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Letter To My Teenage Self: Money Lessons

Letter To My Teenage Self: Money Lessons

By TheBudgetnista -  Tags: , , ,

Dear Young Tiff,

Whew! What a time to be young, smart, and living it up at college… 

It’s me, your 40-year-old self coming by to encourage you and drop off some of the gems I’ve picked up along the way. Believe me… they’re plentiful, but I’ll just focus on money for now. 

Nope, not your friends or boys… but money. (Quick sidebar: It all works out and you marry a fabulous “Superman” of a husband, so no need to worry about that!)

Anywho, let’s get into these gems…

Go ahead and chat about money:

Ever notice how your friends and acquaintances clam up when you talk about money?! It’s almost like a forbidden subject… super taboo. Honestly, most of that tension exists because it’s a subject that lots of folks are clueless (by no fault of their own) about.

You’ve been fortunate to have good teachers (yup, mom and dad), who are setting you up with finance basics that will serve as a great foundation. 

But, not everyone’s parents have money backgrounds and since schools don’t teach money lessons as part of the curriculum –– many of your peers are feeling a little lost when it comes to finances. 

Share what you know. Talk about your budget, savings, and money goals with friends and family so that everyone can learn more and avoid mistakes. 

Trust me, this will be part of your life’s work in just a few years. 

Those free pizzas, chocolate bars, and movie tickets aren’t actually free: 

Yes! I know how much you love pizza and Snickers; credit card companies know it too. That’s why everywhere you turn on campus, there’s a tent giving away free goodies for your signature on a shiny new credit card. 

Do me a favor and try to resist the FREE, FREE, FREE signs, because you can easily rack up 21 credit card pre-qualifications during your time on campus. (Actually, you did… but we worked through it!) 

This may be the one area that your parents didn’t know to prepare you for, because who would’ve imagined all the delightful freebie temptation?! 

FYI: I’m not telling you to not use credit cards at all, but to be strategic in their use. They’re important tools for long-term credit-building, but can be a challenge for college students to manage. 

According to Sallie Mae’s 2019 Majoring in Money report, the average credit card debt for college students is $1,183; a 31% increase from the 2016 report. Recent college graduates owe nearly twice as much at $2,351 and former students who haven’t earned a degree have even more credit card debt with an average of $3,281.

When you’re ready for a credit card, take your time choosing one. 

Here are my tips:

  • Look at a few different credit cards to find the best deal. At a minimum, your credit card should have no annual fee and a low-interest rate.
  • You can build credit with a student credit card or by asking your parents to add you as an authorized user to one of their existing accounts. 
  • Pay your bills on time and pay off your debt each month. 
  • And… you have to make sure to use it wisely and not rack up charges on random nights out and frivolous “stuff”. 

Which brings me to my next point… 

Make a habit of editing and rearranging your money priorities: 

Yep… prioritize your money based on your needs and goals. 

Your budget should be a reflection of the things that are most important to you –– and to be honest that may change. (I’m telling you this at 18, but trust that I am still working on this at 40.)

I’ve started using a method I call the “Need it, Love it, Like it, and Want it”. 

Identify and take care of your needs first, ie: food, shelter, clothing (this doesn’t include trendy must-haves), water, etc. A need is something you have to have in order to maintain life. For example; if you don’t eat or drink water, you will not be able to sustain life.

Next, identify, write down, and share no more than two loves. This is very important. We often neglect the things we love, in favor of our likes and wants, because likes and wants tend to cost less and take less patience to acquire.

Having trouble thinking of your loves? Answer this question – If you had Oprah’s bank account, what would you do or what would you do more of? Choose two of these things and those are likely the loves of your life.

We must switch to a purposeful, passionate financial life.

If you don’t need it or love it, then you should consider leaving it.

Spending money on likes or wants, means you’ll have less money for purchases that truly improve the quality of your life.

Start an emergency fund and pay into it regularly:

Now… Here’s the part where I can hear you audibly sigh. I know that saving isn’t fun. I mean, if you see the money then why can’t you use it, right?! 

But listen, life happens.

I wish I had a fancy speech to share, but the reality is that there are these things called recessions that come around about every 10 years. YIKES! 

I’m not trying to scare you, because honestly there is nothing to be scared about. Instead, there is something to prepare for. And even if there isn’t a recession, there are unexpected car bills, medical bills, moving fees,  etc. that can catch you off guard. (Wait until you read your diary from 2009… whew!)

Prepare ahead of time and start building an emergency fund — I recommend having between 3-6 months of expenses set aside.

Having basic money skills is one of the most important things you can do to live a healthy, happy, and secure life. What you may not have picked up yet is that money touches everything –– from where you can live to which jobs hire you. 

Right now, your budget feels like its equal parts burden and responsibility. Moving forward, this skill (along with your gift of gab) will help millions of women get their finances in order. 

Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep serving.

With lots of love,


This post is featured on the Credit Abuse Resistance Education (CARE) Blog as a guest post. Credit Abuse Resistance Education (CARE) is a national, nonprofit organization providing students and young adults with the skills they need to make smart financial decisions. CARE is a volunteer-driven organization, with a network of expert volunteers in chapters across the country who give free educational presentations in high schools, colleges, and community youth organizations. 

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Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche is quickly becoming America's favorite, personal financial educator. The Budgetnista is also an Amazon #1 best selling author (The One Week Budget and Live Richer Challenge), sought-after speaker and teacher of financial empowerment.
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