Do you ever wish that you could go back and share your most important money lessons with your younger self? I know I do. There’s a good chance that the younger me wouldn’t listen to the older me. Think Young Biff’s reaction to Old Biff sharing the sports almanac in Back to the Future Part II.

The older version of you has the benefit of hindsight after years of mistakes and having experiences that have shaped you into the person that you are today. As much as we might like to, we don’t have time machines and we can’t travel back in time. But hopefully, some young person (or older person, even) will stumble across these words and save themselves some heartache and pain by avoiding the same pitfalls that I have. With that in mind, let’s dive into a few money lessons.

10 Things I Wish I Knew 10 Years Ago

Here are 10 Things I Wish I Knew About Money 10 years ago. 

Lesson #1: Stop nagging that man about the budget.

Just stop it, save yourself a lot of time, a lot of energy, and just stop it. After being married almost two decades (I know, I’m an old married lady) I’ve come to learn that you can’t force a man to do anything he doesn’t want to do.    And it’s not your job to do that. Over the years I’ve encountered countless women who find themselves frustrated because their husbands won’t get on board with the budget. Although every man and every marriage is different, my advice would be don’t waste your time nagging a man that’s reluctant to get on board with the budget. I spent YEARS trying to beat my husband over the head with the budget. So much so that I earned the nickname ‘the budget hawk’ because I was constantly squawking my disapproval about minor money matters. I also realized, after several years, that my husband Eric is a ‘big picture’ guy. He just isn’t into the nitty-gritty details of the money like I am. He just isn’t built like that.    

Today, I know to just do what I do, and not try to force my money beliefs on him. Of course, two heads are better than one, but if he refuses to budge or participate then avoid the anger and resentment and instead move forward with budgeting, paying off debt, and building wealth on your own.  wanting my husband or try to force him into doing things that he doesn’t necessarily want to do. If I could go back and chat with a 20-something-year-old Nicole I’d tell her to avoid wasting unnecessary time and energy. Instead, focus on what you can change instead of what you can’t. You’ll be better off doing the actual work of building wealth instead of spending it convincing another grown person why he needs to change. In the case of my future self, things eventually worked out okay. Though I wasn’t successful in converting my husband into a budget nerd, today he is more interested in discussing money and our future goals. Once I laid off the nagging he was more receptive to hearing what I had to say.   

Recommended Post: 4 Money Lessons From 15 Years of Marriage

Lesson #2: You don’t have to prove anything to anybody.

Now, I’ve never been the person that flexes on other people as far as physical possessions like cars or designer handbags. But if I’m being honest I’ve derived esteem from being accomplished in my educational pursuits and career. The younger me felt that she had something to prove. Growing up I felt that certain people in my life expected me to fail so became driven by the idea of proving people wrong. And what better way to do it than to show people that ‘I made it’.  

Although I wasn’t trying to Keep up with the Jones’ in the traditional sense, I went on to earn three (expensive) college degrees to get the coveted letters behind my name. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with pursuing education and I have no regrets whatsoever about earning those degrees. But I do wish that I hadn’t spent so much time being preoccupied with what other people thought about me.  What I know now, as a mature woman quickly approaching 40, is that no one was sitting up at night on pins and needles, consumed with thoughts like ‘I bet Nicole is going to fail’. Yet I spent years of my life being a chronic box checker and goal-getter to prove something to people who weren’t even paying attention.

I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that you don’t have to prove anything to anybody. Instead, spend more time exploring what you truly want in life and pursue those things, because you want to, not because you think it’ll impress folks. 

Lesson #3: Invest a portion of every single paycheck.

Oh, my goodness. This lesson right here really hits home. Although I did make the wise choice to invest in my 401k in my early working years, I wasn’t nearly as aggressive as I now wish I had been. I wish I could go back and just start from day one with that very first big girl paycheck that I earned right out of school and just put a little bit aside. I’d easily be a multi-millionaire by now if I had the foresight to do so.

But at the time as a 20 something-year-old person, I wasn’t really thinking long-term. I simply wanted to celebrate the fact that I’d finally finished school and was no longer a broke college student. I could actually spend real money! And I did. But if I had that time machine, I’d go back and tell homegirl to pass on the expensive luxury car with the $500 car payment. Instead get something a little more practical, less expensive, and then invest the difference.

Lesson #4: You need a budget, even if you make “good money”.

Unfortunately, there’s this misperception that if you make “good money” (whatever that means) that you can get away with not having a budget.  you don’t need a budget or because you are a high-income earner that you don’t need to be intentional about budgeting and tracking your money. Ten years ago, I probably fell into the trap of thinking that I could just simply wing it. I didn’t have any real strategy behind how I was spending or saving my money, because I comfortably earned enough to cover the bills and pay off my credit card at the end of the month.

But what I found was that I was not really making good long-term moves with my money. I was wasting a lot of money on things that I didn’t need because I didn’t have a true money plan. One of my favorite quotes from Zig Ziglar is “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time”. Regardless of how much money you’re earning, you need a spending plan to strategically approach expenses, savings, and investments.

