The gift of youth is upon you and time is on your side. Treasure it like a precious jewel. But alas, it won’t always be so. Your boundless energy and impossibly smooth skin will eventually give way to experience, a more tempered pace, and responsibility. Oh, and wrinkles. Your tastes will change, your friendship circles will spin in different directions, and before you know it you’ll be saying, ‘honey, we’ve run out of nappies’.
Calm down, this is not a parental-style lecture about the pitfalls of partying or a persistent urging you to settle down with Alfred and Doris’s oldest child. This is purely a few slices of wisdom that you may look back on and be thankful for.
You’re probably working a steady job by now, testing out your budgeting skills and accumulating possessions. Life is unfolding at an unprecedented rate and you have so many choices! Where to live, how to spend, what to do in your spare time – and there’s no wrong way to do things, right? You’re figuring it out as you go. But what if future You could jump back ten years and tell present You there’s a better way to do things right now? What would future You say?
Do you want to do this forever?
Unless you’re brilliantly focussed, chances are you’ve fallen into a job or an industry that is a stepping stone, outside of your area of interest or just completely uninspiring. You probably don’t even know exactly where you want to end up, and that’s perfectly okay. For now, it’s enough to know what you don’t want.
If this is not your imagined future, acknowledge the fact you’re not yet working towards an ultimate career goal and give your current job a pre-determined life span, somewhere between 3-5 years but certainly no more. You can use the time to explore what excites you while you still have the security of a steady job. It might be the case that you’re interested in all sorts of things – that’s fine! Buy books on various subjects, look into a night class, or join a hobby group or related society.
The beauty is that when you find something that truly excites, you’re young enough to plan for change. You may have the means to jump back into study full-time, or perhaps a part-time course or night school will be a step in a new direction. Having options is truly a position of privilege when so many in the world struggle to survive. You are in the land of opportunity – embrace it! The alternative is putting off the inevitable disillusion or risking terminal boredom. Future You urges action now.
Money doesn’t save itself
The trap that twenty-somethings risk falling into is to match your spending with your income. With each incremental pay rise you climb another rung up the social ladder – you can live in a better house or apartment, you can eat fancier food, frequent classier venues and buy more impressive clothes. You also save the exact amount of money as you used to. If you continue to perpetuate these habits, it’s a zero sum game. Meaning, when you reach your thirties, you’ll have zero savings. Even when you are feeling wise and responsible and you bulk up your bank account for a few months, the temptation will be to raid it before too long.
How can you avoid such a predictable outcome? It’s all about having the right financial infrastructure in place. The less you have to actively manage your money, the easier it will be. Think about the sorts of things you will want in your future. You’ll probably desire a holiday at some point. Do you want a series of short getaways or do you want a longer adventure? Do you want to work overseas while your youth allows it? A holiday fund is an easy way to reach your goals without going into debt or scrambling for cash when you’ve just got to get away. A nominal amount each pay day quickly adds up and gives you something to look forward to.
Not a trust fund kid? Who is! But have you ever thought about starting your own fund? There are a whole bunch of great products out there to get you started and keep you serious about saving. You can even ask your financial institution to lock in a period during which you cannot access your cash. Go long-term, with a five year minimum. You might be happy with a rental property for the foreseeable future, but somewhere along the line the instability is likely to get you down. Put away whatever you can – fifty dollars a week is great, one hundred is better. No-one in the history of humanity has regretted putting it away for a rainy day. Money is not the be-all and end-all to happiness, but it can give you options. Real estate might not be your ultimate goal, but at least you’ll be in a position to decide at the time.
Predict that something unpredictable will happen
If it doesn’t, fantastic! But in the off-chance that life takes an unexpected turn, don’t let it ruin you. You could lose your job, become ill or have a loved one develop an illness, get booted out of your house, or face financial woes. While we’re being serious, what would happen if you lost your life altogether? What would you leave behind? Who would you leave behind? You can’t plan for everything, but just ask yourself what might happen if any of these scenarios struck. Would income protection insurance or health insurance be the difference between floating or sinking? What about life insurance for the benefit of your existing and future families? Do you have support networks in place? How would you cope with tragedy? Thinking about these sorts of things needn’t be a source of anxiety, and they can help guide your long-term decision making and set up safeguards wherever possible.
If you’re lucky enough to be in love, you’ve probably thought about the future and the sorts of goals you plan on achieving. This might include starting a family, buying a house, perhaps planning a wedding down the track. You don’t have to decide what you want right now, and there’s a good chance things will change between now and then anyway. But each of these life stages requires a certain amount of advance planning. Could your family cope on one income, for example? When is the best time to take on a mortgage? Do you need to sacrifice now to make things easier in five or ten years’ time?
The wonderful thing about being young and lithe is that you bounce back from everything so quickly. I hate to break it to you so bluntly, but it doesn’t last. Before you know it, bad habits punish you in more ways than you can imagine. Start now – build exercise into your weekly regime and future You will love you forever. Focus on keeping your back and neck muscles strong, stretch often and walk wherever and however you can. Think about your dietary habits and figure out ways to maximise nutrition and minimise calories. If you’re stuck in a culinary rut, start exploring weird and wonderful cuisines and really challenge your palette. The bonus is that many varieties of Asian, African and South American fare are frequently served up in generous quantities for impressively low prices, so it’s a great way to dine out while you’re on a budget.
Your twenties are all about learning how to live and love by trial and error. But life’s too short to always learn from your own mistakes when you can learn from the mistakes of others. Ask a group of bright, educated thirty-something’s what they wish they’d done earlier and you’ll hear the same answers over and over: I wish I’d saved money. I wish I’d worked overseas. I wish I’d studied earlier. I wish I’d taken a special holiday before taking on a mortgage. I wish I’d never wasted time in bad relationships. I wish I’d got my backside into gear and taken up running/dancing/yoga/cricket. I wish I had focus.
Over to you.