Money Lessons I’d Teach My Younger Self

common sense millennialPlease welcome the very talented Kali of Common Sense Millennial who is working hard to become a full time freelancer very soon! After you’re finished with the post, go ahead and follow her updates on Twitter @CSMillennial

Decisions we should have made or actions we should have taken in the past seem painfully obvious to us from our vantage point in the present. The only thing we can do is attempt to learn from our past mistakes to try and avoid making the wrong choice in the future. But there are still a few things I wish I could do over, some things I would change, and some lessons I would try to teach my younger self if I had the chance.

Lesson One: A Well-Paying Job Is Hard to Find

Well-paying and fun part-time jobs for teenagers in high school aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, but when I was seventeen I somehow managed to charm my way into a position at Barnes & Noble. As someone who grew up with her nose in a book, this was a dream job. I worked at the bookstore for year, and in that time I earned myself a raise, made friends with my coworkers, and got a killer discount on books. But I hated that I had to work nights and weekends and I hated the handful of customers who were rude and mean. Being the ungrateful teenager that I was, these minor complaints convinced me retail was beneath me, and I quit. Had I stuck with it, that job would have taken me through college with far more money than I actually ended up making with the job I eventually found as an administrative assistant.

Lesson Two: Stick with Quality (Even If It Means You Have Less Quantity)

It took me a very long time to figure out what style was. I don’t remember owning a dress before college, but by the time I made it to high school I had at least realized that I didn’t want to wear boot-cut jeans, baggy t-shirts, and my hair in a ponytail every day for the rest of my life. Feeling like I had to buy so many clothes to keep up with the volume of outfits other girls seemed to have and working with an extremely limited budget created my habit of buying clothes that were cheap or because they were on sale (even if they didn’t quite fit). Eventually, I made another fashion realization: my closet was full of ill-fitting clothes so cheaply made that they fell apart after two months of wear. Although I bought everything on the clearance rack, I had to replace clothes so often I ended up spending far more than I would have had I just started out buying a few high-quality, better-made staples. I wish I could tell my younger self not to buy something just because it’s on sale. Instead, invest your money in a few versatile, classic pieces that will last for years.

Lesson Three: How Much Stuff You Have Is No Indication of How Successful You Are

More than anything, I wish I had I been able to teach my younger self this financial lesson: just because you look rich doesn’t mean you’re wealthy. I had friends from rich families who drove luxury cars and they never wore the same outfit twice. I knew adults who owned multiple homes, went on overseas vacations or took cruises four times a year, and ate out at the best restaurants in Atlanta every weekend. And they all had so much stuff.

In every case my thought was always the same: how are these people affording so much stuff and why can I afford so little? I was so jealous of all these people and would endlessly compare myself them, wondering why I couldn’t be successful like they were. It never occurred to me that these “rich” people couldn’t afford it. They were living on credit, had mortgages that they couldn’t pay, were drowning in debt from all the student loans they’d taken out in college to finance their fancy lifestyles instead of their tuition, and had never saved a dollar toward retirement. The lesson for younger me? Just because someone looks rich doesn’t mean they have wealth. Because I saved and invested my money instead of flaunting it, driving it, or wearing it, today I’m far wealthier than the people I used to envy.

What money lessons do you wish you had learned sooner? What financial wisdom would you share with your younger self if you had the chance?

How to Serve a Frugal Easter Dinner

frugal easter dinnerPlease welcome back the Laurie of The Frugal Farmer. She was so sweet to submit two posts for my maternity leave, and I really, really appreciate it!! In case you didn’t read her last post, Laurie is an awesome mama, blogger, and debt repayment queen. You’ll love her tips on how to serve a frugal Easter dinner. Thanks again, Laurie!

We in the Frugal Farmer family love, love, love to have people over and serve them a nice big meal, especially on holidays.  However, feeding a big group of people on a budget can get tricky.  We love to show kindness to others by preparing a meal for them, but we’re also on a tight budget as we work toward debt freedom.  Over the years, we’ve learned tricks and tips for hosting holiday meal gatherings and yet still keeping the costs reasonable.  Here are some of our tips:

Know When to Choose Homemade and When to Choose Store-Bought

Homemade foods are nearly always cheaper, especially when it comes to things like breads, desserts and side dishes, but sometimes store-bought is the better way to go.  For instance, last Thanksgiving, I toyed with making homemade bread rolls to serve to our group of twenty, but when the generic brown n’ serves went on sale for a buck a bag, I knew this was the way to go.  The cost comparison was similar to the homemade version, and the work it would save me was priceless. J  Another thing we did differently on Thanksgiving this year was that we made our stuffing with bread crumbs from home instead of store-bought bread crumbs.  I’d learned a tip on another blog about saving the ends (or crusts) of your bread loaves in a freezer bag and freezing them in the weeks before Thanksgiving and using those as your bread stuffing base.  So, instead of paying $3 a bag (we usually buy at least two bags) for store-bought bread crumbs, we used our bread loaf ends, which we had been throwing away, and had likely the best stuffing we’ve ever served.   Having a good idea of what foods cost in their raw state and what a comparable processed item would cost will help you to make quick and wise decisions about which option will be more cost effective.

Go Potluck

People, in general, love to contribute to a big meal, so don’t be afraid to ask your guests if they’ll bring a thing or two.  We’ve done this at our Easter and other holiday dinners for years now, and it not only saves on cost, but it adds a bit of fun to the festivities as we get to taste the cooking creations of others.  I usually try and pick out the more expensive items, and dole out one to each family that joins us on holidays, leaving the hard work and more inexpensive items to us.

Be Choosy About Serving Alcohol

On Easter and other holidays, serving alcohol for 20-30 people can get expensive real quick.  We handle this one of two ways: we either just serve pop and milk, inviting guests to bring anything else they might like on their own dime, or, we’ll pick up a more inexpensive 12-pack of beer and/or a cheaper bottle of wine, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.  The rule though, at our house, is to never let spending on drinks of any kind get out of hand, as this can be a huge budget-breaker

Plan Frugal Activities

With Easter specifically, the activities generally center around the kids.  We always buy a couple of bags of the cheap plastic Easter eggs, throw in some inexpensive candies and a few pennies, and the kids have a blast searching our large yard for the Easter eggs in their assigned color (this assures that everyone gets the same amount of eggs).  You can also plan other outdoor games, depending on the weather, such as badminton/volleyball, croquet, or simply send the kids out for a good old-fashioned game of hide and seek.  For winter holidays, choose activities like group games, family video slide shows, or fun movies to watch that fit the holiday you’re celebrating.

For the adults we make sure the sports options are available for them too, but mostly they’re quite happy simply sitting around and chatting.

With a little ingenuity, Easter dinner and other holiday dinners can be fun and entertaining without breaking the bank.

What are your favorite Easter and other holiday traditions?