical lesson for me. It took years before I acted on it and quite a while just to wrap my mind around the idea. I’m still pretty amazed that you don’t have to work for someone else to earn a living.
29. It’s okay to prioritize happiness and to still want more
In my bio I often joke that I’m a recovering attorney. It’s not that I don’t love the law, I’m a total nerd about it, but actually practicing law wasn’t for me. When I’m asked why I don’t work as an attorney, I usually answer, “because I like being a happy person.”
It’s not to say you can’t be happy as a lawyer, I know many people who are, but I wasn’t. While financially it was not the best move, I’m most proud of finally realizing I wasn’t happy and pursuing other endeavors.
30.A fresh start is always a good thing
Fresh starts can be hard and exhilarating and scary as shit. But they also mean a new opportunity to write the next chapter. They force you to move on from whatever it was that ended. I’m excited to see what this next decade of my life will bring both financially and in life. Fingers crossed I reach debt freedom in the next 10 years.
Wrapping it Up With a Bow on Top
Life is full of financial lessons and I’m sure I have many more left to learn, but I’m feeling pretty good about what I’ve learned in my first thirty years.
What are some financial lessons you’ve learned? Let me know in the comments.