Looking back on my decade of single living after college, I didn’t do everything perfectly. Far from it. I did the best I could with what I knew at the time, but there is one thing I now wish I had done differently.
I wish I had saved more money.
I am a fairly frugal person, and I never spent more than I made. Even at my first job out of college, making $20,000 a year at a non-profit, I managed to pay all my bills and even have enough cash left over to maintain a social life and buy new clothes.
As I built my career, I followed the typical trajectory of being promoted every few years, which meant more responsibility and more money. During that time I bought a house, tithed, put money into savings and paid off my credit card every month. I always bought and drove cars that were used. I didn’t live outside of my means and I never wondered if I’d have enough money left at the end of the month.
The thing I did not do, that I now wish I had, was set up a budget. I always had a rough estimate of how much I had in my accounts and how much I spent, but I didn’t account for where every dollar went. That meant I spent a lot of money on things that weren’t necessary. Being single, a lot of my social life revolved around dinners and coffee dates with friends. Not a problem, but those random lunches and dinners out really add up. I enjoy shopping. Plus, I thought it was important for my dating life to look cute and fashionable. And I had two jam-packed closets and the shoe collection to prove it.
None of these habits were inherently wrong, and I didn’t spend money to fuel an addiction or to fill a void in my life. But I didn’t spend money with an eye to the future, either. I made the minimum payment on my student loans instead of paying even just a few dollars more per month. Now, at 33, I’m still paying them off with at least two years to go. I could have easily put an extra $40 a month toward that loan. Now my husband and I will be paying off both of our school loans, while we also attempt to buy a house and start a family.
What if, for even one year, I had focused on saving money and had saved enough to pay off a loan, or pay cash for my next vehicle, or increased my nest egg? In hindsight, I wish I had done more saving and less spending.
If you’re in your 20s and single, learn from my mistakes and make saving a priority. And when you do get married, you’ll have made saving money a habit — something your future spouse will thank you for.