This was asked on Quora and because I managed to totally screw things up for myself at the ages of 20, 22, 24, 29, 33, 37, and 40 I decided to answer.
Because I’m an expert and wrote a book.
The first answer is: nothing. You need to know absolutely nothing about personal finance. Buying a cheap beer versus buying an expensive beer will not help you get rich.
But, that seems cynical. So let me say congratulations first. Your 20 years old! Yay!
I can’t even really remember 20-years-old. I started my first business then. And failed at it. But that’s another story.
When I was 22, I was thrown out of graduate school and then fired from 3 jobs in a row at higher and higher salaries where I saved nothing.
When I was 24, I moved to NYC and began the first of about ten career changes. The first rule of personal finance is that it’s not personal and it’s not financial. It’s about your ability to make ten changes and not get too depressed over it.
During those career changes I made a lot of money. Then lost a lot. Then made a lot. Then lost a lot. Then made a lot more.
I did this so many times I made a study of what was working for me on the way up. And what wasn’t working on the way down.
So I’m not an expert on anything. I just know WHAT HAS WORKED FOR ME to create massive success. I’m admitting it right now. I’m not just a failure.
First off, don’t bother saving money. You get more money in the bank by making more money. That’s rule #1.
People might think this is flippant. What if they can’t make more money. Well, then, you’re going to run out of money. No personal finance rule will help.
Buying coffee on the street instead of in a Starbucks is the poor man’s way to get rich. In other words, you will never get rich by scratching out ten cents from your dollar.
People save 10 cents on a coffee and then….overpay $100,000 for a house and then do reconstruction on it.
Or they save 10 cents on a book and then…buy a college degree that they never use for $200,000.
Now your real education can begin:
A) Don’t save money. Make more. If you think this is not so easy then remember: whatever direction you are walking in, eventually you get there.
B) That said, don’t spend money on the BIGGEST expenses in life. House and college (and kids and marriage but, of course, there are exceptions there). Just saving on these two things alone is worth over a million dollars in your bank account.
C) But doesn’t renting flush money down the toilet? No, it doesn’t. Do the math. You can argue all you want but the math is very clear as long as you are not lying to yourself.
D) Haven’t studies shown that college graduates make more money 20 years later?
No, studies have not shown that. They show correlation but not causation and they don’t take into account multi-collinearity (it could be that the children of middle class families have higher paying jobs later and, oh by the way, these children also go to college).
E) Don’t invest in anything that you can’t directly control every aspect of. In other words…yourself.
In other words:
- You can’t make or save money from a salary.And salaries have been going down versus inflation for 40 years. So don’t count on a salary. You’re 20, please take this advice alone if you take any advice at all.
- Investing is a tax on the middle class. There are at least 5 levels of fees stripped out of your hard-earned cash before your money touches an investment.
F) If you want to make money you have to learn the following skills. None of these skills are taught in college.
I’m not saying college is awful or about money, etc. I’m just saying that the only skills needed to make money will never be learned in college:
- how to sell (both in a presentation and via copywriting)
- how to negotiate (which means win-win, not war)
- creativity (take out a pad, write down a list of ideas, every day)
- leadership (give more to others than you expect back for yourself)
- networking (a corollary of leadership)
- how to live by themes instead of goals (goals will break your heart)
- reinvention (which will happen repeatedly throughout a life)
- idea sex (get good at coming up with ideas. Then combine them. Master the intersection)
- the 1% rule (every week try to get better 1% physically, emotionally, mentally)
- “the google rule” – give constantly to the people in your network. The value of your network increase linearly if you get to know more people but EXPONENTIALLY if the people you know, get to know and help each other.
- how to fail so that a failure turns into a beginning
- simple tools to increase productivity
- how to master a field. You can’t learn this in school with each “field” being regimented into equal 50 minute periods. Mastery begins when formal education ends. Find the topic that sets your heart on fire. Then combust.
- stopping the noise: news, advice books, fees upon fees in almost every area of life. Create your own noise instead of falling in life with the others.
If you do all this you will gradually make more and more money and help more and more people. At least, I’ve seen it happen for me and for others.
I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant. I’ve messed up too much by not following the above advice.
Don’t plagiarize the lives of your parents, your peers, your teachers, your colleagues, your bosses.
Create your own life.
Be the criminal of their rules.
I wish I were you because if you follow the above, then you will most likely end up doing what you love and getting massively rich and helping many others.
I didn’t do that when I was 20. But now, at 46, I’m really grateful I have the chance every day to wake up and improve 1%.