Today I'm celebrating the last birthday of my twenties. I can't say that I'm feeling any wiser (older? I'd rather not talk about it). But if you ask my friends and family, they'd probably say I'm pretty far ahead of the curve when it comes to my finances.
Sure, I've been writing about personal finance for the better part of my adult life, but that's not to say all this money wisdom didn't come without some serious trial and error.
You learn a lot on the way to thirty. I'll spare the more colorful life lessons -- here's the financial guidance I can provide, based on experience.
1. It's better to invest in staples than continue buying cheap crap. Somewhere around my 16th pair of $20 black pumps, I realized I should shell out for the $100 version that might last more than two months. Spending more money is worth it if you invest in quality, lasting products, rather that spending $20 here and $40 there for cheap pieces that need replacing.
2. Just because it's on sale doesn't mean it's a good deal. The thrill of "the find" is hard to beat. But if you're filling your home with stuff you don't need just because it was 80-percent off, all you really have is a bunch of junk you're too proud to purge.
3. Saving money is easy if you automate it. Yes, there are many people out there who can barely cover their bills, let alone save for a rainy day. There are plenty more who find every excuse to spend instead of save. If that's you, try setting up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings. I bet you won't even miss the money.
4. Going out every weekend isn't worth it. A 48-hour hangover and $100 less in my checking account? Thanks, but I'll take Netflix and my dog instead.
5. It's okay to pay a premium for convenience. Never forget that your time is your most valuable resource. I'm all for a good DIY project, but I'm not going to spend my Saturday afternoon attempting to change my own oil to save $3.
6. Experiences are worth more than things. Looking back on my most treasured memories, none include buying the newest iPhone. Treating my friends to a round of drinks after hitting 36 in Roulette, or buying my brother an overpriced sketchbook from a hole-in-the-wall art store in Florence -- now that's priceless. If given the choice, always opt for memories over material goods.
7. You really do have to save for retirement. It's far away, but it's real. The best thing my first boss ever did was convince me to start contributing $20 from every paycheck to an employer-sponsored IRA.
8. Cable is worthless. Never did I have more money, free time and brain cells than when I canceled my cable.
9. You won't reach your goals without writing them down. Whether it's a $10,000 emergency fund or a summer cruise savings account, a goal without a written action plan is just an idea.
10. You are your greatest investment. Healthy food, quality education, adequate insurance, retirement income -- nothing is more important than you. Pay yourself first and be willing to invest in your own well-being. You can cut corners on everything else.