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If only I had . . . Financial success tips that would have made me so much more successful with my personal financial planning. Oh well, at least you can learn from my financial mistakes.

12 Financial Success Tips I Wish I Had Learned In High School

I thought I had an above average understanding of personal finance when I graduated from high school.

After all, I knew how to balance a check book, I knew that debt was bad and I had done some fake stock market investing.

I was ready to conquer the world when I went off to college.

My financial education had so many holes, I’m lucky I graduated from college with only $8,500 in student loan debt.

Looking back there are so many things I wish I could go back and teach myself. I would be so much further ahead if I had just made a few minor changes.

So in no particular order, here is what I’d love to drill into my 18-year-old past self:

1. The power of compounding interest.

It is really hard to truly understand the power of compounding interest until you’ve seen it in action. Unfortunately, most of us are on the wrong end of the interest equation.

I remember looking at my first mortgage statement when I was 24 years old. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but my loan payment was just under $1,000. That seemed like a pretty decent payment until I noticed that I was paying around $750 toward interest each month.

Welcome to the compounding interest lesson.

Interest can work for or against you. My goal is to always have it work for me.

2. The power of a real budget

Notice the word “real”. I budgeted for years and thought I was doing great.

A real budget is setting realistic numbers and then sticking to them. Instead of my old method, which was having a budget and then making excuses for missing my numbers.

A real budget is learning to tell yourself no and not giving in to all of your desires.

When you learn to do a real budget it is the most freeing experience in the world. There is something magical about learning to control your money instead of having it control you.

If you want an easy budget to get yourself started, try using the percentage based budgeting system.

3. Don’t go to college just to go to college

College isn’t for everyone and that is okay.

I love, love, love learning and will be a learner for the rest of my life.  I have a master degree in business and am proud of my scholastic accomplishments.

However, the most valuable lessons I’ve learned have been on the job, not from a college classroom.

A college degree opens doors, but it is up to you to do something with the opportunity.

If college isn’t for you, that is okay. Find your niche and do what you love.

Just remember, it is all about the desire to learn.  Never stop expressing yourself and you’ll be fine.

4. Avoid Student Loan Debt

Don’t go to college and rack up debt that will handicap you for the rest of your life.

Debt is bad, even for college!

I still highly recommend college, but choose to be strategic in your decision-making process.

  • Do your research. Go to cheaper school. Very few people actually look at where you went to school, they just want to see a diploma.
  • Get good grades so you are eligible for scholarships.
  • Apply for every scholarship you can find.
    • Applying for scholarships should literally be your full-time job during your last two years of high school.
  • Work while attending school.
    • I worked 28-32 hours weekly while attending college full time and managed to graduate with a 3.7. It was tough, but it can be done.

Your number one goal as a student is to avoid student loan debt (and graduate).

If you want to start a college fund for your kids you should check out.  College Savings Funds:  Is An ESA Or 529 Right For You?

5. Start investing young (as in now!)

This goes back to the power of compounding interest. The earlier you start investing the more time you have for compounding interest to work its magic.

There is nothing more satisfying than watching your money grow. I know I’m not the only dork that just loves looking at my investments (still pretty small) and seeing them increase.

If you are a newbie investor check out Introductory Guide to Stock Market Investing

It is never too early to start saving for retirement!  I highly, highly recommend starting your retirement investing now.  If you aren’t eligible for a company sponsored 401K account you can always start a Traditional or Roth IRA.

Start here for some post you may find helpful:

6. Avoid debt at all costs

This point gets repeated over and over throughout this list, but it is important enough to warrant its own number.


Avoid debt at all costs.

  • Work your way through school
  • Take your education seriously so you can get scholarships
  • Don’t use credit cards
  • Drive beater cars and avoid car loans – We run our cars into the ground.
  • Get off the spending band wagon – you don’t need _______ (fill in the blank)
  • Just because Banana Republic, Home Depot, or Living Spaces have a store card doesn’t mean you need one.
  • Don’t become cash poor because you over-purchased on a home.  How Much Home Can You Really Afford?
    • Keep your mortgage payment below 25% of your take home income and do your best to finance a 15-year mortgage.
  • Don’t take out Payday Loans – It will end badly for everyone but the payday loan company.
  • Don’t finance furniture and other miscellaneous household items. If you can’t pay cash save your money, buy used or do without.
  • Learn to thrift shop and save money on ordinary purchases.
  • Learn the difference between wants and needs.

