What I would tell my 23-year old self about life

48 thoughts on “What I would tell my 23-year old self about life”

  1. I think one of the key things is that you learned from your experiences/mistakes and changed your mindset and behavior. I have a 50+ year old brother who is stuck in YOLO mode who will have to work until he dies based on his choices. He’s having a heck of a lot of fun – but can’t see past tomorrow.

    1. You’re absolutely right, Vicki. Making mistakes is one thing, but we do need to learn from them. We need to realize that there might be a better way. Some, like your brother, may not realize it. And that’s okay, I guess. Early retirement certainly isn’t for everyone. Maybe your brother wants to work for the rest of his life? Maybe?? πŸ™‚

  2. Good advice to get it out of your system, have a wake up call and to move on. Not everyone has that wake up call though, like Vicki’s brother in the previous comment. I think it’s great to enjoy life young and not be afraid to spend a couple extra bucks here and there.

    Do you still have the Oakleys? May not have been a horrible purchase if they last a lifetime πŸ™‚

    1. It’s true that no everyone has the wake up call. Some, unfortunately, may never get that call. Regarding the Oakley’s, no, I made an involuntary donation to the ocean down at Puerto Vallarta a couple of years ago. Now, some fish is wearing them, struttin’ around the sea bottom coooooool as a cucumber.

  3. Unfortunately my student loans kept me from living it up Corvette wise, but I got an extended living it up phase by getting 2 more years of college by getting my masters full time immediately after undergrad.

    I did the same thing eating out wise – 4 days a week at work (some of the guys I used to do it with still go 4 days a week)

    While I don’t appreciate the SL payments, they did propel me into a financially responsible lifestyle

    1. Interesting how your student loans actually prevented you from making bigger mistakes. Very cool. Also, you made a very, very wise decision to just go ahead and get your Masters directly after your undergrad. I had considered doing that, but a job fell into my lap so I took it instead. I tried to go back to school about a decade later, but I was so disillusioned with the entire educational process that I couldn’t continue.

  4. I like this approach. I had a similar answer when asked what I would go back and change if I could change one thing. I am who I am today because of the things I have experienced and the decisions that I have made (even when those decisions were mistakes!).

    Thanks for a thought-provoking read!

    1. Thanks Matt. Yeah, I don’t enjoy answering those kinds of questions either because, like you said, all those experiences (and mistakes) from the past ultimately shape the people that we are today. If we hadn’t learned from our mistakes in the past, we might be making them *TODAY*. That’s no better of a situation to be in! πŸ™‚

  5. I often get asked this too, I’m not sure my 23 year old self would listen. Most certainly learn from past mistakes, but some don’t and never will. I don’t get caught up in “what ifs” I focus on what I can do going forward. We are teaching our three teenagers as much as possible. I’m hopeful they will make better choices then I did at 23 or 33 with the knowledge they have, but only time will tell. I realize as much as I can teach and explain there are some things they will just need to figure out on their own.

    1. I know my 23 year old self wouldn’t have listened. My dad tried to teach me some of this, too. I accepted it. I listened. But I never actually changed my behavior. I was having too much fun. Like you said, much of this stuff I had to realize on my own. The “Oh, so my dad was right after all…” kind of thing. πŸ™‚

  6. I’m 26, so not very much older than 23. Although the past 3 years has brought a lot of change and tribulation. I found the early FI community right before turning 22, so I think I avoided making HUGE mistakes. Every day, every month is an opportunity to improve. I will tell others just graduating the following – find a way to max out the 401K from the beginning, max out your IRA, save some more, and then live. Our generation will not have pensions, will probably not have social security, and may not have kids to take care of us. And if we do have kids, we probably made them so independent, the thought of taking care of us won’t even be on their radar.

    1. Very cool, Mrs. Savvy! Definitely wish I found this community sooner, but better late than never. Definitely sounds like you’re set up for some serious wealth building! πŸ™‚

  7. Well, add one more to the “learned a lot” list!! It is a large band of brothers/sisters….
    Would I change a thing I did? Eh, no.
    Looking back, the stories I can tell about vacation experiences, living it up are plentiful and actually no where near as interesting as actually being there, doing it.
    That old adage of “been there, done that, bought the T-shirt/sunglasses” has been true for me and a heck of a lot of fun in the doing.
    Yet it is always tempered with some level of moderation. It was never completely wild and crazy.
    Moderation in everything, including moderation…..

