What I Would Tell My Teenage-Self About Work, Life and Money

Recently, a reader asked me to write a post on this theme.  And it threw me back a bit.  Because it’s quite a big and intimidating question to answer!

After all, it sounds like life advice, which should probably be dished out by someone who’s a bit older and a lot wiser than a 30-year old blogger.

But what the hell – let’s give it a go!  So here’s what I’d like to instil in my much-younger self, on the topics of work, life and money.

 

Work

— Change

Firstly, realise your first job won’t be your last job.  This is truer today than it’s ever been.  Gone are the ‘job for life’ days.  And younger people seem okay with this, generally changing jobs more often than past generations.

So keep in mind, your first job doesn’t have to be perfect.  Your interests will change over time, leading you in new directions.  And remember, so many people end up with jobs that they never imagined as a fresh-faced 18 year old, leaving school.

This is a good thing.  As time goes on, you’ll grow as a person and realise what you really like and don’t like, in terms of job roles and work environments.  Things like indoors vs outdoors.  Loud vs quiet.  Large team vs individual.  High pressure vs low pressure.  Constant problem solving vs easy repetition.

So don’t worry about having it all figured out straight away – almost nobody does!  Think of it as a giant game of trial and error.  There’s no wrong way to do it.  And hopefully you’ll get a bit closer to something you enjoy each time.

I know it’s stressful to think about what you’re going to do with the next 60+ years of your active working life.  But take it one step at a time.  When combined with the money lessons below, all this work stuff will be optional before too long.  And that takes the pressure off, allowing you to choose work for satisfaction, instead of a paycheck.

 

— Interests

Sometimes this is easier said than done.  But if you can, aim for an industry that you’re genuinely interested in.  Not just what pays well.

That might sound obvious to some, and counter-intuitive to others.  But the key to making work enjoyable is to find a job role that suits your personality, in an area which intrigues or fascinates you.

Maybe you’re a people person and love communication and deal-making.  Or perhaps you’re quiet and prefer working with numbers and data.  Either way, you’ll struggle to enjoy work if your job role doesn’t match your personality.

Also, if you’re doing a job solely for the money, it’s pretty likely you won’t be satisfied for very long.  The lure of more money wears off pretty quickly when you dread getting up in the morning!

One of your main missions in life is to find work you enjoy for it’s own sake.  Find a way to use your skills and abilities to help others.  And you don’t have to be the smartest or most talented to do this.  You just have to be passionate and keep learning.

What are you good at that other people struggle with?  What do you love to do that others find boring?  Or, what would you like to do even if you didn’t get paid for it?  In answering these questions, you’ll likely find some good hints at what your ideal work is.

 

— Earning Power

There is some wiggle room here.  If for some reason, you can get into a job or industry that pays very well, and the work sounds okay (but not fantastic), then consider diving in for a few years to cash in.  With the condition, of course, that you save as much of this income as possible.

You’ll be able to build your Financial Independence Fund very quickly this way, but enjoy the journey a little less.  That’s the trade-off you’ll have to make.  But if you do it right, you’d likely have a modest mortgage-free home, or at least be semi-FI, in around 5-7 years.

No glory in winding up a rundown FIFO worker with a huge income, no freedom, and equally big spending habits.

This option is probably appealing if you’re not sure what industry/work interests you.  Personally, I had no clue I’d be so interested in finance and investment until my early 20s.  But by then, I didn’t fancy going back to finish school, then study something that I might not end up enjoying anyway.

After all, I’m sure most jobs are a lot different in practice to how most people imagine them to be!  Besides, just because you like an industry, doesn’t mean it’s easy to choose a job within that industry to go after.

So instead, I continued on with warehouse work and am glad I did.  Going back to study still doesn’t interest me, and I still wouldn’t know what type of job to go for!  Somewhat ironically, I can now spend as much time as I want learning about finance or investing, without having to worry about making a career out of it.

All this is to say, there’s probably no right way to go about it.  Where possible, follow your interests, but if there’s an opportunity to make a good amount of money doing something different, consider that too.

 

— Jobs and Training

I have no special insights into the future job market.  In fact, I have no idea what’s going to happen.  But if recent trends continue, the so-called ‘gig economy’ or casualisation of work means people running their own show is going to become more common.

It sounds odd, but there are more opportunities than ever before, at the same time there is less job security than ever before – including the opportunity to retire young by the way!

So if you like something and you’re good at it, you’ll be able to have your own little low-key business, providing services or stuff to people looking to outsource.  Do it well, and the online marketplace will see word of mouth bring you more customers, as your reputation and brand grows.

The downside is, this income is naturally less reliable than a regular job.  This means learning to manage money and be a good saver is more important than ever.  Especially so since working for yourself means no sick pay, holiday pay, or superannuation.  You’ll have to look out for yourself here by putting more money aside for these things.