7. The Joneses could care less about your attempts to keep up with them.

I know it is hard to believe, but just because the neighbors have a bunch of “stuff”, doesn’t mean they are happier than you. It also doesn’t mean they can actually afford their stuff.

Everyone is so busy keeping up with everyone else that they don’t have time to notice your ordinary clothing and life.

If you can learn to be happy and content with what you have your life will be significantly easier.

8. Find a hobby

You’re probably wondering why this made the list. In my opinion, hobbies keep you interested and engaged in life. They are a huge stress outlet and give you something to look forward to that is uniquely your own.

I’ve got a ton of hobbies including rock climbing, canyoneering, photography, hiking, writing, and blogging.

Through my hobby’s I’ve made amazing friends, visited amazing places and learned amazing things.

My hobbies are what gives me my little bit of extra zest for life.

9. Insurance often seems like a ripoff, but when you need it, it is worth every penny you paid.

Yes, purchasing insurance sucks. But when you need insurance, you really don’t want to not have it as an extra safety net.

Insurance is designed to cover the big, big moments in your life. Think about how you would afford a home flood, a heart attack or a major car accident.

Make sure you always carry the following insurance:

  • Medical
  • Vehicle
  • Home/renters
  • Life (if you have dependents)
  • Long Term Disability

Yes, paying the premiums is hard at times, but at some point, you’ll have an emergency and that insurance you hated is going to be what saves you.

10.  Always, always, always have an emergency fund.

Your emergency fund is your buffer between life and Murphy’s Law. Always, keep some spare money around to help you avoid going into debt for the little bumps in life.

Your car is going to die at some point, your fridge will go out, the A/C will break.

Having an emergency isn’t an If situation, it is a WHEN situation.

Being prepared for an emergency is the best protection you have against going into debt.

If you are just starting your personal finance journey, start with a $500 emergency fund and then gradually increase to $1,000. The goal is to always have 3-6 months of extra money on hand.

I know it sounds like a lot, but when an emergency happens you’ll be thankful for all the sacrifices you made to build up your fund.

If you are struggling to save money check out Digit or Qapital. Both are awesome tools I use and love for saving a bit of extra money.

Just be careful to use your emergency fund for its intended purpose – 4 Questions To Ask Before Using Your Emergency Fund.

11. Learn to set financial goals

Having a financial plan is what sets you up for financial success. When you learn to set financial goals and accomplish them you’ll learn self-control.

When you can control your appetite for spending the world is your oyster.

By controlling your spending you’ll avoid debt, be on the right side of the compounding interest equation and be prepared for emergencies.

The sense of security that comes from being prepared financially will positively impact all aspects of your life. Financial stress can cause huge issues with relationships, health, and general happiness.

Learn to set a financial goal and stick to it.

Check out 6 Advantages of Personal Financial Planning for more information on this subject.

12. Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself

Traditional education is not always the best route for learning. I’m a huge fan of Udemy, Coursera, and The Great Courses. There are some really amazing MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) available. Heck, the knowledge base on Youtube alone is amazing.

If you want to teach yourself a new career, there are a lot of options available.

Always have an attitude of learning. Cultivate the ability to soak up knowledge and be interested in everything that goes on around you.

The happiest people in life are those who are constantly learning and striving for me. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Always reach for the stars.

It is never too late to learn these lessons

Although I wish I had learned these financial success tips at a younger age, I’m just glad that they have all finally sunk in.

Unfortunately most of these lessons needed to be learned the hard way.  Hopefully, you are a bit less stubborn than me and can learn from my list rather than the school of hard knocks.

Just as an FYI, this list isn’t even close to being all inclusive. I just realized that this post was getting a bit long and out of control. I think I’ll have to do a part two one of these days.

This was one of my favorite posts to write.  It is crazy looking back at the mistakes I’ve made and seeing the progress I’ve made as I’ve chosen to become intentional with my money.  Good luck avoiding these same mistakes!