Sarah, let’s talk. I know you’re all wrapped up in living that student life and think listening to your 33-year-old self is oh so lame, but I’ve got some things to say. You might feel like you’ve got everything under control, but let’s be honest, you’re still living with your parents (good money-saving move by the way) and can only cook eggs in the microwave so don’t get too high on yourself. Life has a way of bringing you right back down to earth. I want you to know that things will be okay. You’ll learn and grow and love and hurt, but you’ll be satisfied, and that’s more than a lot of people can say.

But, there are a few things you could be doing right now to make things even better. And yes, I’m here to rag on your spending habits. Money will be a more significant part of your life than you can ever imagine, and I want you to know a few personal finance lessons to set yourself up for success. There’s more than a little room for improvement.

Save Something, Anything. Please!

Clothes, cocktails, and carbs. The three C’s that are wreaking havoc on future you’s budget. You do NOT need another pair of True Religion jeans. They are terrible and ugly and will be ‘so last year’ in a matter of months. You can’t see me, but I am cringing right now picturing those bedazzled horseshoe pockets. Stop! I know you want to keep up with your friends, but moderation is key. Make going out a special event, and you’ll be more likely to remember each night in the future instead of having a blur of random memories.

And seriously, eat dinner with your parents. Free food will be a big deal when you are older, and you are not taking nearly enough advantage of it right now.

Now, about that saving thing. You’re already doing great by holding down a part-time job, but you’ll do yourself a huge favour by setting a small portion of that income aside instead of spending it all. RRSPs don’t make sense right now because your income is low, but putting $50/month into a high-interest savings account would be amazing. In a few years, you’ll have access to a tax-free savings account. It’s not a thing yet, but it will be the perfect place for your money when it is introduced in 2009. For now, don’t worry much about investing and instead build up an emergency fund for when mom and dad aren’t footing the big bills.

Credit Is A Big Deal, But Do It Right

By now you’ve had your first credit card for a couple of years, and you are mostly good with it. Use it, love it, feel like an adult every time you swipe it, and PAY THE DAMN THING OFF EVERY SINGLE MONTH. I know some months it’s hard, but girl, do it. You are incredibly lucky to have your tuition covered by scholarships and the bank of mom and dad. As I’m writing this letter from the future, Canadian students owe the government over $28 billion in student loans. By sticking to your budget (and saying no to another night out), you’ll give yourself a considerable advantage by graduating debt-free.

Treat your credit score like the queen it is and nurture the heck out of it. Future you with dreams of homeownership will be so thankful. Using your credit card and having bills in your name are great ways to build a credit history, but even one missed payment can impact your credit score. Stay on top of things and never charge more to your card then you can afford to pay off in that month.

Be smart and monitor your credit report on a monthly basis. It’s fast, free, easy, and such a valuable way to ensure you’re keeping on top of things. Visit Borrowell and get your credit report and score for free. The last thing you want is to learn about an error on your report when you’re sitting at the bank applying for a mortgage.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For What You Want

You are the opposite of a pushover when it comes to your peers. But you’ve got a bit of a problem standing up to authority. I’m not asking you to turn into a badass rebel, but put yourself first and ask for what you deserve.

This is especially true when it comes to your career. After university, you’ll start working in a job that will surprise you, but it works out for the best. Along the way, you’ll have some great bosses and some not so great bosses. Do not let that phase you. You will work hard and be a valuable employee and you deserve to get paid. Every year you should schedule a one on one meeting with your boss, come armed with a long list of why you’re fantastic and ask for a raise. Usually, you will get it. Sometimes you won’t. Don’t let this affect your work ethic, and remember, sometimes compensation is more than just cash. Consider extra holidays or flex time as part of your ask.

Nurture Your Friendships

It is hard to make new friends when you are out of university. In school, you are surrounded by people your age with many of the same interests. The rest of your life will not be like that. Make time for your existing friends and branch out and make new ones that will grow with you into adulthood. There is nothing like a close group of friends to support you through tough times and celebrate the wins.

The people you hang out with the most also play a role in your money. Frugal friends will make you more frugal; spendy friends will make you more spendy. Try to find a balance here and don’t let your friendships dictate your spending. It might sound terrible but talk about money with your friends. Suggest small changes to make activities more affordable. Maybe a girls night in instead of girls night out. Or taking the dog for a walk in the park instead of hitting the mall. You might be surprised by how eager your friends are to adopt thriftier habits.

And whatever you do, do not put boys before your girlfriends. I made this mistake, and I still regret it. Even the best relationships need outside support.

Money Spent On Things You Love Is Not Wasted

Take a hard look at the things you spend money on. Are they worth it? Do you genuinely love them? Or are you spending money on things you could easily do without?

Establishing good money habits should start now. Why? Because they take practice. Don’t wait until you have a full-time paycheque, start practicing when you’re only earning a small amount and don’t have a lot of expenses. Take the time to figure out what you enjoy doing (hint it’s probably food, travel, and concerts) and allow yourself to spend guilt-free in those areas. Within reason of course; you’re not Beyonce! (And yes, that reference holds up.)

The catch? Stop spending so much in areas that don’t matter to you. I promise, in ten years you won’t remember a single item that’s in your current wardrobe. In fact, Greyhound will lose an entire suitcase filled with your beloved clothes, and you won’t miss any of it. You will, however, hold that grudge against Greyhound for the rest of your life. Worry less about material things and instead give yourself the gift of experiences. It’s a proven fact that humans get more happiness from spending money on experiences instead of things.

And finally, know that life is good. It can be a rollercoaster at times, but there’s always an up after a down. Just like the stock market, so go learn about that too!

Lessons on personal finance that I needed at twenty.

This post was proofread by Grammarly.

Image Credit: Element5 Digital


  1. Loved this post, Sarah. It’s so hard for me to think about how different of a person I am today compared to age 20. I bet this was a great thought exercise to go through. I may have to steal this idea and do it for myself at some point. My 20 year old self won’t listen to my mid-30s advice anyway. 🙂

    • Sarah Reply

      Thanks FP. It was a an interesting thing to write and reflect back on how differently I handle money. Highly recommend!

  2. I love reading these type of posts — hindsight, as they say, is always 20/20 but I think it’s good to reflect. Plus who knows, it might help someone else reading!

    Also, you are not kidding re: free food being a big deal as an adult. Yesterday, a bounty of leftover-meeting-sandwiches made it into our break room at the office and I swear, you’d think they were made of gold. It was awesome (and a delicious addition to the salad I packed from home haha)

    • Sarah Reply

      How did I not appreciate free food when I was younger?! And yes, hopefully the things I did wrong can steer others in a better direction.

    • Sarah Reply

      Soul sister! You just need to come move by me and I’ll babysit 😉

Write A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.