Recommended Post: 7 Reasons Why Your Budget Isn’t Working


Lesson #5: Chill as hard as you hustle.

One trait I’ve never been short on is a good work ethic. And I think this comes from being raised by a mother who had multiple jobs and was always hustling in order to provide for her kids. That’s just what I saw modeled.  But because of that, over the years, I have developed the bad habit of workaholism.

I didn’t know when to turn off the hustle.

One day I also came to the realization that I often worked hard and stayed busy so that I could avoid dealing with my feelings. When I’m upset, pissed off, sad, or depressed I retreat into my work as a way to avoid addressing my feelings. Over the years my workaholic tendencies served me well. Side hustling was my go-to strategy for paying off nearly six-figures of student loan debt (remember all those degrees I mentioned earlier…). The additional money that I earned was great! But too many times I found myself emotional, physically, and spiritually depleted because I simply worked myself to the bone. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self to chill as hard as I hustle. There’s nothing wrong with hustling, there’s a time and place for everything under the sun. But always remember to take care of YOU while you’re getting your hustle on. 

Lesson #6: Not everyone is going where you want to go.

One of my current money affirmations is to become the first millionaire in my family. But not everyone shares that vision for their lives. Yeah, they might even say they want to be a millionaire but quickly lose steam when its time to do the actual work that’s required. When I discovered the beauty of debt-free living, naturally I wanted to shout it from the rooftops.  But here’s the thing. Not everyone wanted to hear it. Not everyone was interested in hearing about budgeting and saving just because I stumbled across a new path in my life. But at the time I didn’t realize this. Why wouldn’t everyone want to embrace debt-free living with all their being?

I still don’t know the answer to this question but I now know it’s not for me to figure out. Everyone has to walk their own path in their own timing. It’s not my job to convert people that aren’t interested. But in those early years, I was probably a little too aggressive and in your face about it with folks. So I’d recommend not spending a lot of time and energy trying to convert these people who aren’t quite ready to receive the message. I now prefer to lead by example and share what I’ve learned if and when people are ready to hear. If you find yourself alone on the journey to financial freedom and don’t have people IRL (in real life) that support you, find a group of like-minded individuals with similar interests who can help to keep you motivated and inspired along the way.

Recommended Post: Debt Freedom, Financial Freedom, FIRE…What’s the Difference? 

Lesson #7: Be more aggressive with your investments.

I don’t necessarily mean be to invest aggressively in stocks or funds. I simply wish I’d been more aggressive with the amount of money that I invested from the beginning. Early on in the game when I first began investing, I wasn’t very knowledgeable about what investments to make or where to invest my money. And as a result of that, I wasn’t as aggressive as I wish I had been.

Unfortunately, as women, we’re affected by the gender pay gap, the pink tax, and as female investors, we tend to be more conservative investors. These factors can negatively impact our ability to accumulate wealth long-term. If I really want to accomplish BIG money goals I literally can’t afford to remain paralyzed by fear and lack of knowledge. In today’s world, lack of information isn’t a valid excuse not to invest. If I could go back and talk to the younger version of me about investing I’d say put on your big girl panties and go big or go home.

Recommended Read: The Secrets of Women Investors

Lesson #8: Stop buying so much crap.

You don’t need it!! You definitely don’t need all that home decor. You don’t even have an eye for decorating so let it go. (You may have a great eye for home decor- I’m talking to myself with this one). I’d also tell my younger self- You don’t need all those shoes. You don’t need 20 makeup palettes. You just need to stop! Instead, use that money to pay back that student loan debt.

Although there is nothing wrong with a cute new bag or pair of shoes, I now know that my money could have gone to better uses, like paying down debt faster or investing as we talked about in lesson 7. 

Lesson #9: Figure out your retirement number now.

Like most 20-somethings,  I didn’t think much about retirement. I figured I had plenty of time to figure it all out later. Thankfully I had the foresight to put a few dollars in my 401k in my 20s, but I didn’t think much beyond that. If you’re reading this and you’re in your twenties, just take a few moments to think about what you want your life to look like in 20, 30, or 40 years. And now, remind yourself that money is required for almost everything that you just thought about.

The way you save, spend, invest your money today will impact your future in more ways than you can imagine.

So although it may seem like a long way off, open up your journal or planner and write down what you think your retirement number should be. Who knows? You might be way off, but at least you have a goal post to work towards. You can always go back and fine-tune the details later. But start thinking with an eye on long-term planning. 

Lesson #10: You CAN retire early and super-wealthy if you play your cards right.

Living in the moment is fine. But I like the idea of living today while keeping an eye on tomorrow as well. Had I stumbled across the idea of financial independence in my 20s or seen early retirement modeled, I might have been more inclined to see it as a possibility for my own life. Back then financial independence wasn’t a thing. A certainly not a thing talked about in my community. 

Again, I know I can’t go back in the past, so my hope is simply that someone will stumble across these words and realize that it’s possible for you. You may be kicking yourself about not making all of the right money choices when you were younger. Believe me, you’re not alone on that one. But we can’t go back. All we can do is learn from our mistakes and do better now because we know better. 

What’s one money lesson you wish you would have learned 10 years ago?