The 20 Best Financial Lessons I Learned in My 20s

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This month marks the last month of my 20s. As I embark on my 30s, I'm looking forward to the many lessons, experiences and adventures that lie ahead, but I'm simultaneously prompted to take pause and reflect on all that I've learned in my 20s. As a financial planner who started my own business before the age of 30, I've experienced many money lessons over the past 10 years (and I have no doubt that many more are in store). Below are the top 20 financial lessons I'm taking away from my 20s (in no particular order):
The 20 Best Financial Lessons I Learned in My 20s
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The 20 Best Financial Lessons I Learned in My 20s
What's going to give you more pleasure –- a new flat-screen TV or an out-of-the-country trip with friends or family? I've learned to choose experiences and memories over designer goods and technology.
This is a standard lesson. It's never too early to start saving for retirement. Start putting away small amounts monthly into a Roth Individual Retirement Account today, and automatically  to set yourself up for success tomorrow.
Nobody will look out for you like you look out for you. If you want something, be proactive. Work for it, ask for it and make a plan to get there.
Knowing where your money is going is the first step to controlling your finances. Knowing where it should be going is the second. Actually doing something about it is third.
Whether your employer is offering a company match in a 401(k) that you're not utilizing, or you're not paying off your debt as efficiently as you could be -– stop throwing away perfectly good money!
Having three to six months of expenses set aside for the unexpected car repair, job loss or family emergency is going to make these events a lot easier to handle.
As a 20-something, one of your most important assets is your human capital (or ability to earn an income). The more you learn, grow and challenge yourself, the greater your likelihood to command a higher salary.
 Whether you're giving your time or your earnings, donating in service to others provides opportunity for connection, growth and learning -- and it can be downright humbling.
It's up to you to decide if it's for better or worse. But communication is key and money should be handled by both of you together, not handed off to one partner.
Student loans are a lot more manageable if you start dealing with the accruing interest while you're in college. This will help keep your payments lower, and ensure that you're putting a bigger chunk towards principal upon graduation.
In the event of a car accident, having the right documents and insurance in place will make it easier on you, your family and your loved ones.
Having a savings account to handle surgeries, object removals and stitches can save your credit card the burden.
Check your score annually using a website like and make note of steps you can take to improve it.
Whether it's for bill payments, financial deadlines, interviews or travel. Plan to show up or pay early. This adds an extra layer of time protection against unforeseen circumstances, and it prevents late fees, change fees and just plain looking bad.
Learn to use credit wisely. Don't carry a balance on credit cards unless you understand the true cost of the interest.
Whether it's a new job, an upgraded car, some type of advanced technology or a consulting fee, do your research and know where the market is priced. Look online for rates, discounts (for products) and don't be afraid to ask to be paid more or to pay less. The worst that can happen is you'll be told "no." The best that can happen is that you'll earn or save more.
Don't pretend to understand something if you don't, and don't ever sign a contract without reading it in full. Educate yourself on the ramifications of any financial decision or contract you plan to enter into.
This is just a fact of life, and why I subscribe to the lifelong learning model.
When it comes to money, all work and no play makes it hard to stay motivated on the road to financial freedom. Taking time to celebrate the small wins along the way makes the journey much more enjoyable.
Quantifying goals -- by making them Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely -- helps to keep you accountable and invested in your progress.
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