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Advice To My 20 Year Old Self

Advice to my former self: Avoid perms and hairspray!

Advice to my former self: Avoid perms and hairspray!

I really try to live life with no regrets. After reading Stephanie’s post about turning 28, it made me think back to my 20’s. It doesn’t help much to beat yourself up over the past and what might have been, but sometimes I do look back and wish I’d done some things differently, so here is a bit of the advice I’d give to my 20 year old self.

Start Investing Early

My friend DC wrote a great post at Young Adult Money last week about millennials and how they need to start saving early for retirement. I would have to say that’s the biggest thing I’d tell my former self. If I’d maxed out my retirement account from day one, I’d have so much money now. It seemed like a huge monthly chunk at the time, but if that’s what I’d learned to live on, it would have been fine. Going from nothing in college to even half my salary would have been an improvement. If you don’t make lots, you can still save if you keep expenses low.

Think Really Hard About Student Loans

I would have loved to travel before I started my career. I was probably too naive right out of high school, but I came out of undergrad loan free, so that would have been a perfect time. When your expectations are low, it’s no biggie to sleep in a hostel with a dozen smelly people. After optometry school, I had to start making loan payments.

Again no regrets about the career I chose or having to take loans to get it , but it killed any extended travel dreams. If you’d like to take a year off to travel, make sure you don’t have a 6 month grace period around your neck.

Work Like a Fiend

While I would encourage people to travel or do something you’ve always wanted before you start your real career, once you do, work like mad. Your 20’s will be the time when you are most motivated and most able to work. Develop your side hustle. Find out how to become a landlord. Make and save as much as you can.

Work like a fiend to pay off any debt you might have and try to avoid the pitfalls of the monthly payment lifestyle. While some things, like real estate, are worth their debt, vacations, brand new cars, and a fall wardrobe are not.

I hope you’ll be one of those people who always finds satisfaction and fulfillment with your job. If you are like most of us, though, the 9-5 grind will not seem so important someday. You won’t feel as challenged, and you will likely become more jaded as you get older. I’m not saying this to be negative, but there comes a time when most people realize that they are just a cog in the wheel. If you’ve saved and developed multiple streams of income, you have so many more options than if you are working just to keep up with monthly payments.

You Don’t Have To Follow Anyone’s Expectations

When I was in college, I used to have panic attacks. They weren’t because I was worried about grades or what I wanted to do, but they were because I tried to please everyone except myself. I love my parents, but they expected me to go to school, stay close to home, marry a local, have 2.3 kids, and live happily ever after. It was very traumatic to make the decision to move out west. It still causes more friction with my family than it should.

However, I know with 100% certainty that I would be a shell of my current self if I had stayed in my hometown. I think it’s appropriate to respect your family and friends, but you have to make your own path. Pretending to be someone you’re not will catch up with you.

Love Everything About Your 20’s

I spent my 20’s trying to get through school and get established. I never took time to appreciate that I could stay up really late and still function the next day or that I could eat pasta 5 times a week and never gain a pound if I went for a run every day. I didn’t appreciate that I could run everyday without my knees hurting.I never appreciated how flat my stomach actually was.

While I’m much smarter and less stressed these days, the fact that I have to work three times as hard just to maintain and that I turn into a troll if I stay up past 11PM is not lost on me.

You might not believe it, but I love being 40. While it sounds old to say it, my life keeps getting better, and I have lots to look forward to. That doesn’t mean I don’t look back sometimes and think about what I could have done better.

If you’re in your 20’s, are you making the most of your youth? If you’re older, what advice would you give your 20 year old self?

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. If I could talk to my twenties’ self I would definitely tell her to back away from the mall, actually run! I worked my butt off back then and did some things right, but saving my earnings was something I didn’t do nearly enough of.

    • I think most of us made a few too many trips to the mall. I used to always go do retail therapy after finals. I wish now I’d just gone for a walk.

  2. I’m so grateful I took the time right after undergrad to do the things I did- work in Asia for seven months, work on a cruise ship (even though I hated, incredible travel experience), tour the US (twice) on tour. Those are things I’m not sure I’ll be able to do as I get older and have more things to consider- like a family. ps. Thanks for the shout out 🙂

    • I love to see that you did those things when you had the chance. I wish I’d done something similar. I think I would have been a really good exchange student, but my parents would have never let me leave the south, let alone the US.

  3. I was a hot mess at age 20. A HOT MESS. I probably wouldn’t even talk to my 20-year-old self. I was a huge partier and didn’t care about much!

