Acquiring wisdom can happen in many different ways. Sometimes, we learn the hard way by making mistakes and then learning from them. It might be challenging at first, but once you gain that knowledge and grow, you can make better decisions in the future. I asked financial experts and business leaders to share their insights into what they wished they knew about money earlier and what they would have done differently to improve their financial situation today.
11 Things I Wish I Knew About Money Earlier
Balance Savings Bonds With Ready Cash
My financial journey began when I joined the military. After joining, I received a sign-on bonus that I was really excited about. Instead of spending my bonus, I decided to invest in Savings Bonds. It was something that I had seen my mother invest in. However, I did not understand the short-term impact that decision would make.
While in the military, a pay error occurred, and I needed money right away. However, my savings were tied up in the savings bonds, and I could not access the cash immediately. As a result, I had to obtain a payday loan to help me cover my expenses. This was a substantial expense that cost me more in the long run.
One thing I wish I knew about money at that time would have been the importance of diversification. Had I known what I know now, I would have saved some of my bonus in a savings account to have easier access to my cash in an emergency. The other portion would have gone into the savings bond for my future savings goals.
Annette Harris, Blogger, Informed Finance
Create Monthly Budgets
If I had known then what I know now, I would have established a monthly spending budget and actively managed my investments in the past. I used to think that investing was a complex and high-risk endeavor, so for a long time, I avoided it, especially the stock market.
However, the stock market can provide consistent returns in the long run. Over the past 50 years, the S&P 500 has had an average annualized return of over 10%, outperforming most other investments. I would likely be a millionaire if I had consistently invested in the S&P 500 using the Dollar-Cost Averaging (DCA) method.
June Jia, Investment Banker, Canny Trading
Invest in Low-Cost Index Funds
If I had known then what I know now about my financial situation, the one thing I would have done differently in the past is invest in low-cost index funds.
An unusual move for most inexperienced investors, focusing resources on index funds when beginning to invest allows an investor to more efficiently distribute money without having to actively manage a portfolio and risk higher costs associated with trades or other activities. Index funds generally provide lower risk and come with an opportunity for growth compared to investments such as cash or bonds that may not yield returns because of inflation.
Grace He, People and Culture Director, TeamBuilding
Focus on Mutual Funds
If I could go back and give myself one piece of financial advice, it would be to invest more heavily in mutual funds. They provide a low-cost avenue for diversification and can help mitigate the risks associated with individual stock picking.
Additionally, they offer the potential for higher returns due to their exposure to a wider range of companies and industries. By focusing on a consistent investment strategy through a mix of mutual funds, I would have been better positioned to reach my long-term financial goals.
Jefferson McCall, Co-founder and HR Head, TechBullish
Prioritize Financial Literacy
If I had known what I know now about my finances, one universally helpful thing I would have done differently in the past is to take a more formal approach to budgeting and become financially literate.
By having a comprehensive understanding of finances, such as investing and banking, I would have been able to wisely manage my spending habits and proactively plan for long-term goals. With proper financial literacy and planning, I could ensure that funds are allocated under priority objectives—saving for events like home purchases or college tuition while still enjoying lifestyle choices.
Julia Kelly, Managing Partner, Rigits
Start Businesses and Build Assets
Most people start businesses too late, taking on unnecessary risks and debts. Even if you have little success, starting earlier allows you to learn, network, and practice.
If I had started my businesses sooner, I would have taken advantage of the many opportunities available as an entrepreneur. This would have allowed me to quickly and efficiently build my financial future rather than relying on a job or other unstable sources of income.
I would also focus on building an asset base by investing in real estate, stocks, bonds, businesses, and other investments that could provide for my long-term financial security.
Gary Gray, CFO, CouponChief.com
Establish an Emergency Fund Sooner
One thing I would have done differently in the past, considering my financial situation, is to build an emergency fund sooner. A financial safety net can provide peace of mind and security in the face of unexpected expenses, such as medical bills, car repairs, or job loss.
Setting aside a dedicated emergency fund earlier could have avoided potential debt or financial stress during challenging times.
Burak Özdemir, Founder, Online Alarm Kur
Maintain a Simpler Lifestyle
When you're young and don't have a ton of money, it's easy enough to be content with your living situation. Once you've become better established in your career and have increased your standard of living, it's difficult to go back without it feeling like forced austerity.
Maintaining a simpler lifestyle for a little longer would have helped jumpstart my savings without me missing the money I was stashing away. Once you become used to the niceties of life, it can be much harder to live without them.
Temmo Kinoshita, Co-founder, Lindenwood Marketing
Pay Yourself First
I used to pay my bills and the government before myself whenever I received my salary. It made me feel like I had taken care of what was important, and the remaining money was mine. I would adjust the remaining amount and feel satisfied because I had already paid the bills. It made me lazy and stopped my personal growth.
Over time, I realized this attitude made me reluctant to work harder and earn more. I should have paid myself first and then other things. It would have made me feel pressured and encouraged me to earn more because I still had bills and government payments to make. I wish I had done this differently in the past so that I would be more financially stable now.
However, we all have this habit of paying our bills first. But according to my recent experience, we should pay bills and the government from the remaining amount so that if we cannot pay, we feel pressured and try to earn more and work harder. You may find it weird, but it works.
Yogesh Kumar, Digital Marketing Manager, Technource
Work for Yourself Earlier
If I could have my time again, I'd start working for myself far sooner. The 9-5 grind has its place. After all, you can't get by without the money it provides. But I saved for far too long and got sidetracked by spending money on pointless things like sports cars.
I should have jumped ship far sooner and started working for myself as quickly as possible. All those years of wasted time and energy making money for someone else!
Dave Pedley, Owner and Founder, KnowSheets
Invest Early for Retirement
If I could go back in time, I would have invested for retirement as soon as I started working, even if it was just a small amount. Most of us didn't fully grasp the importance of investing for retirement and the power of compound interest. As a result, we missed out on years of potential growth and had to play catch-up later on.
By starting early, I could have taken advantage of compound interest and the growth potential of the stock market.
Marc De Diego Ferrer, Founder, MCA Assessors
It's easy to reflect on our past financial decisions and wish we had done things differently. From now on, learn from the mistakes of those around you and from the mistakes that you make so that you can make better choices tomorrow.