In present day I'm a successful financial advisor and entrepreneur.
Based on some of the boneheaded money decisions I made in my 20's it is a miracle I can even say that.
I've definitely learned from many of those mistakes, but if I had the chance to hop in a DeLorean and go back in time, here's 7 money lessons I would love to give to myself.
1. Why do you have to be all GQ?
I’m not even sure if the term metro-sexual existed back whenever I was 20 years old, but there’s no question I was the epitome of it. While most guys who attended college were wearing American Eagle, and if they were lucky, Abercrombie & Fitch with their Asics running shoes, I was the guy shopping at the Gap wearing button-up shirts, knitted sweaters, and slick stylish shoes all while attending a junior college.
Sure, I had a part-time job and I could afford some of it, but the reality is that most of it went on a credit card or student loans (especially since I didn't get my private student loans without a cosigner) – stupid debt for clothes that in a year from now I could care less about. I don’t even want to try to guess how much money I wasted on clothes that could have been used for so many different things. I also wished I would have known these tips on how to make fast cash when I was young, and maybe avoided using that credit card so much!
2. Don’t miss out on the trip of a lifetime.
What are some of the other things I could have spent my money on? What about traveling to parts of the world I may never see in my lifetime. There are two traveling regrets I didn’t take when I was younger . . . .
The first one was going to New York a month after 9/11. The airline prices were super cheap and a flight to New York, understandably, was less than $100. I had never been to see New York and there was a part of me that just felt like I needed to be there – to be around the suffering our nation had just gone through. My best friend and I talked about it. I can’t remember the exact reason why, but we didn’t go. To this day, I still regret that.
The other trip I regret not taking was a backpacking trip to Europe. The same buddy that talked about going to New York also brought up the idea of taking a backpacking trip to Europe, staying in hostels, and seeing a part of the world we’d never seen.
Unfortunately, I had already amassed a good amount of credit card debt from all the stupid clothes and eating out I took part in while I was in college. The thought of putting even more of that debt on my credit card gave me an uneasy feeling. I can remember the conversation plain as day and it went something like, “Man I would really love to, but there would be a lot more debt added to my credit card and I just don’t feel good about that right now.”
Granted, in the financial state I was in, that would have left me even worse off. Since I got a grip on my finances, I still feel pretty confident that I would have eventually paid it off and still had those memories.
3. Start investing earlier.
For the most part, I was ahead of the curve. I started my Roth IRA when I was 24 years old. I was only putting in $50 per month and definitely could have put in more. I’m still kicking myself for not starting it much earlier.
See, I’ve been working almost 20-30 hours per week ever since I graduated high school. I always had plenty of money but I tended to waste it on crap. I remember a friend of mine in high school was one of those weird guys who knew everything about saving money. He told me about the Roth IRA and told me I should definitely get one started.
I remember thinking to myself, “Yeah, that sounds pretty cool, but I’m going to go spend my money on [fill in the blank with something useless].
I can only imagine if I would have started investing into a Roth IRA just six years earlier or if I would have [GASP!] diversified into stocks, P2P investing with Lending club, or other short term investment options. Who knows how much money I would have today.
4. Cut down on the CDs and start reading more books.
I totally just dated myself. I’m referencing CDs. Millennials, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, do a Google search. I love listening to music and I owned almost every '90s alternative rock band CD from that generation and I wish I would have spent more time investing more money into creating wealth.
It wasn’t until I turned my career into being a certified financial planner that a client, of all people, referred me to Robert Kiyosaki's Rich Dad Poor Dad.
Prior to that, I don’t think I had read any book on investing or personal finance. Heck, I don’t think I even read a book that wasn't required of me outside of school. That book forever changed my mindset and how I would approach business ventures, investing, and anything money related.
I’m amazed whenever I get a chance to speak at our local university and I start asking students about some of the latest books they have read – or even asked if they read some of my favorite books – and I’m shocked to learn that hardly any of them have read any books whatsoever. Many young folks are interested in entrepreneurship and investing, yet they don't invest any time into reading any books on the topic.
The next book that had a meaningful impact in my life was Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. The concepts were so simple yet I’ve come across people all the time that didn’t have an emergency fund and were drowning in debt. Dave’s “Baby Steps” were instrumental in helping me give advice to other people in those situations that weren’t familiar with his work.
More present day, a book by Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek, was a wake-up call of all the things that I was wasting my time on when I could easily outsource that or delegate that to somebody else versus me having to do everything. That’s another one that I consider a “must” for anybody.
If you want to throw Soldier of Finance in there as a great book to read, I’ll be okay with that too. 🙂
5. Don’t waste your time with multi-level marketing.
Oh my gosh, I didn’t really want to publicly admit this. Yes, I was a part of not one, not two, but three multi-level marketing (MLM) companies (insert gag reflexes).
