You’ve seen Back To The Future, right? If I had my very own time-traveling Delorean, I’d have some strong suggestions for Young Kelley about her choice in men and hairstyles. I’d also hand her a hand-written list titled “money tips for your early career years.” But since I can’t do that, I get really excited whenever I have the opportunity to work with someone who’s just getting started. The fact that they’re taking steps to set themselves up for financial success early on often sets into motion actions and habits that will legitimately change the course of this person’s life.
I often wonder how my life would have been different if I’d had someone besides my parents to talk to when I was making big financial decisions.
It would have changed my life if I could have talked to someone who had knowledge of financial planning strategies and that would have given me a straight answer, no strings attached. (Which is what I do for my clients these days!)
4 Money Moves I Wish I'd Made Earlier
1. Join an HSA plan as soon as it’s offered
I still remember the hoopla in the financial services community when health savings accounts were first rolled out, but I didn’t get it. I wasn’t yet a financial planner, so I didn’t fully understand why anyone would sign up for a health insurance plan that could cause them to pay full price for the first couple thousand dollars in healthcare expenses each year. I didn’t even consider signing up.
Similar to many people’s logic, I avoided the HSA due to the phrase “high-deductible” without taking into consideration the fact that my employer was willing to fund some (or all) of that deductible.
Plus, based on my lack of health issues at the time, I was unlikely to spend even that.
By the time I realized the beauty of the HSA, I only had a couple years before it was time to switch to more comprehensive coverage since I knew my costs were going to increase.
2. Open and fund a Roth IRA
I’ll never forget the day I stepped into my co-worker Tom’s office and asked him to open a brokerage account for me to begin investing in an index fund with the extra money I had been paying toward my low-interest student loan.
Tom looked at me and said, “Are you sure you don’t want to use that money to fund a Roth IRA instead of a taxable account?” I nodded, thinking that I didn’t want to kiss that money goodbye for the next 35 years, so I opted for a regular brokerage account.
I was wrong. Had I instead used that money to fund a Roth IRA, I still would have had access to my deposits without tax or penalty, and I would never have to pay taxes on the growth of my investments after age 59 1/2.
When asked by young people about priorities in savings, I never waiver in my answer:
First get the match in your 401k. It’s free money, enough said.
Then max out your HSA. If you don’t need the money tax-free for healthcare expenses, you can access it like a normal retirement account after age 65. It’s also often free money.
Then fund a Roth IRA. While you are still under the income limits and the money has years to grow, take advantage of it.
3. Create a pet care fund
I adopted my first cat, Hattie May, my senior year of college and over the course of her short 13 year life, I estimate that I spent at least $5,000 on her care. The worst part about this is that I should’ve spent more to take care of her issues, but because I didn’t have money set aside, I skimped.
This is something I’ll forever regret and I often wonder how much longer we’d have had together if I’d prioritized saving for her costs.
Here’s what I wish I’d done instead:
Find out the cost of pet insurance for annual visits plus emergency care the day I adopted her
Then instead of buying the insurance, set that amount aside each month into a separate savings account
That way when things did come up, I would’ve had money available and if nothing came up, I wouldn’t be out the money.
4. Spent less money on cheap clothes.
Confession: I engage in retail therapy with the best of them. I just wish I could go back to those early years and make a few less trips to stores like Old Navy and Target, where I succumbed to merchandising brilliance and bought clothes I wore maybe twice.
I could’ve re-routed that money toward Hattie’s fund or a Roth IRA. The worst part is that when I went through periods of closet-cleaning during those years, I didn’t receive any tax benefit from donating those clothes as my itemized deductions weren’t high enough to qualify.
What I wish I’d done is put a limit on myself for impulse shopping. I don’t believe in going cold turkey. I do think we can all handle moderation though.
I can’t turn back time, but I can share the wisdom of my mistakes so here’s hoping you can learn from mine. What financial moves do you wish you could do over? P.S. If you want help getting your finances in order and remembering all those little money tasks that get forgotten (but really add up!) download my FREE Get Your Money Life Together Checklist. You can work through it in a weekend and you’ll feel soooo good!