In my work as a financial strategist, people often ask if I would have done anything differently with my own finances when I was first starting out, knowing what I know now.
While I don’t believe in regrets, I do think that I could have made some smarter choices along the way. Here’s some advice I would give my 22-year old self… or the real-talk I would give to a 22-year old client.
1. Start saving, like, right now. Even if you think you’re broke.
When you’re first starting out, struggling to balance a small starting salary with big dreams of living an adult life, it’s important to start developing healthy financial habits. Saving money is a habit. If you have the habit of spending all – or more – than you earn, you’re going to find it very difficult to save anything at all, regardless of how much your income grows. Develop the habit of saving money early, even if it’s as little as $20 a week, and set yourself up for millions later in life.
2. It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. It’s okay to ask for help.
As an accountant, I felt ashamed that I didn’t understand how to manage my personal finances and instead of asking for help I avoided it. For years. I had this idea that once I hit a certain age, it would all make sense.
Don’t confuse financial responsibility with maturity – we don’t all of a sudden know what to do just because we hit 30. Avoidance is never an acceptable strategy when it comes to your money. Pick up a book, talk to your family and friends, or call me! There’s no shame in acknowledging that you don’t know it all. So get uncomfortable, get talking. I bet you’ll discover that when you ask for help, your situation is not as bad as you thought it would be.
3. Experiences and relationships are more valuable than stuff. And more valuable than you think.
In my first year working on Bay Street, I was living at home and had very little student debt. What an opportunity! The sad thing is, I spent all my money on stuff. Stuff that hung my closet, sparkled around my wrist or dangled from my shoulder. I don’t have most of that stuff now … it was impulse buying simply because I had the money to spend.
While I was spending on all that stuff, my colleagues were taking summer trips to the south of France and going to music festivals. Experiences that I didn’t have the money for because of all the stuff I had bought. Looking back, I wish I had known that the enjoyment you feel from buying clothes and dinners are often quickly forgotten, but the enjoyment that comes from having adventures with your friends – the fun of planning, the excitement of experiencing it, and the warm glow of memories – lasts forever.
4. Focus on providing value. The money will follow.
Millennials have a bad reputation for being entitled. I’ve been guilty of this too. We expect big promotions and paychecks long before we’ve “paid our dues.” We don’t understand the Law of Compensation – the principle that the more we put in, the more we get out. Instead of wasting energy complaining about being underpaid, we should focus on being of service, on giving our best efforts in whatever situation we find ourselves in. Paying dues doesn’t necessarily mean waiting decades for a payout either; it’s not a question of time, it’s a question of value. If you’re not getting the money you want, be really honest with yourself about how much value you’re providing. Money comes to those who serve a need, really well, and make themselves irreplaceable while doing it.
5. Success isn’t measured in dollars; it’s measured in smiles.
At the end of our life when we look back and ask ourselves if we lived successfully, we’re not going to be interested in how much money we have in the bank. We’re going to be thinking about how many moments of joy we experienced; did we spend time with loved ones, were we true to ourselves, did we express who we are, did we chase our dreams, did we have fun? Financial success is a component of life success, as it’s a lot easier to smile when we aren’t worried about finding food, water and shelter. I think we live happier when we are in control of our money and spend it in ways that align with what matters most to us.
There’s a certain kind of happiness that comes from taking responsibility for our life. It’s not about just having money, it’s about what we do with it. Make sure you are using your money to live well in the moment, to prepare for your future, and to help others live well too. At (almost) 32, I wish my 22-year-old self knew what I know now and I’m sure at 42 I’ll have the same wish. There are lessons for us to learn through each phase of our lives as we get to know ourselves better.
Living in a way that honours who we are and what we value most – that’s what it really means to live rich .
Need financial planning for you or your 20-something? Find it here.
Lisa Zamparo is a financial strategist and lifestyle optimist, as well as a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA), business coach and personal finance expert in Toronto who helps people make intentional decisions with their money. As a one-on- one coach, her personalized approach to financial planning helps her clients achieve their goals by aligning their spending with their priorities. As an inspirational educator, Lisa leads workshops that infuse mindfulness principles with financial concepts delivered in a fun and approachable style.