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Decisions we should have made or actions we should have taken in the past seem painfully obvious to us from our vantage point in the present. The only thing we can do is attempt to learn from our past mistakes to try and avoid making the wrong choice in the future. But there are still a few things I wish I could do over, some things I would change, and some lessons I would try to teach my younger self if I had the chance.
Lesson One: A Well-Paying Job Is Hard to Find
Well-paying and fun part-time jobs for teenagers in high school aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, but when I was seventeen I somehow managed to charm my way into a position at Barnes & Noble. As someone who grew up with her nose in a book, this was a dream job. I worked at the bookstore for year, and in that time I earned myself a raise, made friends with my coworkers, and got a killer discount on books. But I hated that I had to work nights and weekends and I hated the handful of customers who were rude and mean. Being the ungrateful teenager that I was, these minor complaints convinced me retail was beneath me, and I quit. Had I stuck with it, that job would have taken me through college with far more money than I actually ended up making with the job I eventually found as an administrative assistant.
Lesson Two: Stick with Quality (Even If It Means You Have Less Quantity)
It took me a very long time to figure out what style was. I don’t remember owning a dress before college, but by the time I made it to high school I had at least realized that I didn’t want to wear boot-cut jeans, baggy t-shirts, and my hair in a ponytail every day for the rest of my life. Feeling like I had to buy so many clothes to keep up with the volume of outfits other girls seemed to have and working with an extremely limited budget created my habit of buying clothes that were cheap or because they were on sale (even if they didn’t quite fit). Eventually, I made another fashion realization: my closet was full of ill-fitting clothes so cheaply made that they fell apart after two months of wear. Although I bought everything on the clearance rack, I had to replace clothes so often I ended up spending far more than I would have had I just started out buying a few high-quality, better-made staples. I wish I could tell my younger self not to buy something just because it’s on sale. Instead, invest your money in a few versatile, classic pieces that will last for years.
Lesson Three: How Much Stuff You Have Is No Indication of How Successful You Are
More than anything, I wish I had I been able to teach my younger self this financial lesson: just because you look rich doesn’t mean you’re wealthy. I had friends from rich families who drove luxury cars and they never wore the same outfit twice. I knew adults who owned multiple homes, went on overseas vacations or took cruises four times a year, and ate out at the best restaurants in Atlanta every weekend. And they all had so much stuff.
In every case my thought was always the same: how are these people affording so much stuff and why can I afford so little? I was so jealous of all these people and would endlessly compare myself them, wondering why I couldn’t be successful like they were. It never occurred to me that these “rich” people couldn’t afford it. They were living on credit, had mortgages that they couldn’t pay, were drowning in debt from all the student loans they’d taken out in college to finance their fancy lifestyles instead of their tuition, and had never saved a dollar toward retirement. The lesson for younger me? Just because someone looks rich doesn’t mean they have wealth. Because I saved and invested my money instead of flaunting it, driving it, or wearing it, today I’m far wealthier than the people I used to envy.
What money lessons do you wish you had learned sooner? What financial wisdom would you share with your younger self if you had the chance?