Things I Wish I Knew When I Was 18

Do you ever look back and wonder, “What if I had known this when I was 18?” I know I do. It’s not that I live in the past and berate myself for mistakes that I’ve made. The school of hard knocks is a great teacher, and I know there are lessons I learned the hard way that I will always remember.

But if I had to live my life over again, there are a few lessons I would like to have learned a little earlier in life.

1. Just because you can pay the minimum doesn’t mean you can afford the balance. It took me years to figure that out. For a long time I was a creditor’s dream come true. I carried a large balance on my credit cards, and faithfully paid the minimum balance by the due date every month. I thought I was doing great, because my credit score was great. I never thought to add up all the interest I was paying on my purchases.

2. If you begin investing for your retirement early, you won’t have to invest as much. My husband and I began investing in our retirement when I was 34. Yes, two years ago. Had we known about compounding interest, we certainly would have invested sooner. I’m not really that worried about what will happen to us when we’re older, but things surely would have been easier if we had gotten our financial lives together sooner.

3. Don’t spend a ton of money on your education until you know for sure what you want to do. My major in college? Sociology. Do you know what I’ve done with that degree? Nothing. How much in student loan debt did that degree cost me? $4000. But wait. It gets worse. I went to graduate school. For what? Special Education. Did I finish the program? Nope. How much did that mistake cost me in student loan debt? $10,000. In retrospect, I should have thought much harder about my education before taking the plunge.

4. If you’re going to pay a ton of money for a college education, you should at least show up for class. I don’t even want to think about all the hours of class I paid for, but didn’t benefit from. I went to all of the classes that interested me, but if I found a class boring, I would skip the lecture and skate by on my test taking skills. I didn’t get nearly everything out of college that I could have.

5. Spend less than you earn. I went over this yesterday. It’s a concept that I’ve only recently taken seriously. When I think about all the money I’ve blown on going to the movies, eating out, and just basic useless stuff, it’s kind of depressing.

Obviously I can’t turn back the clock and live my life over. That’s OK. I’m confident that my husband and I will be alright, despite our mistakes. Life won’t be as easy as it could have been, but we’ll be OK. The one thing I can do is make sure my children learn these lessons before they leave home. Then hopefully they won’t make the same mistakes I did.

What lessons do you wish you had learned earlier in life?


By , on Dec 11, 2007
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. Jenny:

    Well I’m 17 right now and trying to get a little wisdom on my side. So thanks for everything you say. ;D

  2. Planey:

    Fun fact: I’m turning 18 in a month and a half. Thanks everyone for sharing your wisdom~! I still have no idea what I’m doing with myself for college, but I’ll be trying my hardest to stay out of debt.

  3. Jenna:

    Yes, I wish I new at 18 what I know now. At 18 I had managed to save $26K and was going to college. I let my highschool sweetheart talk me into quitting college and getting married. I started working three jobs while he went to school he became a doctor. I got left with 199K in debt and two children to finish raising. Never could get the courts to get him to pay what is owed to me. My $26K that I had hard earned starting at 11 was for retirement to this day I have zero. I tell girls everywhere get your education, keep your own money in your name only and depend on yourself.

  4. Sonja:

    @PT – I’m not 18 anymore, but I am still just in my early twenties and all the financial posts I’ve been reading have definitely been impacting my spending. I live with two other girls and we’re all going to college right now and we make it on less then $500 a month each. It helps that we’ve all tried to embrace frugal living in the past year.

    @Lynnae – thanks for this post I think it’s my favorite one so far. It sums up everything I’m trying to get a handle on right now.

  5. Dar:

    But… but… who cares if this taco costs me $30 in interest and fees over the next ten years? I WANT IT NOW!

    *sigh* Yes, I would have loved to get my 18YO self to listen to all this good advice, but I don’t know if he’d listen. After all, he thought he knew everything then!

  6. I bet we all could write a book with the title “Things I Wish I Knew When I Was 18”! Thanks for sharing yours with us.

    Best Wishes,

  7. Lynnae:

    m – “*and I wish I’d known about the importance of buying a home–and what the housing market in the areas I’d want to live in would be like (expensive!)” Amen to that! I’m in the same boat!