    1. Ha! Love the last line in your comment. Yes, even moderation should be done in moderation with spurts of crazy thrown in here and there. That’s what makes life interesting! πŸ™‚

  8. I know my 23-year old self would not listen to my 41-year old self’s advice at. all. And, truly, if I could go back and do it over again, I don’t think I would change anything. My biggest financial mistake was getting my master’s degree straight out of undergrad. For most people, this is a wise move but I got my degree in social work – not a lot of money in that field. In addition, we started a family one year after graduation and, soon after, I became a stay-at-home parent. But, I loved the process of getting my degree, the amazing connections I made, and the life lessons learned ($36,000 later). Wouldn’t take back that financial “mistake” in a second!

    1. I don’t think I’d change anything either. I know that comes across as arrogant, but it shouldn’t. Our life experiences make us into the people that we are today. Nothing wrong with that! πŸ™‚

  9. I agree with the sentiment. The 23 year old me would not have listened either. When you come out at a young age you want to take on the world and you feel invincible. Your convinced that you will make it by sheer grit alone. I see this these days in the young hires at work as well. Gung ho and ready to go, which is great, but not yet recognizing that the world doesn’t quite work as simply as what led you to your career would have you believe. If you bust your tail there is no guarantee your pay will just keep increasing to reflect your lifestyle and you can not work forever. Hopefully some life event rounds you out and does it in such a way that you can recover. The only advice I might add is try not to do something so stupid you pay for it 20 years from now. It’s a short list that can do that thankfully.

    1. True that, Full Time Finance! Mistakes that don’t come back to bite you in the ass are definitely preferable. For example, running up $25,000 in credit card debt proooooooobably isn’t the best course of action…regardless of your age! πŸ™‚

  10. Making the mistakes young and learning from it is important. I’ve done many of the same things at that age and have since turned around. You may find that the material things, spending money that you don’t have, and living check to check is not for you. In that case, you make the necessary changes and set yourself up for financial success.

    Climbing the corporate ladder is good for some. It’s also a way to figure out if you truly like the responsibility of direct reports. If not, there are plenty of good paying jobs without. There’s different paths for different folks, that’s what makes personal finance, personal.

    1. Well said, Josh. We learn by trying. I had no idea that I hated management until I got a chance to be one. Today, I wouldn’t touch a management position with a 10-foot pole. Lesson learned, big time!

  11. I graduated college at 21 and started a big boy job, so maybe by 23 I would of listened to FIRE advice, but definitely not at 21. At 21 I had dollar signs in my eyes. I wanted to make the big bucks. Big house, another house, cars, etc. Professors glorified their previous careers and the money a lot in school. But then once I worked for a while and saw what my boss’s lives were like. I was like THIS ISN’T for me!

    1. I had those very same dollar signs, Fervent. It wasn’t that I wanted to be filthy rich, but I definitely wanted to live “comfortably”, and at the time, I defined the word comfortable as “having all the things that I wanted”.

      Like you, I quickly realized that corporate America wasn’t for me.

    1. Sorry, pressed the button too early. πŸ™‚
      Meant to say:

      That’s a great point: You can’t tell someone how to ride a bicycle. They have to learn for themselves. Fall off the bike a few times. Maybe give some tips on how not to kill themselves, but some insights have to be learned from real experience, not out of books, not from being told.

  12. This is a really great perspective Steve. I’m 25 and so I loved reading this post because it was very easy to relate to.

    I’ve only been tracking my expenses and trying to manage money well for a little over a year now. I’ve always been more of a saver, but my attitude towards money throughout college was “spend as little as possible while splurging every now and then.” Getting married, having a few months of unemployment, and then getting my first salaried job all helped light a fire under my butt and I decided I needed to learn as much as possible to remove the stress of money from our lives.

    It takes having that lightbulb moment before things really start to change. 23 year old you wasn’t ready for it yet, and the things you experienced helped shape your attitudes about money and your goals of early retirement. It’s kind of like having some bad relationships before finally meeting your future wife. You have to experience the bad to really be able to properly treasure the good. Without those years of excess consumption on frivolous purchases, you likely wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate the simplicity of traveling in an RV with minimal possessions. It’s awesome that you take those lessons and appreciate those experiences, rather than beating yourself up over past mistakes.

    1. Thanks Matt! The “spend as little as possible while splurging every now and then” seems pretty reasonable. I wish I had that perspective when I was in my mid 20s. Your analogy about bad relationships before meeting the wife is an excellent one. You start to recognize what you want and what you don’t. You see the signs that point to future success (or failure). The more you experience, the more you know.

      Thanks for the comment!

