Skill Building In Your 20s to Protect Your 30s (and beyond)

I'm swappin' blogs today with Jana from Daily Money Shot. She's an amazing PF blogger that always brings a little or a lot of fun into the mix. If you already know and love her, make sure to check out her newly designed site. 

When Niki asked me to write a guest post for Debt Free by 30, I was both flattered and panicked. I was flattered because I thoroughly enjoy reading her blog and admire her. I was panicked because I am both over 30 and in debt. I had no idea what I could possibly contribute. Then, while in the shower (because that’s where I get all my good ideas. OK, fine. I get them on the toilet. TMI? Sorry. ), it occurred to me. I can write about what I know in my 30s that I wish I had known in my 20s that might have prevented the mess I’ve found myself in.

My 20s did not begin with me in debt. I finished both college and graduate school with debt on one credit card (to the tune of $6000 but that’s a story for another time) and that’s it. I even had a full-time job lined up before I finished my Master’s program!  My then-boyfriend (now husband) and I found an inexpensive apartment near his job and near the train station so I could use public transportation to get to work (plus my work reimbursed $100 or so a month for taking public transportation making my monthly pass about $10 or so). We were flying through paying off debt and then—life happened. I got fired and he decided to go back to school.  Which meant less income and more expenses.  Awesome, right?

I won’t bore you with the details of how we survived but here are the skills I wish I had had during that time that would have made life substantially easier and would have prevented us from accruing an insane amount of debt:
  •         Budgeting. It was until I got pregnant when I was 28 that I sat down and learned how to make a real, legitimate budget. With a child on the way and a substantial amount of debt, I need to learn how to make it all work with the money we had.  Had I learned this, and put it into practice in my early 20s, I would have been able to spend within my means during my time of unemployment and in the following years when the job I had paid less than the job I was fired from. This would have meant not needing to use credit cards to cover the difference.
  •          Cooking. Again, I didn’t really learn to cook until my daughter came into the picture and that was more out of necessity (due to lack of cash) than out of a pure desire to learn. Had I learned to cook in my 20s, we would have spent a lot less money at restaurants and Wawa and had more money to spend on other things like household essentials and entertainment (which were two categories that the credit cards frequently financed).
  •         Saving. Saving money is important. You never know when an emergency is going to arise or you find a really great deal on a vacation. Having money saved means you won’t have to stress or use your credit cards. In my 20s, I did a poor job of saving money and now that I’m in my 30s, I have a lot of catching up to do. If you’re still in your 20s, don’t be like me. Save your money now! Because it’s hard to play catch-up.
  •          Self-control. Ok, so this is something I still struggle with but I’m getting better. In my 20s, if I wanted something and didn’t have the cash, it went on the credit card that day.  I would figure out how to pay it off when the bill came, and would then need to juggle how much went to whom and whatever was leftover I dealt with. I must have paid off my New York and Company card 27 different times. Now, in my 30s, I’ve learned to delay gratification and pay with cash. Dave Ramsey is right, y’all. It is a lot harder to part with cash.

I can’t say that I’m perfect. I still have debt that I’m paying off, and one time, I had to buy a car that I wasn’t financially prepared for (see bullet point #3). While I’m not 100% certain that I’d be in a better financial position had I developed these skills 10 years ago, I’m pretty confident that I would be.

It’s also worth noting that these skills lead to something even more important: freedom. The freedom to do what you want, when you want without being tethered to a job or a house or debt that you hate. The best part about all of this (you know you wanted a platinum lining)? It’s never too late to start developing these skills and achieving that freedom. And when I do, I’ll be screaming it from my paid for house in my pajamas.