    • I was never that much of a partier, but I was just so confused and unsure about everything. I wish I could tell my old self to chill out.

  4. I enjoyed my twenties and did nothing that I regret. While I don’t regret what I did, I do regret what I didn’t do. I wish I would have started investing much earlier than I did. I would be in a much better position now.

    • If you look at almost all the early retirement bloggers, they were smart enough to do that from almost day one. I guess the rest of us will just have to work a bit longer. I’m not complaining about it, but hopefully if anyone who reads this is young and wants to leave the corporate world early, they will start socking away money now.

  5. “I’m not saying this to be negative, but there comes a time when most people realize that they are just a cog in the wheel. If you’ve saved and developed multiple streams of income, you have so many more options than if you are working just to keep up with monthly payments.” I could not agree more! Looking back, I would’ve started out as an entrepreneur so much younger and avoided debt like the plague. Thankfully it looks like younger generations are starting to see things like this, especially the entrepreneurial aspect. But, at 20, I was an absolute mess. So, I doubt he’d listen without the current me smacking him around some. 😉

    • If you could only take that I can do no wrong attitude of being 20 and mix it with the wisdom of being 40, we’d all be Bill Gates.

  6. Love the picture-lol! Oh the joy of perms! “If you are like most of us, though, the 9-5 grind will not seem so important someday” So true..although I noticed a lot of cough young people are quitting their jobs after only a couple month of job dissatisfaction. Something I don’t think we did in our 20’s. Not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. I had a lot of fun in my 20’s, but I would probably be more cautious with my money, and tell my 20 year old self that CD’s would be outdated someday so don’t buy any.

    • It would take alot for me to quit a job, if nothing else, because I knew it would put others in a bind. Younger people today don’t have that loyalty. Like you said, I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

  7. I was just looking at my financial tracking spreadsheet, which I’ve used since Dec-2001, when I was 27. I looked and saw that I only had $5k saved in retirement, which I now look back and feel absolute disgust with myself. Granted, I didn’t make a lot but there’s no excuse I couldn’t have had at least $20-25k, which would have grown significantly. That’s probably going to cost me at least 2-3 years of having to work longer when it’s all said and done.

    • I know how you feel. We can’t go back for sure and that does mean working longer and/or putting more away now. If I had consistently put away the same amount every month since I started working, today would be a whole different ballgame. As it stands, I have to triple or quadruple my contributions now to hope of any sort of early retirement.

  8. I personally really enjoyed this post. As someone who is in their mid-20s, it really spoke to me. Honestly I get by on very little sleep during the week, though I have to make an extra effort to be alert (caffeine helps). I think the travel thing is tough. In all honesty the best time to do it would be for a year or two before you start college. Once you finish your undergrad, most people will have to leverage their degree right away and get established in their career. Though you’re right, people are pretty dang naive right out of high school.

    • I barely knew how to drive on the interstate when I went to college, so it would have been way out of the question to tell my family I was going on a backpacking adventure, and some people have no desire to do that. I do miss the days when I could stay up late and get up early. I can still do it, but there is no amount of caffeine that makes me not want to curl up in a ball around 2 PM!

  9. I think, I should tell myself that I should work harder and SAVE MORE! I’m not really good in budgeting “until now”, ouch! But I know that I’m improving and hopefully will be better in the future.

    • I think even if someone had told me that at 20, I wouldn’t have listened. I think it has to be ingrained from when you were a child.

  10. I wish my 20 year old self saved 50% of what she earned. That would be my do over. Now I have plenty of advice for my thirty and forty year old self too!

  11. This is great advice! Having just turned 30, I’m happy to look back on my 20s and realize that I did a pretty good job getting my financial life in order (lots of saving and earning!). The thing I’m working on now is your advice to not follow other people’s expectations. That’s been a struggle for me and I feel like I’m just now emerging from that cycle. Thank you for the inspiration!

  12. I would *force* myself to start a pension from the moment I started working rather than considering it a luxury in my 20’s. Sure, money would have been tight (it was anyway, to hey!) but think of all that compound interest! Makes me cry… 😉

  13. I wish I had taken more time for myself in college. Instead I worked hard, taking around 20 credit hours/semester and working nearly full time. Now that I’m out of college I work about 50 hours a week at my full time job and part-time jobs, plus my freelancing and blogging, which take up another 20+ hours/week. I wish I had appreciated and taken more free time in college.

  14. “You Don’t Have To Follow Anyone’s Expectations” – that’s by far the best thing about being older. I don’t have time for games and simply just don’t care anymore about what other people think.

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