  13. This really made me feel better about the dumb mistakes I made during college. I remember dropping $200 on multiple pairs of Ray Bans which I then went ahead a lost! I spent tons of money on stupid clothes that I never wore. Looking back, I made at least $30,000 in total during my college years and have nothing to show for it. But at least those mistakes were made in my teens and early 20th.

    1. $30,000 during your college years? Wow, nicely done! That’s head and shoulders above what I made. But you’re right, at least you made those mistakes in the past. You’re on the straight and narrow now, pushing towards early retirement. Like a boss! πŸ™‚

  14. This is an interesting perspective. I think the key is that you got the “live it up” out of your lifestyle. While part of me wishes I had gotten more out of my system when young (I’m really jealous of my husband’s tale of his 3 month cross continent post college road trip), part of me is also glad that I didn’t dig myself into a much deeper hole than I did by not paying attention to my financial responsibilities to myself in my early to mid 20s.

    Glad it worked out for you and allowed you to focus on doing what you needed for early retirement, but I’m less sure it’s an approach I’ll encourage in my daughter when she gets there. (Well, maybe that 3 month road trip.)

  15. I am sure 23 yr old me wouldn’t have listened either, but I would have told myself to stop using credit cards to buffer my lifestyle, and STOP taking out student loans!!

    Ironically, lke others, it was the student loans and credit card debt that kept us from really inflating our lifestyle initially. Sure, I still got a new Camaro, and we had fun, but Mrs. SSC focused a lot of our extra $$ to the debt, so in a couple of years we’d paid down almost $80k in debt. By then we’d hit the “God, is this all there is from life?” mode and were used to living comfortably without that extra debt money to spend so we saved it and started saving more.

    If I could change things, no, I wouldn’t exercise that option. Mainly because I wouldn’t have the perspective or appreciation of where I am now. That’s kind of nice in its own way.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Mr. SSC. I agree, it’s nice having that perspective and recognizing the effect that the mistakes you made in the past has over your life now. In a way, my Corvette purchase was like my version of student loans…albeit much, much more fun I would imagine! πŸ™‚

  16. Dumb mistakes are OK as long as you learn from them and stop making the same mistakes again. When you’re 23 year old, nobody expect you to be making the correct decision all the time.

  17. I’m the same age as you are and I totally agree. I thought I knew everything there was to know and you couldn’t convince me otherwise. I thought being a finance major in college made me an expert on the stock market and I was constantly tinkering with my portfolio trying to optimize it. What I was doing was legalized gambling and had no business doing what I did.

    Looking back I would have told myself to buy more ETFs and less time worrying about the stock market. If anything buy way more shares when the market tanks. Also if I have a time machine I’m also telling myself to buy Amazon, Apple and Google πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks for the comment, Mustard Seed! I like your final comment the most – yeah, if I had to do it all over again, I’d get in early on Google and Amazon for sure! Good call. πŸ˜‰

  18. “My mistakes make me appreciate better choices”
    This is gold. Thanks for sharing. I think you’re right. We can’t always learn from other people’s mistakes–sometimes we have to make our own–but at least hearing from others that we’re making a mistake lets us know where to head for help when we’re ready.

    1. Thanks Julie, appreciate the comment. You’re right…mistakes, if used wisely, can be better lessons about life than anything we might “learn” in school, or even from our parents.

  19. I am still not sure what I would have told myself, because I am just 25. To my 18 year old self, I would have told to relax and not to take ENGINEERING as a course. I would have told myself to build some skills that could help me earn money without doing a job in any corporate sector. Try new things. Invest in yourself, invest in your business. Don’t be afraid. This is the right time to take risks.

    1. Thanks Bodhik – trying new things, that’s one that I’ve become a huge believer in the last few years (which might help explain why we live in an Airstream right now). Trying new things makes life way more interesting, after all! πŸ™‚

  20. Very informative and useful post regarding youths now a days how one supposed to spend money on things. This is the best post which guide young generation towards success and especially those who are after money at the young age. I expect many more posts like this from this site as it throws light on the many youths dilemma now a days in this competitive age.
    Thank you, have a good day!

  21. Great piece, Steve. The wisdom is now bought and paid for. And you’ve figured it out so much earlier than most. In order to get where you are now, you truly needed to go through the “School of Hard Knocks”. As someone a decade older yet still behind you on the march to FI…I applaud you. Well done.

  22. I think everyone makes some financial mistakes when they are younger, but what is important is that you learn from them and get on the right track. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Exactly right! Everybody makes mistakes, but learning from them is definitely a critical element to improving our lives and accomplishing our goals.

  23. those who are after money at the young age. I expect many more posts like this from this site as it throws light on the many youths dilemma now a days in this competitive age.
    Thank you, have a good day!

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