Finance & Wealth

Financial Advisor Shares The 20 Best Financial Tips He Wishes He Could Tell His 20-Year-Old Self

By Robert Pagliarini | Jul 13, 2020
Robert Pagliarini | ACHNET

Most of my financial planning clients are business owners, older folks who want to focus on retirement planning, or sudden wealth recipients (think inheritance, lawsuit settlement, business sale, etc.). I’ve been working with clients for over 20 years, so many of my clients now have kids of their own that I also advise. These younger clients – Millennials for the most part – often have similar financial questions and concerns. They are worried about student loan debt, finding a good job, and creating financial success. I enjoy these conversations and they have caused me to think back to when I was younger.

What are a few of the things I wish I knew then? I’ve come up with a list. It’s not exhaustive, but I think it highlights many of the more important ideas that would have been critical for me to know when I was younger, and are equally as relevant today for Millennials (and really anybody who wants to improve their finances and life).

In no particular order, here are 20 things I wish I could tell my 20-year-old self...

1.Take bigger risks. You are playing it too safe. You are worried about little things and worried about failing when you shouldn’t. The time to learn to walk is when you are young and short. If you fall, you don’t fall that far. You think you have so much to lose if you fail, but you don’t when you are young. This is the time to take the big risks because you have time on your side if it doesn’t work out. Do you think when you’re older and have a mortgage, kids, bills, and a career that it will be less risky? Think about a risk that scares you – it could be starting a business, inventing something, taking a year to join the Peace Corps, backpacking across Asia, whatever – and then think about risk versus reward. If it doesn’t go well, what could you lose? I’ve talked to many older people who have regrets. People who say, “When I was younger I wish I would have…” Guess what? You are younger. Now is the time! It will never be less risky than it is today.

2.Invest in yourself more. The single best investment you can make is in yourself. This is especially true when you are younger. Why? You get to benefit from the education longer. Think of it this way, who is going to benefit more financially, the person who becomes a lawyer at age 72 or age 22? And it’s not just formal education or degrees that I’m referring to. Invest in yourself can mean anything where you are learning and growing. It includes reading, taking online courses, getting certifications, or even things like personal development programs. You are your best asset. The more you can invest in yourself the more valuable the asset becomes. What if you took an online course on how to become a better negotiator? You’d have 70 years where you could benefit – negotiating a better price on cars, houses, and even raises. I always suggest you learn a skill before you need the skill. This means keeping an open mind about what to learn and an open wallet. Nowadays, there are many free courses available, but don’t be afraid to spend money to grow. It’s the best investment you can make.

3.Get money smart. This is one of my favorites because it is so easy and it will pay you back year after year. One of the reasons people struggle financially is because they make uninformed decisions, but more commonly, they make no decision. Financial paralysis is real. I see it often in my practice. Nobody said investing or tax or personal finance was easy. In fact, it can be mind-numbingly complex. This causes a great deal of people to avoid financial decisions because they lack financial confidence. The mistake most people make is that they think they need to know much more than they really need to know. You don’t have to be an expert in all things money. You just need to learn a few basic principles and you will be far ahead of the pack.I recently published my fourth personal finance book, Get Money Smart: Simple Lessons to Kickstart Your Financial Confidence and Grow Your Wealth.What makes this interesting is that I didn’t even want to write it. A couple of years ago I was working with a 22-year-old client who received a large lawsuit settlement. He admitted that he didn’t know very much about money, taxes, or investing and that he was nervous about being responsible for so much money. He was thirsty for knowledge and asked for a recommendation for a simple book that would give him a brief introduction to the world of personal finance. “No problem,” I said, assuming there were dozens of great options from which to choose. Well, a week later I could still not find anything even remotely close to what I knew he needed. Instead, we decided to have weekly money coaching sessions where I would take a concept and do my best to explain it as simply as possible. I enjoyed doing this so much I decided to write Get Money Smart based on these lessons. If you want to increase your financial knowledge and confidence, this is a good place to start. Or if books aren’t your thing, sign up for a free Get Money Smart video course or take advantage of countless podcasts, audiobooks and webinars that will help get you money smart.

4.Move to opportunity. Most people will move for opportunity, but I think you should strongly consider moving to opportunity. What’s the difference? Moving for opportunity means you already have a job or position waiting for you, but moving to opportunity is being in a place where opportunity exists. I grew up in a smallish town where I concluded there was less opportunity, so I moved to Los Angeles without a job or plan. I strongly believe there is a geography of success. There are areas where ideas, jobs, and opportunities flourish. Be flexible and open to moving to these areas. Just because you grew up somewhere doesn’t mean you can’t create a new life somewhere else.

5.Be more thoughtful about your life and goals. It’s easy to be passive and reactive. That’s the default. The problem is that when you don’t take an active role in your own life, you become a pawn for someone else and their life. This doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers, but it does mean that you have to spend some time and thought about what you want to accomplish, be, and obtain. What is important to you? What do you want from your life? Think about these questions and come up with answers – even if they change (and they will). Be the architect of your own life.

6.Be obsessed with growth. This is one of my favorites because it can mean the difference between a mediocre life and an incredible life. Be obsessed with growth means that you are relentless about learning, experiencing, and become a better version of yourself each and every day. The common theme throughout many of these ideas is replacing passivity for activity. Trust me, as you get older there will be more demands on your time and energy. The only way to deal with the onslaught is to set priorities for yourself and not fall into a lull of reactivity. Be obsessed about doing things that are new, that scare you, and that will lead to your growth.

7.Develop the habit of saving/investing. Earlier I suggested you should spend money on yourself to learn and grow. You should also get into the habit of saving and investing even if you start with just a few dollars a week. The amount you save is less important. It’s the habit that you are creating that is important. When you make more money you will already have the “muscle memory” of saving and investing. To make things even easier, there are many apps that can help you save and even invest small amounts of money. Take advantage of these and get into the habit of saving at least 10% of your income.

8.Do not take on debt for school. This idea is probably the most controversial. There is one camp that says to do whatever it takes to get a degree – including taking on a lot of debt. I am not in that camp. You already know how strongly I feel about education and growth, but I think you can be smart about how you pay for it. There is no shame in going to a two-year college before going to a university. It can save hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime and you can still get your four-year degree. You should also consider working part-time while in school. This can help cover some of your expenses and keep you focused. Most of the successful people I know worked while in college and they agree that it not only helped their finances but it helped them do better in school because they were more focused and disciplined.

9.Forget about balance. I used to aim for balance until I realized I was getting mediocre results in everything I did. Balance, as most people think of it, is a joke and it will cost you dearly. Instead, commit all of your time, attention, and energy to one project or goal, make significant progress, and then shift to another project or goal. When I write a book, I become obsessed with it. Balance goes out the window. Any free time I have I am thinking about or writing the book. This means that I may temporarily neglect other areas of my life, but I’m okay with this because I know it is temporary. If you have to check out from your friend