Looking back on my twenties it is easy to see that I knew nothing about managing money. I made a lot of mistakes and a lot of poor financial choices.

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I was often overdrawn on my checking account (that I never balanced) – spending way more than I was earning. Even with my bad banking record, I was offered a credit card – which only created more problems. I was fortunate to avoid any major financial fiascos, but honestly, I think I was just one step ahead of one.

Now, it may be hard to tell from these past few sentences, but I’m really not an idiot. As a matter of fact, I earned good grades in school. The problem was that I was never taught how to manage money or anything even minutely related to money. And I believe this lack of education continues today.

How do I know this? Well, statistics show that over 70% of college students graduate with a student loan. And according to Studentloanhero.com, “the average Class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up six percent from last year“. I wonder how many of these students would choose differently if they really knew about money and the potential impact these loans could have on their futures? Please understand I’m not here to debate the rising costs of our colleges and universities – there’s nothing to debate – costs are on the rise. But I do want to discuss some simple concepts that I wish I knew when I was younger.

1. It doesn’t take a genius.

You don’t have to be a math wizard to manage your money wisely. It doesn’t require a Ph.D. or even an investment license. And it doesn’t need to be complicated. As a matter of fact, creating a cash flow plan or budget is fairly basic math, and the less complicated the plan the better. I used to feel intimated by the thought of starting a budget and I think there are a lot of other people out there that feel the same way. But following a basic cash flow plan is really rather easy. You can check out my blog post on budgeting tips for a few pointers. In that post, you can also download a free copy of the Quick Start budget form.

2. Debt sucks and cash is king.

Debt is a dream thief and a marriage wrecker. Debt keeps people from leaving jobs to pursue other interests and money issues continue to be the number one cause for divorce in marriages. Learning to live within your means early in life is the best way to stay out of debt – that means not spending more than you make. It means avoiding credit card debt and car loans. How do you do that? Pay in cash. If you don’t have the money to buy something then you can’t afford it. It really is that simple.

3. Retirement is a real thing.

When you are in your 20’s it is almost inconceivable that one day you’ll be 40 let alone old enough to retire, but it happens. And I swear it feels like overnight. I honestly never gave retirement any thought until my husband and I was facing an early retirement in our mid-40’s. So I can tell you from experience – retirement is a real thing and planning for it is the best way to make the most of it. Since the average life expectancy is 81 for women and 76 for men, it is highly likely that you’ll reach retirement age. The sad news is according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), around 29% of households age 55 and older don’t have retirement savings or a pension. My biggest piece of advice – start planning now.

I have zero regrets on my past choices because I learned from each one. Do I wish I had a better understanding of finances when I was younger? Absolutely. But while I cannot undo my past financial missteps and blunders I can pass down what I learned so you won’t make the same mistakes. My goal here is that you’ll take the time and learn to budget. You’ll do one for yourself or if you are married, together as a couple. I hope you’ll live within (and maybe even under) your means, staying clear of any all and debt. And my last hope is that you’ll plan for your retirement now. It is never too late to begin investing in your future.

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