Financial advice to my 22 year old self

I’m almost 30 now which gives me License to Dispense Advice. Home improvement, life optimization, and financial security are a trio of BFFs. Sometimes alliances shift, but ultimately they’re inseparable.

At 22 I was just starting out.


Me at age 22 dressed up for work

I just got my first “real job” (full time pay just above minimum wage, but with health coverage!) and I moved away from home for the first time ever to a 1-bedroom apartment some 45 minutes from where I grew up. I now had grown-up things to do, like buy groceries and wash my own clothing.

I managed to do pretty well in the intervening 8 years, but here’s what I would tell myself:

1. Maximize your entry level income

Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does buy everything else.

My biggest regret: I wish I had negotiated my first salary. I didn’t have the confidence to ask for a little more because I had no idea how good a candidate I really was.

Let me tell you this: every company I’ve worked for has been careful in their hiring. Phone screens, all-day interviews. If you make it to offer stage, you are a good candidate and we want to hire you. Asking for a (reasonable) increase over the offer at this step is likely to succeed.

I did not negotiate my first job’s salary, but I did:

  • successfully negotiate my first raise at my first job
  • successfully negotiate a higher starting salary at my second job
  • successfully negotiate a and a higher starting salary at my third job

I have found it easier to increase my income by changing jobs and negotiating a larger salary upfront. Feel how you will about what this means for the relationship between employees and employers, the fact is this is the game and this is how it’s played.

Things you can do at your current job:

  • Be a top performer. If you can’t identify the person in your organization they’d lay off before they got rid of you, you’re it!
  • Keep track of your accomplishments! When review season comes along, you’ll have plenty to say about your contributions to the company
  • Outright ask for more at raise time. To be frank, I’ve had mixed success with this one. I’ve succeeded at it once, but every other time the “raise pool” was locked at some fixed amount for the department and couldn’t be negotiated. What I did have success with, though, was working for an excellent manager who negotiated larger portions of the raise pool for his top performers.
  • Keep your resume/portfolio up to date and loaded with accomplishments.
  • Remember, it’s a business relationship. Don’t become emotionally invested in working for your company. Your employer will dump you the second they need to in order to make their numbers. It’s not personal, it’s business. Likewise, you need to be ready to dump them if they aren’t paying you a competitive wage.

Things to do when you change jobs:

  • Consider cities better for your industry. A thousand times this. Moving from the midwest to the west coast was the best career decision I’ve made.
  • Ask for moving expenses to be rolled into your salary instead of taking them as a lump sum upfront. I got a $3k annual increase doing this, and it was a gift that kept giving year after year
  • Just outright ask for more when you get an offer. Cite increased responsibilities, your amazing performance record, anything that justifies your argument. The Internet is full of advice on how to phrase this. This has been my most successful tactic for increasing my income.

One last word on this topic:

Don’t get your heart set on any promises of bonuses or profit sharing. Your game is salary. Salary is consistent, reliable, and your salary history will follow you to your next job. Bonuses are not reliable income and in many cases, they don’t materialize. If I had every bonus I was reassured was coming, I’d have thousands of dollars more in the bank.

2. Learn how to prepare food you like

This will save you thousands and thousands of dollars over your 20s alone. This will also save you time, and will probably keep you thinner than you would be relying on takeout and restaurants.

Start simple (chicken roasted in a pan!), work your way up (homemade cake!). Don’t run out and buy a shitload of exotic cookware. You’ll feel bad when you give it all to charity 5 years later, hardly used.

3. Don’t buy DVDs / entertainment

I’ve lived without television service for 7 years. I don’t miss it (your mileage may vary) or need it. I don’t want to sound like a crazy media-hater, and I’m not. Hell, I work in entertainment. :D I just find that I have plenty to entertain myself with using only Netflix streaming and the Internet.

At roughly $100/month x 7 years, I’ve saved $8400.

DVDs frighten me. Next time you’re visiting a friend who has a ton of DVDs, try to estimate how many and multiply it by 10. That’s how much that collection cost. DVDs are sold everywhere and are seemingly inexpensive. It’s easy to “just $10 bucks” your way into a serious pile of cash spent on movies you’ll never have enough time for.

4. Drive your car into the ground… gently

A rule of thumb I heard somewhere: driving the car you drove in college when you’re 30 is a sign of financial well-being.

I acquired my first car at age 19, and I still drive it 10 years later. I love that it’s paid for. I love that it still looks new inside because I didn’t crap it up with food wrappers or junk. Take good care of your vehicle – and keep it as long as you can.

  • Park in covered parking as often as you can: Doing this reduces the odds of it getting pooped on / hailed on / baked in the sun. Plus, the covered parking is where people with nice cars park. They won’t throw their door into your car.
  • Don’t eat in your car: A “no food” rule will keep your car cleaner and nicer smelling. Plus, eating in your car is sad. Eat at a table or on a sofa in front of a favorite show, it’ll do you good.
  • Vacuum its interior regularly: You’re less likely to want to crap up a car that looks and feels nice.
  • Park far from other cars: The extra walking is good for you anyway. If you have to park near other cars, try to park it next to an expensive car.
  • Wax it regularly: This one’s somewhat debated, but twice yearly waxes seemed to work for mine.
  • Rent a car for long trips: Depending on season and location, you can often score a rental for as low as $12/day. Put all the wear and tear of a road trip onto their car, not yours.
  • Don’t do stupid things in your car: I used to try to make my car airborne when going over a particular set of train tracks that seem designed for the trick. Wait, I still do this. You’ve got to have some fun your car!

