- In my 20s, I always had a great time — sometimes at the expense of my money and my health.
- Now that I’m in my late 30s, I’ve learned that money isn’t the point. It’s how you use it to build a life you love that matters most.
- I wish I could tell my 20-year-old self that learning about money can be fun, there’s no such thing as a dumb question, and that your physical and mental health is by far the most important thing.
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My 20s were all about YOLO, realizing that it got me into debt, and getting more serious about money.
Like many people, I made a ton of mistakes — along the way, I learned to relax a bit and learned a lot of lessons about building wealth that I still use in my late 30s.
If I could go back in time, here are a few surprising lessons I’d want to tell my 20-year old self about building wealth.
Money is secondary
Yes, money is important. Learning now to manage it by budgeting and investing well is certain the key to a sound financial future. However, only thinking about building wealth in terms of the numbers is not the most effective way to do it.
What I’ve learned is that you need to think of the life you want to create — get really honest about what’s truly important to you — and find a way to weave money into it. For example, I really valued freedom and creativity in my life, so I found teaching contracts at schools that offered good pay with plenty of time off so I could travel the world. I learned that an emergency fund was necessary when I made the leap to self-employment.
It’s not that money isn’t important (because it is), but it’s only important in the context in how it will serve your life goals. I learned that it requires a lot of honesty and check-ins with myself to see if I’m building wealth in a way that will truly improve my quality of life.
Learning about money can be fun
Growing up with a family of accountants (including most of my extended relatives), I used to roll my eyes whenever I’d hear different financial terms. Working with spreadsheets wasn’t exactly my version of fun, but looking back, learning about money could have been.
Sure, looking at amortization charts may not have been relevant to me in my early 20s, but I could have found a way to make learning how to build wealth more relevant to me. In other words, learning about money can be fun if put in the right context.
For example, I would have learned how to negotiate more so that I could use the extra money towards an emergency fund for when I experienced a bout of unemployment. Or found ways to utilize travel rewards so I could travel to more countries.
There’s no such thing as a dumb question
Money — especially building wealth — isn’t always taught, and it can be hard to learn about if our parents don’t lead the way. I was too proud to ask my parents or even read books on money until I had to when I became unemployed and was in $9,000 worth of credit card debt.
There are an incredible number of resources to learn about finances, including experts. But it’s up to us to apply them in our lives.
You can make money doing what you love
Making money doing what you love isn’t about following your passions. It’s about honing in on your skills and understanding that work doesn’t always have to be a grind. However, it takes know-how and the ability to see what skills are needed in the market and how to negotiate for a better salary.
In my 20s, all I wanted to do was to be an artist, but I knew that selling paintings for a living may not be the way to riches. Instead, I combined my love for sharing the arts with my teaching degree to teach elementary school children art while I was living overseas.
When it came time to transition into a more flexible career, I took my love of writing and marketed myself to become a full-time freelance writer. No lie: Now I truly enjoy what I do.
Your health is what’s most important
Building wealth is important, but what good is it if you’re not around to enjoy it? In my 20s I had more than my fair share of partying days and ate too much junk food. Now that I’m older (and hopefully wiser), I want to be able to spend my money in ways I can enjoy it. Besides, well-prepared meals from local ingredients taste so much better.
Aside from physical health, I’ve learned that mental is just as, if not more important. I take time out of my day to use a meditation app and slow down in the morning to have some quiet time to myself. All of these self-care practices help give me a clearer head so that I can figure out how to use money in the best way I can to suit my lifestyle.
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