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Now that I’m a wise old 31, I’d like to take a look back at my 20s and see where I made money mistakes and see if I can help you avoid what I did.

Going into your 20s you’re becoming an adult and learning how to adult at the same time. Depending on what your parent(s) taught you you could’ve been flexing these money muscles as you grew up, or else you learned by making mistakes like many of us do.

Do you even remember what you learned in school about money?

I remember one economics class that went over a “budget“ and compound interest, when I was a SOPHOMORE in high school and didn’t even have a job. How is that relevant to my life at that time? 

Thank you education system. Maybe a senior requirement would be better?

Learning these concepts of budgeting and compound interest at a young age is important to succeed, but not the only way to achieve success. I remember going into the real world immediately and thinking that I knew what to do because I knew how to pay my bills on time, I worked and had my student loans to help pay my way. But I had no clue what that meant for years to come.

I was building habits that would take years to undo. Mindsets that were instilled in me by society that I now could care less about. Living stereotypes that I thought I needed. Let’s talk about some of those.

1. Using student loans to live on. 

This was my first mistake. 

Looking back I wish I would have worked more to cover more of the cost of my education. I think over all of the school like I did I accumulated probably more than $50,000 of student loan debt.

I was living in the here and now, and not looking at what that meant for my future. I thought that this was going to help my future by getting a degree, but there are people who get these degrees without debt. 

Why couldn’t I be one of those people? 

I didn’t need the lifestyle that those loans provided me. I needed a better paying job, or two that was more practical for me (I commuted an hour to work at a convenience store) and to learn how to live on a budget and learn contentment instead. 

I would’ve been so much better off if I would have just google budget and contentment, I think. Damn know it all. 

2. Not living below your means. 

This mistake has different ways of looking at it in your 20s. You could be going to college, you could be going to trade school, you could have gone straight into working. 

Therefore, not living below your means could be in the form of taking out too much in student loans, getting credit cards and using those to live on, taking out private loans or more. 

I started college a month after I turned 18, just imagine the brain formation that still needed to happen. Instead of moving into the dorms I got an apartment with two friends. My parents helped pay my rent, but I was on my own for the rest of my expenses. I pulled out all of the student loans, worked part time and had too much free time. I was already living outside of my means without realizing it. 

No way in hell did I need so much money to survive. I think the same tactics from number one above are in order for doing better than I did. Get a better job, learn to budget, set values and priorities with your spending, and learn contentment. 

3. Letting credit card debt accumulate and financing everything

These two are one in the same. You are trying to buy things that you haven’t worked to earn. 

How many things can you remember putting on a credit card and not paying off the balance or financing because you couldn’t afford to pay for the entirety of the purchase? 

Off the top of my head, I remember buying a TV, multiple cars, my education, and a trip I never got to take. 

Each of these purchases I acted like I needed now, I thought that it didn’t matter if I paid in full now or if I kept a balance and continued to pay on it. The concept of compounding interest was always against me in these purchases but I never understood it. I never tried to make my money work for me instead I let others suck more money from me. 

The biggest lessons I learned to rid myself of using these two money pathways was saving and contentment. If I need something so bad I have an emergency fund for it, if it comes around on an annual basis I have a sinking fund for it. I’ve also learned patience and contentment, I don’t need a bigger car because I can afford the payments or a brand new car, ever (again), I don’t need a bigger tv because I can afford it or all of the cute decor that Target puts out on their shelves. I have learned to be happy with what I’ve got and that has saved my pocket book immensely. 

4. No emergency fund. 

I did not designate an emergency fund until it was 27 almost 28. 

Not that many emergencies came up in my life that I can remember, but I know that in my early 20’s if anything would have happened I know I wouldn’t have had any money to cover it. 

Eventually Kevin and I had money saved in a savings account but we never knew what to do with it. It just sat there. 

An emergency fund is an account of money that just sits there in case anything were to come up that needed cash immediately to fix or you lose a job. It’s your buffer between “oh shit, what am I gonna do” and “it’s okay I’ve got it covered.” 

It doesn’t have to be big to start but it should be there $500-$1,000. If you have this money stowed away you won’t get derailed. If you are later in your money journey you can have a larger fund but amounts will be different for everyone depending on your situation. 

5. Neglecting saving for retirement. 

I didn’t start saving for retirement until about 25 And that was in the form of a Roth IRA, which I didn’t understand at the time. I didn’t get serious about saving for retirement until 27. 

I started working at the age of 16, that’s 11 years missed saving for retirement. If only I knew what that meant back then. 

Now, in my mind if you’re not saving you’re not budgeting right. Sure your goal may be to pay off debt but if something comes up that might derail you and you haven’t saved for it then where does that leave you? 

The same goes for retirement, unless you are paying off all your debt in 6 months, don’t miss out on an employer match. The difference is small when it comes to your debt pay off goal but you could really miss out by not starting to fund your retirement.

6. Not creating money goals. 

I’ve set goals in other aspects of my life and achieve them but never thought to do it for my money. This was a mistake. 

It wasn’t until I was 27 that we made our first goal to pay off debt. It wasn’t the first time we paid off debt but it was the first time that we intentionally did it.

As soon as I set that goal to pay off debt, we were out of debt within seven months and working to save more money than we had ever had. From there we reset our goals to never go into consumer debt again and for the last three year we have not. 

7. Falling prey to societal norms. 

This mistake has so many different aspects, eating out often, going out with friends, gift exchanges, wearing makeup or jewelry, getting the newest tech, designer brands, having an expensive wedding, “needing” a newer/bigger car or a new/bigger house, etc.. This mistake is huge. 

Stop worrying about what other people may think about you and embrace your authentic self. 

Figure out what you want, not what society tells you you should want. There are ads all around us that influence us, set goals to mindfully ignore them. 

Set money values and live by them this will be your guiding beacon to spending your money and feeling proud of it. 

Set meaningful long-term goals and make achieving them a priority in your life. I pride myself in ignoring social norms. 


Even if you made these mistakes and you aren’t in your 20-30s don’t feel like you are a lost cause. Change is good to start however old you are and wherever you are on your money journey. 

Managing your money wisely can bring you more fun and fulfillment in your life. The more active you are with your money management the more freedom you can have financially, earlier.