Growing up, I thought I always had a knack for being financially responsible. My parents constantly lectured me about the importance of spending within my means and saving from a young age, so I would be careful not to spend too much while out with friends, and would throw a few dollars in my savings account here and there.
But as I got older and more expenses kept popping up – phone bills, car payments and maintenance, and insurance, to name a few – the more I realized there is a lot I don’t know about managing money. Moreover, 2018 was a rollercoaster of a year; a lot happened in my life and my bank account was definitely affected.
Sound familiar? If you’re a young adult, you probably understand that turning point when life starts coming at you – fast. And sometimes these growing pains can take a toll on your wallet, that is, until you learn your financial lesson.
Here are three important financial lessons I learned in 2018:
Lesson #1: Your emotions can really mess up your finances
Perhaps one of the most important lessons I learned in 2018 is how emotions can lead to impulse decisions. It’s easy to get carried away with spending when celebrating an accomplishment or when you’re feeling down. “Treat yo’ self” mentality has become all too prevalent among people my age with the rise of social media and internet memes telling you to simply “do what makes you happy.” But happiness doesn’t always have to come with a price tag, and it took a while for me to understand that.
At the top of 2018, I went through a rough break up and used retail therapy as a way to cope with the loss I felt. Buying clothes, shoes, décor and other assorted crap felt like enough to soothe the pain in the moment. But by the time I snapped out of it and realized it was just a temporary fix, I had more credit card debt than I ever had before, and subsequently had to turn to my savings to eventually pay it off.
Since then, I’ve learned to use a few different strategies to help me handle my emotions. Instead of driving down to the mall when I’m feeling sad, I now grab my duffle bag and head to the gym or a yoga class. Or sometimes I’ll call a friend, or binge-watch a series on Netflix, or cook a new recipe I found online. There are so many options that don’t require me to take out my wallet, and now I’m able to clear my mind without breaking the bank.
Lesson #2: Don’t just save money. Invest money
As I mentioned before, my parents always advised me to save my money. And as such, I would work multiple jobs and longer hours to earn more, so I could simply put more money into my savings account. But what I failed to realize is that there are ways to save your money, and let that money make money as well.
Prior to last year, the word “investing” was daunting to me. But funny enough, a series of WealthSimple ads prompted me to look into it, and I realized that investing isn’t as scary as it sounds. A simple Google search was all it took for me to discover an abundance of financial literacy resources, like the blog you’re on right now! And yes, there are a lot of different types of investments out there, but you can narrow down your options based on your financial priorities. As a young person who wants to save for a vacation here and there and eventually buy a house in the next decade or so, I realized how easy it is to open a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) and earn interest on my savings for free. I recommend TFSAs to anyone who’s never invested before. But for someone who has a family or is looking to save money for retirement, there are other types of investments that may align better with their lifestyle.
You don’t need to be “Wolf of Wall Street” to invest. You don’t even need to know what a stock or bond is. It can be as simple as calling up your bank and asking about high-interest savings accounts or comparing TFSA rates at RateSupermarket.ca.
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Lesson #3: Pay closer attention to your bills
Automatic bill payments sound like a no-brainer; you’ll never be late on payments again, and you don’t have to worry about logging into different accounts and remembering passwords.
However, I learned the hard way that auto payments can be a blessing and a curse. For example, I have a few subscriptions and memberships that are charged to my credit card monthly. But since I wasn’t paying attention to my bill, I didn’t realize until after the bill was paid that I was charged twice for a membership in one month.
I could’ve avoided those calls to customer service and being put on hold for 40+ minutes if I had just stayed on top of my finances instead of taking the easy way out. Lesson learned: Checking your bills month-to -month is key to ensuring you’re not wasting any money.
Making your payments manually also forces you to view your bill, hold yourself accountable for impulse purchases and learn from your mistakes. If you have a budget (which you should), this also gives you the opportunity to review your spending patterns and make changes when necessary.
I know, opening your banking apps and logging into your accounts can be anxiety-inducing, but making it a regular practice will slowly but surely take the fear out of doing it.
Through the ups and downs, 2018 taught me that it’s not always about how much you have, but what you do with what you have. So, thank you 2018 for making me a little older and a little financially wiser.
The MoneyWise Guide to Becoming Financially Saavy is the key to mastering the basics of personal finance, giving you the resources to navigate simple budgeting, investing and credit building. Brush up on your financial literacy and save today!