When I think back, there are a few things I wish I had known in my early 20’s that would make my mid and late 20’s easier. In my early 20’s, it was simple for me to think that I would start saving money whenever I started my career or that I had to say yes to every opportunity that came my way. However, I am left thinking I should have done it differently. These tips apply even if you’re still in high school or in your late teens! Here are the 4 things I wish I had known in my early 20’s:
Pay Yourself First
It’s a mindset and I didn’t know that until now. I always thought, “I don’t make enough right now to save money.” Yes, I had bills to pay, but I also didn’t have rent to pay until I was nearly 23 years old. I could have easily saved $25 or $50 a paycheck, at minimum. When it came time to buy a new car when my old Cavalier wasn’t worth fixing anymore, I had to deplete my savings account for the down payment.
The crazy thing is that I learned about “Pay Yourself First” in a personal finance class in high school. I didn’t take it seriously at the time. The only money I was good at saving was additional money received, such as gifts, bonuses, refunds, etc…
My recommendation: Start saving today! Open a savings account if you don’t have one already. Even if you manage $50 a month, you’ll have a great head start. I highly recommend at least 10% of your pay go to this savings account. Then you can do what I did and save any additional money that comes your way. Before you know it, you’ll have built up a nice buffer for unexpected expenses.
Believe in Your Dreams and Find a Mentor
In high school, I found my niche, which was photography. I had my heart set on going to Savannah College of Art and Design. If you’ve ever looked at the tuition for that school, you would know that going there might not be easily attainable. I was also greatly discouraged by others to pursue photography as a career. Working as a creative freelancer isn’t always the most stable career and I knew that from personal experience since I watched a family member navigate the creative freelancer life.
I still pursued photography, but not full time. I was on my own learning the ropes and I know that I made a million mistakes. After photographing a few weddings, I was burned out. I wasn’t ready to take on wedding photography, but I chose to. Looking back, I wish I had found a mentor. With today’s access to groups on Facebook, it would be so easy. I wasn’t sure where to start in my early 20’s and I felt lost. A mentor would have helped me navigate the path to being a professional photographer.
My Recommendation: Believe in your dreams, more than your fears (and don’t listen to the naysayers). Find a mentor. Even if you pursue what you love as a hobby, it is worth every minute if it makes you happy. It might seem like a pipe dream in your early 20’s, but you will regret letting it go if you choose not to take the risk in pursuit of your dreams. Also, a mentor will encourage and inspire you. They have been in your shoes and they can at least be someone to talk to who has the same interests.
Say “No” more often
I took on way more than I could handle in my late teens and early 20’s. I was always helping others even when I wasn’t taking care of myself first. That was my first mistake! I was working over 40 hours a week while going to college full time, all because I couldn’t say no. I almost always had a second job or side hustle until 2014. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was burned out on “working hard”. I still have a strong work ethic, but now I also have strong boundaries.
My recommendation: Say no more often. Learn to make self care a priority. You can see my self care post here to get an idea of what you should be focusing on. Focus more on what makes you happy. If you can manage to work part time while going to school, then do that! If you can’t take on another “favor” for a friend or family member, say no! This is your life and you don’t want to lose the momentum to follow your passions.
There is a reason for your heartbreak
Oh my, was this a tough one to go through back then. Getting my heart broken and having high expectations for people who didn’t even have any expectations for themselves was devastating. I based my value on it. You know who’s going to break your heart? A lot of people. Family members, friends, significant others, crushes, and people you look up to. The best thing I have learned from this is that you can’t take it personally. Everyone is their own individual person navigating this crazy life and no one is really out to hurt you (except for psychopaths…but that’s a whole different ball game..).
You are going to learn to depend on yourself and to follow your intuition. Heartbreak is a way to make space for something greater. It may seem impossible and crazy in the moment, but you will see it all works out better given some time to step back and think clearly without as many emotions clouding your judgement in the moment.
After losing friends, I eventually learned to open up and I gained another best friend! I have found my soulmate. I have seen my family members and people I look up to be vulnerable and gracious of my support when going through tough times.
My recommendation: Cry it out and be sad, but then brush yourself off. Think positively and realize that everything happens for a reason. Open your mind to the possibilities and the lessons that life has to offer.
Do you have any tips to share?