  8. m:

    You don’t know how many times I’ve had that “If only I knew this years ago . . .” thought. Far too many times too count. I’d have to do my own post, to answer your question, because the response would be far too long.

    But if I had to pick a few things, let’s see, I suppose I’d choose;
    *I wish I’d known how far a salary goes in the real world, after taxes and bills and so on;

    *I wish I’d known to follow my own passion when choosing a career and not stick with a safe, secure field (that was only partly related to my true passion) like my family taught me to do;

    *and I wish I’d known about the importance of buying a home–and what the housing market in the areas I’d want to live in would be like (expensive!)

  9. Lynnae:

    @PT – I don’t know if we have an impact on 18 year olds, but you’ve given me a great idea. I think I’ll make my blog required reading for my children before they leave for college. :)

  10. I feel like our blogs often times become letters to our younger selves. I wonder if we’re having an impact on 18 year olds now?

  11. Lynnae:

    @Carol – I love that saying!

    @Cellie – Yeah, I rank getting a credit card when I had no income as one of my worst financial mistakes.

    @BankerGirl – Why is it as teenagers we think we know everything? I did the same thing.

  12. Great list – the only thing I would add to it is that I wish that I would have listened with others were telling me these things were important.

    I wish I had paid attention when my parents warned me about student loan debt. I wish I’d put a little more stock in the college professor who was trying to teach me about the time value of money. I wish I had lived within my needs instead of spending money I didn’t have.

  13. cellie:

    Great post! I wish I had never gotten credit cards when I knew I had no job (while I was in college) – what was I thinking! Best thing that I did. Started reading to figure out how to turn things around.

  14. Carol:

    I have a favorite saying — “If I had known it was going to be like this at my age,I would have flossed”.
    My Father had many great quips, one of which is — “Youth is wasted on the young”.
    Oh, to be young again, with the wisdom that I now have.

  15. Lynnae:

    It’s nice to know that I’m not alone here. :)

    @Double Journey – I’ll have to take a look at your psot.

    @Jennifer – Great idea, starting an IRA for your kids!

  16. These are great tips, and I agree, I wish I’d believed these in my head and heart when I was just moving out of home and starting work.

  17. Better late than never!

    I had the fortune of learning these things at a very young age. I started my 401K right out of college and funded it to the maximum. I wrote a blog post on the power of compound interest, and boy is it true.

    With a little bit of foresight, I was able to save a nice little nest egg and I’m still relatively young.

  18. I wish I’d realized that my husband was incredibly wise. =Þ He was the one that didn’t want a credit card. He’s the one that wanted to live within our means…and I was the doofus and converted him to my idiotic “buy now pay minimum payment later” ways.


    Now I’ve finally developed some brains…where’s a wall? My head needs to make contact with it a few times….Doh!

  19. Great tips! Unfortunately not everyone can afford to invest in retirement early, because we are busy going to & paying for college. I’m starting investing now in an IRA in my kids’ behalf, since most likely when they are 18 they will have other things on their minds as well.

    I wish a friend of mine would take your advice about going to college-she’s been in school for 3 years now with poor grades and an undeclared major. Such a waste of money & time to go to school if you don’t know what you are going after.

  20. All of those are really great points!

    I have thought before that it just doesn’t make sense for people to try to decide at 17 or 18 what they want to do for the rest of their lives. I know so many of my friends who didn’t end up in the field that they got their degree in or ended up going back for something else later.

  21. I wish I’d known #2 when I was 16. That would’ve been amazing.

  22. I think that a college degree in most majors will benefit you no matter what you end up doing, so I don’t ever think that is a waste of money (although I don’t think everyone must go to college either). But you’re right that a specialized degree might not make sense for you.

    And yes, going to class is important!

  23. Amy:

    Great common sense but always need the reminder post!

  24. Oh man, if only I could go back and knock some sense into my self back in high school!! All the wasted money! You are so right about school. I went because I was expected to and did just enough for most classes with no particular goal. A lot of time and other’s money wasted with no degree in the end.

  25. I wish I’d had more confidence. I haven’t made any decisions that I don’t still stand by, but I think I can do more, with a little bit more self-belief.

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