When it comes to money, time is one of your greatest assets. If you have it on your side, it can make a world of difference to your financial situation. Having not properly engaged with my finances until I was 26, I often look back and wonder what might’ve been different if I’d had access to financial education earlier in life.
The changes I’ve made in my finances over the last five years have increased my financial confidence more than younger me ever believed was possible. And if there’s one thing I’d say to anyone wanting to undergo their own financial glow-up, it’s this: just start now. Avoidance of your finances compounds into a much bigger issue, and the longer you wait, the less time there is to course correct.
In the spirit of just starting now, here are seven money tips I wish I’d learnt sooner.
1. Save for no particular reason
I can’t quite believe how naive I was, but I genuinely didn’t realise that saving without a specific purpose was a key tenet of healthy financial behaviour. When you grow up in a paycheck-to-paycheck environment, having savings isn’t something you’re really familiar with, so I only put money aside when I was saving for something specific.
Even on a low income, if I’d stashed just $20 a week from age 20 to age 25, I’d have had over $5,000 to put towards a home deposit, or for travel, or to keep as an emergency fund.
2. Built an emergency fund
One of the biggest things that kept me in a cycle of using debt or destroying my savings progress was not having an emergency fund.
I look back and remember feeling riddled with worry over things like car services or a leaking toilet. These things are never going to be fun to pay for, but knowing there’s some money there takes such a weight off. If I’d started an emergency fund much earlier in life, I’d have had something to fall back on when those adult responsibilities started piling up.
3. Go grocery shopping with a list, consistently
I’d always associated meal planning with dieting but never with budgeting. For that reason, I almost rebelled against it. What that meant, though, was I’d head to the grocery store with little more than a rough idea of what I wanted to get in mind. I’d focus on getting the cheapest stuff but never on actual planning. Once I embraced the fact that shopping with a list doesn’t have to mean being restrictive, I saved on groceries by simply shopping smarter.
4. Give up trying to be someone you’re not
A lot of my negative financial behaviours were actually rooted in other issues I had with myself. Low self-esteem and body image issues kept me stuck in a spending cycle of trying to fix a problem that no amount of flattering clothes or workout plans could ever change.
We’re often quick to chalk money problems up to a lack of knowledge or a lack of money itself. While these things definitely played a role for me, the missing piece of the puzzle was making the connection between me and my financial behaviour. Issues that had nothing to do with money were manifesting in my financial behaviours. When I broke that down, the practical stuff like budgeting became a lot clearer.
5. Track your spending
To me, this felt restrictive and ultimately pointless because I really thought I knew where my money was going. That’s almost never true.
Almost everyone can benefit from tracking their spending, at least from time to time. Once I tracked my spending, I could uncover small but significant ‘leaks’ in my financial behaviour. They felt like they wouldn’t make much difference, but when you take action to plug them, you can free up some breathing room. One of the most common money leaks is popping to the supermarket for a ‘top-up shop’. People don’t realise how often they do this and how quickly those little bits add up.
MoneyHub from H&R Block is a great starting point for getting visibility over where your money is going.
6. Start investing
The earlier you start investing, the more time your money has to grow. Of course, there has been a long-standing participation gap for women in investing, but there are so many resources online now for younger people to access. The golden rule of investing little, often and early, really is true. The books Girls That Invest and Investing with She’s On The Money are great starting points.
7. Realise that small amounts of money do matter
I used to think I just didn’t earn enough to save. When I was earning around $40,000 and paying rent, public transport and all the other unavoidable costs of living in a city, I could only create so much space between my expenses and my income.
For that reason, I dismissed the option of saving $30 here and $50 there because it didn’t satisfy my craving for instant results. I’d think, “there’s no point sacrificing $30 a week because in 3 months, I’ll only have $360”. If I’d thought about the bigger picture and realised that in two years, I’d have over $3,000, I’d have given myself a much stronger starting point for later in my twenties.
Emma Edwards is a finance writer and content creator based in Melbourne as well as the H&R Block SMB Ambassador. She runs her own digital platform, The Broke Generation, where she has open conversations about money and financial literacy, with an emphasis on the psychological aspects of personal finance.
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