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Those of us who write and talk about money for a living tend to combine our finances. But this was not always the case. I’ve invited some personal finance experts to share what they’d like to tell their younger selves about money.
Invest early, even if it’s scary
If the stock market scares you, nationally syndicated Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary can talk about it. Singletary says she avoided investing for many years because in her first job after graduating from college, one of her older colleagues — who was close to retirement age — warned her that stocks were risky.
Singletary later realized that someone in their twenties had decades to weather the vagaries of the stock market, and that she could have taken more risk with her investment.
“The lesson I learned was to look at my individual situation and invest based on my schedule and goals,” says Singletary.
Student loan debt can be paid off
Darian Woods, reporter and producer of The Indicator from Planet Money podcast, says he no longer remembers exactly how much he borrowed to get his master’s degree in public policy from the University of California, Berkeley — only that his credit was “in the tens of thousands of dollars” by the time he graduated.
I felt a huge debt. Woods wishes he could reassure his anxious young self that the loans were a solid investment in his future. Woods, a New Zealand citizen, got a job as an analyst in his country’s Treasury and was able to repay the loans within a year.
“This debt was not an albatross as much as I feared,” Woods says.
Saving, spending and earning: they are all important
Paco de Leon, author of Finance for People: Take Control of Your Money, offers two tips for her younger self. The first is saving whatever happens. Saving may seem futile if the income is meager, but the amount you save is much less important than the saving habit you will develop, she says.
Tip 2: Deal with your pain.
De Leon graduated with a degree in Finance and a minor in Economics. But a head full of knowledge about notions of money was no match for what de Leon calls a “deep-rooted scarcity mentality” and a deep sense of inferiority. De Leon says she didn’t earn enough for years because she wasn’t convinced of her own value and bought expensive things she couldn’t afford, hoping to get endorsements from others. She wishes that when she was young she spent time on self-reflection and therapy to work through her psychological problems.
“Work on healing your pain, so you don’t create more unnecessary problems for yourself,” says de Leon.
paying off: Your career or the next step in life doesn’t have to be your “either or” choice. Give yourself an “alike” resolution.
Don’t make work your life
Tess Vigeland is the host and first producer of the “As We Work” podcast for The Wall Street Journal. She also has practical and philosophical advice for her younger self.
Practical: Never carry a credit card balance if you can help it.
“I drowned myself out with huge credit debt during my early and mid-20s because I lived life as if I had my parents’ bank account, when I actually had a fraction of that,” Vigeland says.
Philosophy: Develop your interests outside of your business.
Vigeland loved her work on public radio – until she didn’t. In 2012, she abruptly quit her job as the host of American Public Media’s “Marketplace Money,” a personal finance show, without any clue as to what she wanted to do next.
Part of that journey became a book, “Leap: Leaving a Job Without a Plan B to Find the Job and Life You Really Want.” But Vigeland says life after public radio might have been easier if her job hadn’t been so much of her identity.
“Get something you love to do outside of what you do for a living,” Vigeland says. “It will help if you decide to jump into another career or go back to school – you won’t get stuck in just one idea of who you are and what you can do.”
And my two years
Most of us can look at our younger selves and see how much we’ve matured over time. But somehow we think our evolution has stalled. Whether we’re at the beginning of our careers or retired long ago, the so-called “end-of-date illusion” convinces us that we won’t change much from who we are today.
We see: White-collar graduates are prone to stagnation – and they need to be smart when applying for jobs. Here’s exactly how to do it.
If I had known about this psychological issue, I would probably have been less worried about understanding everything and making the exact right career and money moves. Who I am and what I want will not remain the same. I would tell my younger self that the important thing is to do my best today, and let tomorrow take care of itself.
(Spoiler alert: Everything works.)
Liz Weston, CFP® writes for NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @lizweston.
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