I got my first decent-paying job when I was 17. It was a call center and I had to sell mobile phone subscriptions to people. The job wasn’t satisfying, but the money was pretty good for a 17-year-old, especially during the summer when I could work more.
I can’t remember exactly how much I made, but it was something like €2000 a month when I worked six days a week. Living with my parents, I had no expenses, so that was money I could spend or save. And like most people that age, I obviously did the former.
I didn’t know any better. But over the years, I’ve learned a lot about money from simply observing wealthy people. If I could go back and teach myself some financial lessons, I would’ve changed my financial mindset way earlier.
Here’s what I would tell myself.
- Start investing today—Look, you don’t need a degree in finance, be a family member of Warren Buffett, or a seven-figure inheritance from your grandparents to start investing. It’s not complicated. Just invest in an index fund and profit from capitalism. Let the companies do the work, and own a piece of the action.
- Money buys you freedom—Think twice before you spend your money because every time you buy something, you’re giving up a bit of freedom and time. The more money you have, the more freedom you have to do work you enjoy. And at some point, you don’t even have to work for money at all. But not if you keep spending all your money today.
- The more you learn the more you earn—This isn’t about getting degrees because that doesn’t always translate to earning more. Learn about worldly things like history, economics, math, philosophy, etc. Then, learn how you can apply that wisdom to create value for other people. The more you do that, the more you’ll earn.
- Be generous—Don’t hold on to all your money like a dog with a bone. If you share some of your wealth with others without expecting anything in return, you’ll do good, but you also learn not to cling to money.
- Money is a renewable resource—We all lose money at some point on a dumb purchase, get-rich-quick scheme, dishonest business partner, or stupid investment decision. Don’t allow a loss to destroy your trust in other people and the world. You can earn back the money, but if you lose your character and soul, you can never truly come back.
- Trust your financial habits—It takes a looong time to build wealth, but that doesn’t mean your life is meaningless if you’re not financially independent yet. Don’t wait for a day in the future when you will finally be rich. Just adopt healthy financial habits, take care of your money, and trust the process. Results follow later. And keep enjoying your life today.
- Save more as you earn more—If you saved $50 a month in high school, it doesn’t mean you should keep saving the same amount as you earn more in your twenties, thirties, forties, and so forth. Just save as much as you can. And then invest as much as you can.
- Having six months’ worth of expenses saved is enough—When you have a financial buffer, you feel more at ease. If you lose your job, you’ll have enough time to find another. Or when your fridge breaks, you can easily buy a new one. No stress.
- Don’t obsess about your retirement—Your top-earning years are probably in your forties and fifties, so if you’re not in your prime career years yet, don’t beat yourself up. If you do the work now and keep improving yourself, more money will follow later.
All the above money principles might sound obvious, but it’s not obvious or simple to live by what you know. What matters is that you execute these things—even if it’s just one or two things.
Every little bit helps. In fact, it’s those small things that will make you wealthier in the next decades.