NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Many of us spend our 20s having fun and living in the moment, but that carefree attitude can sometimes lead to poor money decisions. Unfortunately, the mistakes we make in our younger years can affect our financial future, so it's never too soon to recognize the importance of saving, making smart investments and keeping good credit.
To help a new generation of twentysomethings avoid some common financial pitfalls, MainStreet asked a handful of everyday Americans to share what they wish they had known about money in their 20s. Read on for their (very honest) responses.
Name: Jeff Hunter
Occupation: Editor of SimpleThriftyLiving.com
Residence: Daly City, Calif.
"I wish I knew more about credit scores and how credit worked. After leaving college, I had never bought a car or a house or needed to have my credit checked for renting an apartment, so I had no idea I even had a credit score. I had student credit cards that I signed up for my freshman year and ended up racking up some massive credit card debt, not realizing how it would affect other parts of my finances.
"When I went to find an apartment to rent after college, it was really hard to get approved because of my poor credit score. I also had to have my parents co-sign for my first car purchase, which came with a very high interest rate. It took into my early 30s to repair my credit score because those negative marks stay on your report for seven years."
Name: Alexander Ruggie
Occupation: PR Director for 911 Restoration
Residence: Los Angeles
"I absolutely was not thinking about my financial future when I was in my 20s. I went out a lot. I bought things that I didn't need—and didn't even want shortly after they were purchased. Essentially I wasted enormous amounts of money on junk. I didn't imagine that there would be a time when I'd be worried about health coverage, yields on my savings and if I'll ever be able to retire.
"Now that I'm in my mid-30s, I'm thinking about the future a lot more than I ever did in my 20s, and that means a lot of preparing for the party after it's started. It's never too late, but it's never too early to start saving either.
"I wish that I had used the money that I did have in my youth to build something that would be paying me back now. I feel like I should have started a business or invested in something besides beer and pizza with friends. I wish I had known that further down the road from college my prospects of owning a home, raising a family and living comfortably would be so heavily affected by how I spent every dollar."
Name: Alisha Hawrylyszyn Frank
Occupation: Life coach for Fiercely Optimistic
Residence: San Diego and New York City
"In my 20s, I wish I would have known that a higher salary was not going to bring me more happiness. I was more concerned about portraying financial wealth by having all of the latest designer shoes, handbags and threads. I felt that the more that I could earn the happier I could be, since I wouldn't have to think twice when shopping at Saks. I spent many years fixated on earning more and more when I really needed to focus on myself and what actually makes me happy.
"My career switch into life coaching was a gradual process. What I began to realize was that I was happiest when I was helping people pursue positive changes and assisting them to move forward in their lives. Eventually, I swallowed my pride, let go of my ego, took a huge pay cut and started my own coaching business. I am truly happy and I have changed the idea of wealth in my mind. I now calculate it by happiness and health."
Name: Leon Rbibo
Occupation: President of The Pearl Source
Residence: Los Angeles
"I wish I had known that you have to part with your money in order to take a chance. Not stupid risk, but the kind of risk that is carefully thought out and calculated to give you a fighting chance at your financial dreams. If you lose the money, you work a little harder. You pick up an extra side job. It's not the end of the world, as long as you are smart about it.
"Every article I read these days is about how Millennials need to save. And don't get me wrong, Millennials do need to save. Everyone needs to save. But this constant saving advice, I believe, has created a generation that's risk averse. And as we all know: no risk, no reward."
Name: Kim Parr
Occupation: Optometrist and blogger for EyesOnTheDollar.com
Residence: Cortez, Colo.
"As a fortysomething professional, I wish I had understood the beauty of compound interest in my 20s. If I had started saving for retirement when I got my first job, I could be well on my way to early retirement. As it stands, I will still get there, but it's much harder to play catch up than to have been ahead of the curve in the first place. I can't think of any job that people love for decades on end, so it's much smarter to have your nest egg in place in case you want to walk away before traditional retirement age."
Name: John Schmoll
Occupation: Founder of FrugalRules.com
Residence: Omaha, Neb.
"I wish I would've known how putting off debt repayment can hurt you in the long run. I thought when my student loan provider offered me a forbearance that it was a good thing. Little did I know that it actually meant I would owe more money in the long run.
"Student loan forbearance, in layman's terms, allows you to delay your student loan payments for a certain period of time. It seemed attractive to me at the time, because I wasn't earning very much and was also in credit card debt. I saw it as a lifeline to give me time. What I didn't realize at the time was that you continue to accrue interest on your loans while in forbearance. That interest just sat there accruing for three years, which made the total overall I owed even more. Simply put, the forbearance allowed me to avoid the reality of my loans as opposed to working immediately to find ways to start paying the minimums.
"Once I started paying down my student loans, it took me about five years to pay them off in full. If I could go back, I wouldn't have taken the three years available to delay payments, as that only added more money to what I owed. I would've found a way to make extra money that could have been directed solely at the student loans."
—Written by Kristin Colella for MainStreet