Those of us who write and talk about money for a living tend to have our financial acts together. But that wasn’t always the case.
INVEST EARLY, EVEN IF IT’S SCARY
If the stock market scares you, nationally syndicated Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary can relate. Singletary says she avoided investing for many years because, in her first job out of college, an older co-worker who was close to retirement age warned her that stocks were too risky.
Singletary later realized that someone in their 20s has decades to ride out stock market swings and that she could have afforded to take much more risk with her investments.
The lesson I learned was to look at my own individual situation and invest based on my timeline and goals, Singletary says.
STUDENT LOAN DEBT CAN PAY OFF
Darian Woods , a reporter and producer for The Indicator from Planet Money podcast, says he can no longer remember exactly how much he borrowed to get a master’s in public policy from the University of California, Berkeley just that his balance was in the tens of thousands of dollars by the time he graduated.
The debt felt enormous. Woods wishes he could reassure his anxious younger self that the loans were a solid investment in his future. Woods, a New Zealand native, landed a job as an analyst for his countrys treasury department and was able to pay off the loans in a year.
That debt wasnt as much of an albatross as Id feared, Woods says.
SAVING, SPENDING, EARNING: THEY’RE ALL IMPORTANT
Paco de Leon , author of the book Finance for the People: Getting a Grip On Your Finances, has two bits of advice for her younger self. The first is to save, no matter what. Saving can feel futile on a small income, but the amount you save is far less important than the habit of saving that youll develop, she says.
The second piece of advice: Deal with your pain.
De Leon graduated with a degree in finance and a minor in economics. But a head full of knowledge about money concepts was no match for what de Leon calls a deep-rooted scarcity mindset and a profound sense of inferiority. De Leon says she didnt earn enough for years because she wasnt convinced of her own worth and bought expensive things she couldnt afford, hoping to get validation from others. She wishes her younger self had spent time in self-reflection and therapy to work through her psychological issues.
Do the work to heal your pain, so you arent creating more unnecessary problems for yourself, de Leon says.
DONT MAKE WORK YOUR LIFE
Tess Vigeland is host and senior producer of The Wall Street Journals As We Work podcast. She, too, has both practical and philosophical advice for her younger self.
The practical: Never, ever carry a credit card balance if you can help it
I got myself in deep credit debt throughout my early and mid-20s, because I lived life like I had my parents bank account, when in fact I had a tiny fraction of that, Vigeland says.
The philosophical: Develop interests outside of your job
Vigeland loved her work in public radio until she didnt. In 2012, she abruptly quit her job as host of American Public Medias Marketplace Money , a personal finance show, with no clue about what she wanted to do next.
Part of that journey became a book, Leap: Leaving a Job with No Plan B to Find the Career and Life You Really Want. But Vigeland says life after public radio might have been easier if her work hadnt been such a big part of her identity.
Have something you love to do outside of what you do for a living, Vigeland says. It will help down the line if you decide to leap to another career or go back to school you wont be stuck in just one idea of who you are and what you can do.
AND MY TWO CENTS
Most of us can look back at our younger selves and see how much we’ve matured over time. But somehow we think our evolution has stopped. Whether we’re just starting our careers or have long since retired, the so-called end of history illusion convinces us that we won’t change much from the person we are today.
If I’d known about this psychological quirk, maybe I would have worried less about getting it all figured out and making exactly the right career and money moves. Who I am and what I want won’t stay the same. I tell my younger self that the important thing is to do the best I can today, and let tomorrow take care of itself.
(Spoiler alert: It all works out.)
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