In a previous post, I mentioned the fact that one of my college roommates went to college on a full scholarship through the Navy ROTC program. While I couldn’t see myself fitting in with the military, I didn’t even know such a thing was an option before I learned about it from him. Clearly, that is one of the financial lessons I missed early on.
And that is just one example. Needless to say, if I had been awarded a full scholarship, my career trajectory would have looked very different.
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It’s not that I am blaming anyone. In theory, if I had done more research I could have learned about them on own. Still, I do think we need to have more financial education at an early age.
Most states don’t require financial education for high school students, although five states do.
So, what are some financial lessons I wish I had learned at a younger age?
Investing is not Gambling
I can recall when I was younger hearing about investing. I’m fairly certain I thought there was little to no difference between investing than, say, buying Mega Millions tickets.
Of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, the market has its ups and down. Yes, there will be crashes. And yes, investing can really sting sometimes.
But if you have a diversified portfolio à la JL Collins’s Simple Path to Wealth, investing is most certainly not gambling. As Jim explains, although it will hurt sometimes, investing is the easiest way to accumulate wealth. This is one of the most important financial lessons out there.
That is in stark contrast to playing to the lottery – emphasis on “playing.” The lottery is essentially entertainment since it can be fun to think about winning, but virtually none of us ever will. Chances are, if you are reading this, you have never won the jackpot, or even know someone who has.
Also, consider the fact that even if you avoid investing purely out of fear, you are still losing money. That is due to inflation – if all of your money is in cash, the value of that money declines year after year.
If the risks of investing keep you up at night, you can always add a healthy supply of bonds to your portfolio. Although bonds technically are still not risk-free, the higher-rated ones have much less risk than any stock does.
If you have been following me for a while, you probably know that my college tuition bill was nearly six figures. When I was in high school, I honestly didn’t think this was a big deal. I think I naively believed that things would just work themselves out and that the increased earnings would offset the cost of college.
Yes, this is true to a degree; I earn more money than the average person. I am still well inside the six-figure income mark at this point, though. I do okay, but I’m not exactly killing it from an earnings perspective.
What that meant was that while I suppose I am still doing pretty well compared to most people, I did not and will not retire at 30.
For most Americans, debt is the single biggest obstacle getting in the way of financial success. And yet, almost anything you buy nowadays can be financed. Why? There is an argument which says that financing allows businesses to set prices higher. After all, how many people would be dropping $50,000 on a car without financing? Probably very, very few.
But financing does not exist to do you any favors. There are very few items I can think of where there is a very real need for financing. Buying a house is the biggest one, but after that, things immediately start to get dicey. Weddings? A used car if you are low on savings?
We can finance other things, but it also not unheard of to pay for them in cash – even for middle-class people.
Long story short: debt is not your friend. I am not typically the biggest Dave Ramsey fan, but he’s right about that one. Of the financial lessons he teaches, I agree with this one.
Time is of the Essence
Debt, in addition to my misconceptions about investing, really set me back financially. I only started heavily investing within the past year – around when I started this blog. Before then, all of my investing came in the form of what was required by my employers.
Something is better than nothing, but if I had started investing more in my 20s, I could have been much farther ahead than I am now. That is due to the power of compounding interest.
Remember: if you can, invest early and often. The more you invest now, the more money you’ll have tomorrow.
You (Probably) Won’t Get Rich Quick
There is a reason the US has a reputation for being filled with hard workers. And there is also a reason Get Rich Slowly is named what it is.
Unless one of those Mega Millions tickets works out for you, getting rich quick is very unlikely. In reality, most people will probably never get “rich” in the way many of us think. If you think of getting rich as owning mansions and private jets, then getting rich is highly unlikely for the vast majority of people.
Still, with enough hard work and dedication, it is not impossible for people of almost any income level to be a millionaire. Patience is an absolute necessity. And that is one of the financial lessons that for me was very difficult to learn and accept.
What are some financial lessons you wish you had learned at a younger age? How would those financial lessons change your finances if you learned them earlier?