21 things about life and money I wish I could tell my 20-something self

I turned 33 this year and believe it or not, I embraced it like I did my 21st birthday (well, almost). Truth is, I don’t hate getting older. I actually kind of like it. Sure, life gets more “complicated” as we get older, but that’s really only because we start paying attention to the things that are complicated.

I wasn’t the most financially responsible person in my 20s. Most people aren’t. And if I’m being honest, I’m still not sometimes. The difference is, I can now admit how much I still have to learn about life, when 10 years ago, I knew everything. This doesn’t mean I have regrets, because everything that happened in my 20s (and my past in general) has led me to where I am today. But do I wish I could go back and tell my younger self a few valuable things about life? Um, absolutely.

I’m a big believer that regretting the past is a waste of time. Thinking “shoulda, woulda, coulda” just wastes precious energy that could be spent on the here and now. I finally accepted this idea when I heard this one simple phrase,

You don’t know what you don’t know.

All this means is that you do the best with what you have and learn any chance you get. Rather than regret the past, learn from it. Because whether it’s yours or someone else’s, taking a look into the past to learn a few valuable lessons can save you a whole lot of time, money, energy and mistakes.

Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

1. Perfection isn’t real

Stop chasing perfection, because you will continue to fail. Instead, always do your best and be happy with it. Sometimes good enough is exactly that — good enough.

2. “Miss out” more

Is it really worth the money? Or would you rather buy a car in a couple of years without having to get a car loan? Pick and choose how you spend your time and money, because you have a limited amount of both.

3. Figure out what your values are

What do you truly value in life? The sooner you try to figure that out, the sooner you can spend your time, energy and money on things that actually matter to you. Here are a few ideas:

  • Family

  • Teaching/Being a leader

  • Financial stability

  • Relationships

  • Volunteering

  • Being part of a team

  • Travel

4. Stop complaining

It’s a waste of energy and no one wants to hear it. If you can change it, do it. If you can’t, move on.

Read more: 40 things you can do today to regain control of your income

5. It’s not that big of a deal

Brush it off, go with the flow and stop worrying so much. Take some time to breathe and relax more, because that’s what is going to get you through the things that are a big deal.

6. Spend more time with family

It’s the only family you’ve got and they will be there for you, teach you and love you in more ways than you could ever imagine.

7. Invest in people who invest in you

Invest your energy in the people who are willing to do the same. Accept people for who they are, which includes their limitations, and build your relationships accordingly. Pay attention to who’s there when it really matters. It’s easy when you’re at your best, but when you’re not, who’s by your side?

8. Make your savings automatic

Set up your paycheck so that any extra money you can save goes automatically into a savings account. You are too easily tempted with your cash and this will help you afford that vacation next year.

9. Stop using your Bloomingdales card

A bill will come in the mail and you won’t be able to afford to pay it. Go to the discount stores (like Nordstrom Rack, Marshall’s, T.J. Maxx etc.) and buy the exact same thing for half the price and with money you actually have. On the same note, stop paying full price for anything.

Read more: 13 smart money moves to make in your 20s

10. Learn how to say “no”

This may sound shocking, but you can’t do everything, so stop trying. Recognize when you’re maxed out and either say no or ask for help. If you don’t and drop the ball, that’s on you.

11. Delegate

Don’t do everyone else’s job unless you’re getting paid everyone else’s salary, too. When you hire people for a specific role, let them do it. Let it go and focus on bigger things.

12. Stop working

Every morning, make a list of your priorities and separate them into three categories: today, this week and ongoing. Make sure you do what needs to get done today, and if you have time, do more. If something else comes up, adjust it accordingly. But when it’s time to stop working and what’s left can be done tomorrow, leave it. Find something else to do with the rest of your day.

13. Stop caring about what people think

Stop living your life based on what other people value. Be yourself and the people who are worth it will stick around.

14. Pick a passion, not a job

When you do what you’re passionate about, it’s a lot easier to find work that you enjoy. Look for opportunities to continue to learn and refine your skills. This will allow you to build a career, rather than just hop from job to job.

15. Take your PTO

Sometimes you have to work a little on your days off, that’s just how it goes. But working 24/7 will catch up to you. So as a rule of thumb, take your PTO days and enjoy them! You have them for a reason and taking time off is the only way to avoid getting burnt out. You’re getting paid to not work… don’t waste it.

16. Only charge what you can pay in full by the end of the month

Catching up to your credit card bills can be a whole lot more difficult than you thought. There will always be more bills and there will never be a “good” time to wipe out a giant pile of credit card debt. Only charge what you know you can pay in full by the statement date. This will allow you to avoid wracking up debt and keep your credit score in good health!

Read more: When it’s time to try a cash-only budget

17. Demand what you’re worth

I once had a job where I was promoted but wasn’t offered a raise until a year later. The day I was told I was getting a raise, I told my boss I had accepted another job. Don’t sit around and hope that a company or boss is going to reward you when everything they are doing shows otherwise. Go for the job you know you deserve and demand what you know you’re worth. If it doesn’t work out, then it wasn’t meant to be.

18. Pay every bill on time

That Ann Taylor card you’re avoiding… it’s going to destroy your credit for the next 7 years! Straighten out your budget so you aren’t spending money you don’t have. The longer you do that, the longer it’ll take you to dig out of it!

19. Forgive yourself

Don’t dwell on the past and stop punishing yourself for your mistakes. We all take wrong turns in life. When you realize it, do what you can to right the ship and move on. You can’t write the next chapter of your life if you keep rereading the last one.

20. Stop taking things so personally

Most of what people do is about them, not you. Most of the things people say are about them, not you. Focus your energy on what you say and do, as well as how you respond to others and the world around you. You can only control you, so spend your energy on that.

21. Save enough in your 401(k) to get the employer match

So I actually did this in my first job out of grad school, but I wanted to include the tip to stress how important it is. When you save enough in your 401(k) to get the employer match, your company puts free money into your account for your retirement. Don’t waste free money for your future!