While I only have a few decades of life experience behind me, I can say the most substantial personal growth has occurred in the years between my early and late twenties. Relationships ended, new ones began, and a decade that started with certain career aspirations saw others come into fruition.
My beliefs and life directions have changed in substantial ways, but perhaps the largest change has occurred in my relationship with money. Looking back, I used to passively hoard money and now, with bigger dreams and more knowledge under my belt, I actively manage it instead.
Many of us enter the workforce strapped with student loan debt and very little knowledge of money – a double whammy when you consider how challenging the personal finance arena can be to navigate as it is. But while funds may be lacking, it’s the most important time to be proactive in deciding how we want to take charge of our money – instead of allowing our money to take charge of us.
Here are a few money milestones that made my twenties the years I took the reigns and laid the foundation for financial stability going forward.
I stopped expecting my parents to pay.
Millennials are routinely referred to as the boomerang generation and I won’t pretend that I was any different. While a few hiccups sent me back to mom and dad’s, I finally reached a point where I knew that financial stability would feel so much better than a cushy place to call home (one that I wasn’t paying for).
Once I was standing on my own two feet, I also realized how amazing it was to be able to give back to my parents. Instead of always expecting them to foot the bill when it came to things like going out to dinner, I started covering them – and that’s when I finally felt like a full-fledged adult.
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I recognized how being proactive could directly impact my life experiences.
When I was able to pay for a two-week trip to Europe on the fly because I had been diligent about saving before receiving the invitation, I realized that having money set aside for things I might not have thought of was what comfort really felt like.
This became even more obvious when less than fun things cropped up – like popping my tire on the side of a busy California highway and not only needing a tow but a new set of tires as well.
I learned that having my bases covered allowed me to roll with the punches instead of scrambling when things happened that I didn’t see coming.
I made the connection between my decisions today and what my tomorrow could look like.
Too often we make the mistake of thinking we will always be on the young side of the age spectrum. Half-way through my twenties I noticed that high school students no longer saw me as one of them and, after a minor quarter-life crisis, I realized it was time to really take my financial future seriously.
By putting my retirement savings on auto-pilot and increasing the percentage every year, I bought myself the security in knowing I wouldn’t be working until I reached my death bed. I started looking at it as a way of working towards financial freedom – not retirement. That’s when the motivation officially kicked in.
I made peace with the Joneses’.
When I found myself back on my parents’ couch at the age of 23, I watched my friends who were living the single life in their own apartments and couldn’t help but feel a twinge of envy. They seemed to have it all together.
Then, things changed, I landed a better paying job and my life completely turned around. After that it was the same theme, different story – I was jealous of the friend who could take two weeks off for an amazing beach vacation, and the one who seemed to always have the best clothes.
Sometimes they weren’t managing their money the way they should, but sometimes they were just incredibly successful – and that was something to aspire to, not put down. I’ve come to realize that someone will always have more than me and someone will always have less than me, but that shouldn’t change the decisions I make for my own finances.
I realized I didn’t need to rely on anyone else.
The first time I entered into a relationship as a financially stable and secure adult, I was amazed at how different the experience was. Knowing that staying or leaving had no bearing on my financial picture made me feel like I could make the best possible decision for my emotional health and wellbeing.
Granted, there may be times in the future when my finances are more closely tied with a significant other, but knowing that I reached a milestone at one point in my life where I didn’t need even one dollar from someone else makes me confident that I could do it again. And that is a powerful realization.
Which money milestones did you hit in your 20s that stuck with you?