The 6 Money Mistakes To Avoid In Your 20s

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
If only. Are there two other words that have the ability to make you feel so wistful or guilty about something you did in the past? If only I said hi. If only If only I started a Cute Pugs of Instagram account five years ago. If only I had stood up to my tyrannical roommate. You get what I mean.
But there’s one part of your life in which the urge for a do-over applies more than most: Your finances — particularly if you’re me. I’ve been both a personal finance writer (for magazines like Money, SmartMoney, and Forbes) and the financial editor for NBC’s Today show for more than 20 years. (More recently, I’ve launched HerMoney, a weekly podcast for women, by women about money. You can subscribe, here.) That means I've had plenty of chances to learn what's right versus wrong when it comes to my finances. I’ve figured out the cheapest, easiest, and stickiest ways to do them consistently. And I’ve had way too many chances to revisit what my early mistakes cost me.
Trust me. It’s not pretty.
But what I’ve also learned is that once you get on the right track, staying there isn’t all that difficult. Really, if you can get yourself to spend less than you make and then put the money you’re not spending to work for your future, you’ve come about 80% of the way to financial success. Add in some protection provisions — a bit of cash on the side for emergencies, insurance (health insurance for you, life insurance for your family) — and you’re there. There will still be the occasional if-only moments ­— If only I didn’t go to the sample sale — but you’ll be able to swing them.
Here’s a look at the mistakes I made in my 20s. I hope they inspire you not to make the same ones yourself!

Personal finance expert and best-selling author Jean Chatzky is the financial editor for NBC’s
Today show, host of the podcast HerMoney on iTunes and creator of the free weekly newsletter This Week In Your Wallet. She believes knowing how to manage our money is one of the most important life skills for people at every age and has made it her mission to help simplify money matters, increasing financial literacy both now and for the future. Jean is a regular contributor in the media, appearing on Oprah and The View, and writing for Forbes, Fortune, Cosmopolitan, and You can find her at

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