Well, I’m 37 now and 25 seems like a lifetime ago. Twelve years ago, I started a job as a PR girl in my dream company. It paid me peanuts, worked me to the bone, but I climbed the ranks to become a magazine editor and left a decade later ready to dream new dreams and make them come true.
I can’t say I regret the path that led me to where I am now, but when I look back at that ambitious and insecure 25-year-old me, I want to sit her down and tell her a few things about success and money. First of all, I’d tell her that she should work for experience and not for a bigger paycheck. Chasing after a higher salary just makes the climb bitter and difficult because not only did I have the wrong prize in sight, I also failed to enjoy the journey.
Here are four more things I’d tell myself:
"Don’t pretend to be what you’re not."
Perhaps because I worked in the glamorous magazine industry and I was young and eager to fit in, I wanted to be like the It Girls. I shopped for too many shoes, too trendy clothes, and too many bags. In truth, I am the girl who loved nothing more than to focus her myopic eyes on books all weekend long. For a while, I didn’t want to be that nerdy girl because I believed the girl who became a success was the one who had fab hair, dressed well, and wore the gorgeous heels.
Funnily enough, on the day I was called to the big boss’s office for a little chat, I was wearing a tank top, ratty jeans and flip flops. My boss wanted to pick my brain on my dream editorial lineup for a celebrity magazine and how I plan to push a Hollywood title on a population obsessed with local celebs. I got so excited that I forgot I wasn’t wearing makeup! The boss must’ve noticed my excitement because the next day, my dream job as a magazine editor was offered to me. In the end, what mattered was my brain, not my looks!
Everything I needed to advance in life and in my career, I already had. I didn’t need all those clothes, shoes, and bags! So I feel that I wasted so much of my hard-earned money on a wardrobe that didn’t even reflect who I really was!
"Spend on the real stuff."
It’s okay to blow your paycheck once in a while if it will mean a better you or if it will create more experiences. My biggest splurge in my 20s was rent. I got my own place when I was 24, and I learned so much about taking care of myself, budgeting, and street smarts—things that I would never have learned if I had stayed at my parents’ house. Looking back, I’d have also told my 25-year-old self to take those online journalism courses from a British university so that I can offer writing workshops from my home. I had more time then. Now that I’m a mom of little kids, I have no time for anything else!
So invest on things that pay you back. Instead of buying lots of bags, choose just one classic bag in a really good material that you can use forever (and, nope, it doesn’t need to be a designer bag). Take a crafts class or a cooking class, and start a sideline business. Buy that nice laptop if you want to start a freelance career. Get a really good haircut, the kind that grows out nicely so you won’t have to visit the salon too often.
"Saving up isn’t difficult at all."
I was 26 years old when I bought my first life insurance policy from Sun Life. I was really young so the proposed plan was so cheap that I told the agent to add all the bells and whistles to my plan. Even then, the whole package still cost me a mere P1,000 a month. As my salary grew, I spent more on trivial things than on my future.
When we became parents in our mid-30s, my husband and I decided to get more insurance policies and invest in retirement plans. This time, our premiums weren’t so cheap. Looking back, I’d have told my 25-year-old self to add a policy to my portfolio every year and to start investing. As I approach my 40s, I’m happy to say that we’re putting away good money for our future, but I still keep thinking what if we had started earlier?
"Make memories—that’s what money is for."
I was so intent on advancing my career that I forgot that there was such a thing called life. For the first 10 years of my publishing career, I didn’t go on vacation leaves. I was afraid that if I stepped away from the office, I would miss an opportunity. Friends and co-workers planned trips to the beach, dinners at newly opened restaurants, ladies’ lunches, salon dates. I was single and in my 20s but instead of enjoying my youth and my money on myself, I shunned friendships and experiences just to spend more hours at the office. I was fixing HR problems on my wedding day, attending a conference on my honeymoon, reported to work as soon as my mother was buried, and was dictating memos and correspondence while I was in labor with my first child.
All that for nothing really. While I did become successful in my field, I don’t have a lot of friends or fun memories of the decade past. Looking back, I’d have told my 25-year-old self, “Congratulations for not getting wasted but loosen up a bit sometimes. Make friends. See the world. Live a little!”
I will also remind myself to save more, increase my insurance coverage, and invest every pay day. For as I look back to my younger self, I’m immensely grateful for the good money habits I’ve been able to cultivate. These practices have set me up well for my next life stage: starting my own family and being a mom.
Image used under Creative Commons from Leather Fashion