To my defense, I was young. I was looking for the next great business idea and these companies all had great promise. I don’t want to sit here and bash all multi-level marketing companies. I’m sure there are several of them that offer good products and services to those that need it but here is my beef with MLM . . . .
It’s a rip off. Get out. Before you ruin the relationship that you have with friends and family.
The second and third MLM that we joined we had some very close friends that had gotten into this at the same time we had. They joined before us so we were part of their “downline”.
You think about those annoying people that would contact you out of the blue to catch up or invite you to a meeting without giving you all the exact details of what was going to be discussed. That was this couple.
We made this mistake of giving them all of our friends contact and info and they called them. Over and over again. Giving them our friends' contact information basically burned every single bridge of friendships they had and almost ruined ours.
It got the point that every time we hung out with him all they would ever talk about was the multi-level marketing company we were apart of. Talk about a major turn-off. We had to politely distance ourselves from them. Unfortunately, our friendship ended because of the MLM and their obsession with it.
As much as I now hate my MLM experience, I am thankful to have it so that now I know the right way to market a business: don't harass people until they want to avoid you at all costs.
6. Seek out mentors who will give you advice.
Imagine if you were a football player and your dad happened to be a hall-of-famer. The odds are immediately in your favor that you’ll have success. The odds of me being financially successful were certainly not in my favor.
Both my parents were not the best financial role models. Even worse, when I was very young, they struggled with money – both of them filing for bankruptcy twice. I wasn’t given the basic fundamentals of personal finance I needed to succeed and I definitely wasn’t given any tips on investing or entrepreneurship.
Everything I learned for the most part was self-taught. Actually, I wasn't self-taught, I learned through mentors and various coaching programs I made a part of my life.
Most of these mentors weren't sought until well into my later 30's so I wish I would have sought council much sooner.
7. Don’t let life flush your dreams.
This is probably not going to be a newsflash for many of you: life can suck.
Jobs are lost.
Friendships are lost.
It’s a cruel, cruel world.
As kids, we’re oblivious to these things. As kids, we still dream about being a race car driver, being an astronaut, becoming a millionaire, or driving a Lamborghini. We don’t know any different but as we get older and life starts to reveal itself to us we can become much more cynical or “realistic.”
“There is no way I could ever drive a Lamborghini.”
“There is no way I could even be a millionaire.”
“There is no way I could ever have the job of my dreams.”
It’s these limiting beliefs that can suffocate us and snuff out our dreams. Don’t let that happen. Is there something you really wanted when you were younger but just gave up on it? A silly one for me was driving a yellow Lamborghini.
I used to have a poster on my wall put up with thumb tacks I had won it at some random carnival. My dad told me that if I worked really hard that eventually I could buy a Lamborghini. I believed him.
As I got older, I realized how much a Lamborghini cost and I told myself I’ll never be able to drive a Lamborghini.
It's over 30 years later and I still do not drive a Lamborghini and probably never will.
Not because I won’t have the money – I just feel like I’d rather spend my money on other things that are much more impactful in my life.
There will be some point in time that I will be able to buy a Lamborghini and pay for it in cash. In fact, I’m close to it now.
The key is removing any limiting beliefs you have of things that you can’t accomplish and replacing that with a liberating truth.
As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't – you're right.” Believe in yourself, it can happen. Don’t let life's struggles rob you of the dreams for which you are destined.
If you're in your 20s and can learn from a few of my lessons, please do. Why learn the hard way? You don't have to! You can learn from the mistakes of those who are older than you. That might not sound like much fun, but believe me, it's certainly better than reaping the consequences of years of mistakes.
If you're older and are looking back like I am, it's important to remember you really can't change the past. That's right, you can't get in a DeLorean time machine and teach your younger self these lessons – I wish! Besides, that might cause a break in the space-time continuum, duh.
However, you can take the lessons you learned from past mistakes and apply them to the present time. If you do so, you'll find yourself enjoying a much brighter future.
Don't let the past hold you back, as if you're in prison. You're not your past self, you're your present self, and you can do amazing things right now.
The truth is that most successful people became successful by picking themselves up, brushing themselves off, and continuing forward even after they made mistake after mistake. You need some grit. And if you're struggling with your finances, you might need some financial grit (here's how to discover some).
Sit down, create a list of some lessons you learned over the years, and make an effort to change your ways. Keep your list close by. Read through your life lessons every now and then. By doing so, you'll refresh yourself and will be more likely to do the right thing when a trial comes your way.
You don't have to continue in your mistakes. You can learn your lessons. You can become a new person. You can be awesome. So go, be awesome!
This post originally appeared on Forbes.