Money Lessons I Wish I'€™d Learned Sooner: 5 Stories
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George“I wish I’d researched investing basics before handing over my money.”

George Alex Popescu, 34, financial entrepreneur, New York, N.Y.

“During my mid-20s, I made some investments…that, in hindsight, can only be described as foolish. But what did I know? Fresh out of college and eager to make some easy money, I didn’t seek the advice that could have saved me big time in the end. Instead, I invested without any due diligence.

For example, had I known that a ‘60-percent annual return’ promise comes with a very high probability of losing everything, I never would have invested.

The upside to having lost so much money is that I’ve learned from my mistakes. Today, I’m a much more cautious investor. If rates are more than two to three times what banks pay, it’s an immediate red flag for me.”

His best advice: Do your homework and thoroughly research both the risk and potential rewards of new investments. There’s also something to be said about seeking the advice of a trusted advisor. Adopting these practices makes it a lot less likely that I’ll make an emotional investment.

Tara Currie“I wish I’d started saving earlier.”

Tara Currie, 34, a customer service specialist in Tarpon Springs, Fla.

“Back when I was a teenager and got my first after-school job at a grocery store, my grandparents told me how important it was to save 10 percent of your paychecks. Oh, how I wish I’d listened! Instead, I ended up spending my money as soon as it came in.

I did eventually get the hang of saving about five years ago. As I approached my 30th birthday, I took stock of my financial picture. I read up on expert advice online and took a closer look at my rainy day fund, which was pretty much nonexistent.

That’s when I decided to make a change. I started socking away $20 a week, which really added up over time. When I lost my job in 2013, the $1,300 I’d saved helped soften the blow. It wasn’t enough to cover all my bills, but it was a very helpful cushion while I got back on my feet.

My savings account is still rebounding from that crisis, but it’s growing again. After paying off my credit card debt—which sits at just over $5,000—rebuilding my emergency fund is my No. 1 goal.”

Her best advice: “Don’t rely on credit to replace your savings account. The interest will come back to haunt you. Also, money comes and money goes, but taking a ‘poor me’ attitude surely won’t leave you feeling empowered. Maintaining a financially positive attitude is key.”

Jennifer Reich 2“I wish I’d known how to budget for non-monthly expenses.”

Jennifer Bright Reich, 45, a publisher and author in Allentown, Pa.

“I wish I knew earlier in life that budgets change from month to month. I used to make a strict budget, stick to it one month, then get frustrated when I went over the following month. Things like an unexpected house repair or hosting a party would send my neat little budget into a tailspin. Reluctantly, I’d dip into my savings to cover the difference, which is never a good habit.

Finally, after some trial-and-error, I learned it’s way more effective to create a customized budget for each new month. By factoring in month-specific trips, birthdays, doctor co-pays, haircuts and so on, you’re not blindsided.

Starting each month with a blank budget form has not only helped me stay on budget, it’s also led me to discover recurring expenses I didn’t know about, like a $10 bank fee, that I now factor in as a monthly bill.”

Her best advice: “If you tell your money where to go, it listens. You are in control of your spending!”

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