I’ve written letters to my future self, but never considered telling the thinner yet chubbier cheeked younger me how to manage her life. Obviously, there’s nothing we can do to change the past. However, reflecting on the choices you made – good or bad – may remind you of the decisions you must make in order to craft your desired life going forward.
I told Sarah I’d steal her idea. As a woman of my word, here I am – stealing Sarah’s idea.
First, let me say you’re awesome, and you’re only getting more awesome.
You’re young, but you make really good decisions – mostly. When you’re tempted to make those not so good decisions, the 29-year old smarter and more fabulous version of yourself, i.e., me, will try to coax you toward the right path. That’s the purpose of this letter.
What You Did Wrong
Prepare a budget for goodness’ sake! It’s easy. Write down how much money you have coming in, and subtract how much money you have going out. Refusing to write down your monthly cash inflows and outflows allow you to live in a dream world where you dine out frequently and wear clothes you can’t afford. Maybe you want to ignore the reality that you earn very little money, but denial doesn’t prevent you from racking of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. And you will.
Don’t decline COBRA. In December 2006, you’re going to quit your job and let your health insurance lapse. What are you? Stupid? Fortunately, you won’t experience any major medical setbacks, but we aren’t always so lucky. Pay the three hundred and something odd dollars for the health insurance you’ll need to protect your physical and financial health should a major illness arise.
Listen to that old guy at the lumberyard who tells you blogs are the next huge thing. It’s natural to think older people are clueless when it comes to technology, but don’t be so quick to disregard their advice when it comes to the subject matter. The old guy knows what he’s talking about. Start a blog in 2004, and get a head start monetizing it.
Buy gold. It feels icky just saying it, but I must. Around 2004 or 2005ish, your brother, whom’s financial acumen you have zero respect for, will tell you to buy gold. Turns out, that was really good advice. Although you can’t afford to purchase and harbor gold bars, at least look into investing a few dollars in a gold ETF. It won’t kill ya.
Ignore financial experts who tell you to invest only enough of your salary to maximize the company match on your 401(k) contributions. Ideally, you’ll invest any additional retirement funds in a Roth IRA. But actually, you’ll spend the excess money on foolishness, because you’re not going to open that IRA until three years after you begin your professional career. Your 401(k) options are limited, but you’ll be better off doing what’s good, investing 12% of your salary not 6%, than you would if you don’t do what’s great.
Stop shopping for recreation. Target and Wal-Mart are not playgrounds for aimless adults. If you’re bored, volunteer, read a book, anything but spend money. You won’t use most of the crap you buy, and you’ll end up throwing it out or giving it away every time you change addresses. By the way, you’ll move six times before you turn 30. Think of all the waste!
Don’t bother applying for food stamps. With scholarships, grants, student loans, AND an $8 an hour secretarial job, the government won’t think you’re pathetic enough to receive them. Get used to being disgusted with how government insists on investing the most money in nonproductive citizens.
Don’t borrow so much in student loans. It’s unnecessary. If you prepare a budget like I told you, you’ll see you have enough to live on. Okay, maybe not enough to comfortably live on, but you won’t starve. Well, you won’t starve to death.
Get more sleep. You’ll go through a phase of getting drunk and staying out late. It’ll be a blast. But here’s the problem: your carefree antics will prevent you from staying awake in your 8 AM, Macroeconomics class. You’ll ace three exams, flunk one, earn a “B” grade, and never forgive yourself. I’m not sure you’ll ever be delivered from the vice of inadequate sleep. Almost 12 years later, and you’re still averaging only 5 or 6 hours a night.
What You Did Right
As indicated earlier, you’re not a complete idiot. You stayed focused and disciplined. Which was absolutely necessary in order to keep your scholarship.
Yeah. You graduated with a little student loan debt, but things could’ve been much worse if you’d borrowed to pay for tuition, fees, and text books. Read about other ways to reduce college debt here.
Thank you for acknowledging you have no clue what your major should be or what professions interest you. Starting your college career undeclared was a great idea. After much research and self discovery, you’ll choose a field of study that meshes with your skills, interests, and desire to obtain a well paying job after investing 4 years of some of your best years in college.
When people tell you Betsy, your beloved 1995 Geo Prizm, looks like crap and you should get a new car, you’ll reject their idiocy outright. Besty was a wonderful gift from your mother that’ll serve as a reliable and energy efficient means of transportation for many years. Be forever grateful for your mother’s generosity. She didn’t have much. Betsy will be dented on all sides, and a paint job wouldn’t hurt, but you won’t dare pay for any aesthetic repairs. Good job.
Very Truly Yours,