5. Wake up way earlier than you need to

What makes this financial advice? Because it helps make you awesome at your job.

Being somewhere (like work!) on time is the easiest way to succeed ever. You don’t want to be known as someone who oversleeps and comes into work late. That’s not the path to promotions and raises, even if you’re the best worker in the office. Someone will hold this stupid thing against you, so just get it right – it’s easy.

When you’re accustomed to waking up earlier than you really need to, you have a buffer zone. If you oversleep, you can still make it to work on time. If you need to run an errand, you have a block of time. If you don’t need to do anything and you’re up early anyway, exercise. Read. Accomplish something. This is your time!

By doing what’s most important to you first thing in the day, a bad day at work or working late can’t ruin it.

6. Open a savings account as soon as you earn income

Savings are the best thing you can give yourself. Having a big pile of money saved up lets you do awesome things like:

  • Quit a shitty job
  • Move across the country for a better one
  • Buy a Nice New Thing once in a while
  • Not live in an utter state of panic

You want options, right? Then open a savings account and put money in it.

Set up automated transfer out of your checking account. Without any help from you, this humble account will receive money and grow in size. Get addicted to that feeling of reaching a milestone. $1,000! $5,000! Can you reach five digits? Six?!?

Here, I even broke it down into steps:

1. Go to and open a 360 Savings Account. It’s free.

2. Connect your new Savings Account to your existing Checking Account

3. Wait a couple days for the accounts to link up

4. Set up an automatic transfer so money goes from your Checking Account and into Savings Account without you having to lift a finger

7. Open an IRA investment account

These are fancy words but the concept is simple. Every year that you earn income, you can set aside up to $5,000/year in a special account called an IRA (individual retirement account).

You won’t be allowed to contribute to past years, so put as much in as you can (up to the limit) each year. Start as soon as you are earning money. My IRA is with Vanguard in their Retirement 2050 fund. I highly recommend them, and this fund, as it seems to turn a small profit each year.

I would have lost years not contributing to my IRA if it wasn’t for my boyfriend (now husband) who insisted I open an IRA and spelled it out for me. I didn’t think I had money to sock away like that. I opened the account, and I put a little in every few months. I didn’t make it to $5,000 my first year, but once it was habit it became easier. I met my IRA savings goal every year since. I now have $45k socked away for retirement in that account.

That’s pretty cool, especially since the earlier your money goes into the market, the longer it has to earn money (interest), which then gets rolled back into the investment to make even more money. It’s like earning money for doing nothing.

29-year-old me says thanks 22-year-old me!

8. Continue to develop your skills

Learning didn’t end at college graduation – it started.

Once I was on my own I struggled with inspiration and general despair over how much of a burden working full time placed on my ability to build my skills (artistic and otherwise). It was quite a shock going from developing my talents 24/7 to selling them to an employer 40 hours a week. I endured some inspirational droughts as I adjusted, but over the long haul, this was an essential step. Learning how to invent my own free time projects and challenge myself to learn new things outside of work was crucial.

Working on “hobby skills” gives me:

  • A clear sense of identity: I am much more than my day job
  • Something to work at: When I come home, I can work on any number of projects
  • Something apart from work: I don’t think about work at home, I think about my hobbies.
  • A safety net: When I was laid off, I had so many opportunities in so many directions I was nearly paralyzed. I could easily have reinvented myself as a freelance artist, a full time artist, a web developer, a writer, a fledgling programmer – I went back into game design, but if that ever dries up I’ve got numerous safety nets.
  • A side income: I sell plush, I freelance art. I can ramp this work up or down depending on my needs.
  • Something to talk to people about: Not that most people want to hear about it, haha.

Learn something outside of work. If nothing else, you’ll be more interesting than someone who communicates entirely in movie plots and Internet memes.

9. Don’t buy it unless you REALLY. NEED. IT.

Try to do without it for a week. If you can return it, buy it and hide it (don’t unbox it) for a week.

Did you survive? Did you even think about it? If so, you may not need it.

Did you think about it every day? Okay, you pass – go buy it.

You’re going to toss A LOT OF STUFF when you move, and no, not before you move. After you move. After you’ve paid thousands of dollars to move it. Because you moved in a hurry and it made no sense to toss things you thought you would need.

Your next apartment won’t have room and your house will have next to no storage space. Plus, most of what you bought when you were 22 was cheap junk because you didn’t earn much back then.

10. Marry Jim!

Okay, that advice is specific to me.

What I really mean is marry the right person (or partner with, if you’re in one of those shitty states that doesn’t yet let you marry the man or woman you love).

Your partner must be someone you can work with, someone you’re on the same page with in regards to money, how free time should be spent, what your hopes for the future are. Don’t move in with (or marry) anyone who falls short of those standards. Warren Buffett, who is super insanely rich, has said plenty on this.

Jim is my best friend, my co-conspirator, and my partner in everything. We work well together, and we’re on the same page financially. We agree on how much money should be saved and how much should be spent. This simple arrangement has spared us both the drama many couples get to live as they fight (and sometimes divorce) over money. I know it’s not super romantic, but it sure does simplify our relationship. I’m super glad I found him.

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