Growing up, I had these expectations of what my life was "supposed to look like" in my 20s: graduate from college, get a high-paying job as a doctor, buy a house, think about starting a family and save as much as possible. Much of this idea came from my immigrant Filipino parents. It wasn't because they didn't want me to live my own life, but this life they painted was part of their "American Dream". In their minds, the sacrifices they made to come to the U.S. would pave the way for a "better life" for my sister and me -- their idea of the kind of life they hoped we would have would be part of their success as immigrants.
When I got into my 20s, I struggled so much with honoring my parents' expectations and finding my own identity and way. I graduated from college but (obviously) did not become a doctor. I didn't buy a house because I started my career during the 2007/2008 real estate market crash -- making a living right out of college at that time was not easy. Whatever money I did save before and during that time, I had to use most it just to make ends meet while I built my book of business as a financial advisor. My parents helped me out where they could, but I was too ashamed to ask for help and was determined to make my financial and career situation work somehow.
Fast forward to now, I learned so much about myself and what I could have done differently in my 20s to be happier and live a richer life. If I could go back and give my younger self money and life advice, here are the biggest lessons I would tell her:
1. Learn how to create a spending plan (aka: budget) as early as possible.
I was frugal when I needed to be and lavish when I wanted to be but was not very good at tracking my money. My 20s were a time of exploring the world, finding myself and having fun. Though I did save some money, I didn't nearly save as much as I should have and would sometimes find myself struggling financially until the next commission check came in. Here's the thing, learning how to budget is a tool that everyone can use regardless of income and age -- the beauty about it is that it will evolve over time and can help us find the balance between living life with intention, saving for our financial goals and meeting our financial obligations.
2. Invest as early as possible.
Though my parents taught me that saving was important, they did not teach me about investing. Here's the hard truth: investing is what builds wealth... and with more time to invest, the greater the potential of compound interest and growth to meet financial goals. I would advise clients about investing, but within the first few years as a struggling financial advisor in the business, investing was not my main priority. However, if I learned how to budget with intention, I know that I could have started even with a small amount and build from there.
3. Your life doesn't have to fit someone else's plan.
This is a big one for me. I love my parents and everything they've done (and continue to do) for me and my family. To be honest, there are times now I still struggle to meet their expectations or idea of "where I'm supposed to be" in my life and career. One area I would tell my younger self to invest in is my mental health early on and to see a therapist more frequently to help me navigate through my challenges.
As I near a new decade of life, I remind myself that my money mistakes and struggles of my past does not define where I'm headed. They serve as lessons for me to learn from and now guide me in making smart money decisions that align with what's most important to me. These lessons are also all the more reason why financial education is important to start as early as possible and not wait until our 20s to learn how to be better with money.
What money advice would you give your younger self?