In some ways, it seems university degrees are becoming a little outdated.  As alluded to above, entrepreneurship may become more valuable than traditional education.  The jobs market and people’s interests often change, so that after 4 years of schooling, either the job roles already have an abundance of candidates, or the graduate is no longer as interested in the field as they once were.

This means the last 4 years are effectively wasted.  The graduate has debt to pay off, no savings and no work experience to show for it.  On the other hand, with good money management, even a relatively low skilled job with modest earnings, like admin or dare I say it, warehousing, would see the young adult with a healthy pot of savings and well on their way to Financial Independence, at the same time the graduate is at a loss of what to do next.

I’m not saying to drop out of school, uni is bad or anything of the sort.  But I’m sure all of us know at least a few people with degrees they don’t use, or are now doing completely different roles to what they studied for.  Although to be fair, higher training does enable higher wages later on, and likely higher enjoyment too, provided your attraction to the industry and job role lasts.

But what I’m saying is, in Australia, uni degrees and high qualifications are certainly not necessary to live a good life or become financially independent.  Because low wages in Australia are not that low!  Our minimum wage is the highest in the world, and even then, most workers earn much more than this.  And despite popular belief, the ‘high cost of living’ is not that high!

 

Life

— Decisions and Direction

The best life advice I can give?  Take 100% responsibility for your life and the choices you make.  And don’t make excuses.  Every excuse makes you weaker, mentally and emotionally.

Bad things may happen to you and it’s not your fault.  But don’t be a victim.  It’s still up to you to move on and overcome that.  Don’t blame anyone else for your situation.  Playing the victim leaves you powerless.  And it feels like there’s no point doing anything because life just ‘happens’ to you.

But when you take responsibility, you’re taking back control and ownership of your life.  That’s powerful.  There are countless stories of people who turned their lives around, if you need motivation.

Also, don’t be too self-congratulatory when good things happen either.  Luck will play a role, both good and bad.

Be your own leader.  Don’t blindly follow others.  They’re just taking cues from and following each other.  Everyone is just guessing how to do life.

Decide how you’d like your life to be, rather than letting life decide for you.  It doesn’t have to be precise, but roughly imagine what you want for your future.  If you drift aimlessly, you’ll go around in circles and get nowhere.  And I know you don’t want that!

 

— Health

Your health is far more important than you recognise right now.  Without it, you have nothing.  So look after yourself.

Exercise regularly.  Drink sparingly.  Eat healthy home-cooked food most of the time.  And find a group of healthy snacks and meals you enjoy, and simply rotate through them.

These are the best choices for your health, and for your finances.  Not to mention, you’ll feel a thousand times better than your peers who are getting UberEats four times a week and lounging on the couch because they’re too tired to exercise – when in fact, they’re probably tired because they eat crap and don’t exercise.

Learning to cook and plan your meals will prove immensely useful… and profitable! 

 

— Confidence and Self-worth

Under no circumstances should you let your happiness rely on the approval of others.  What matters is not what other people think of you, but what you think of you.

You’ll likely see your peers gunning for likes and popularity on social media.  They look like they’ve got a great life and not a care in the world.  But realise, they’re often doing it solely for attention and approval from others.  And that isn’t healthy.

They grow to rely on this ego boost to feel good about themselves, and become anxious without it.  Kind of like a drug addict.

Relying on others to feel okay about yourself is a sure ticket to unhappiness.  Because you can’t control how other people feel, or what they say about you.  That’s not a reliable source of self-worth.  But you can control how you feel about yourself.

Your self worth needs to be built on who you are as a person.  What good qualities do you have?  Are you a nice person?  Are you helpful?  Do you have empathy and respect for others?  What can you do with your life that you can be proud of?

The only approval you need is your own.  Be content with yourself and choose your own path in life.  Well meaning people will push their own ideas on you, or share their fears about the road you’re taking.  But you need to live your own life, not someone else’s.

 

Money

— Saving

Money is a tool, not a toy.  How you interact with it has the power to change your life, good or bad.  So respect it.

Develop a healthy relationship with money, and with the right habits (like maintaining a strong savings rate), you’ll likely never have to stress about personal finances the rest of your life, because there will be an ever-growing surplus.

It’s my view that managing money is one of the most underappreciated skills on earth.  It affects everyone across the globe.  Managing money in different ways can create freedom and abundance (through saving and investing), or slavery and stress (through bad habits, debt, and expensive tastes).

Yet this skill is mostly overlooked as something we can get better at and eventually master.  So as soon as you start earning an income, start diverting a good chunk into your Financial Independence Fund.  This can be used to pay for a modest house, or once you’re ready, invested to create another income stream for you to build your future freedom.

And if you’re not saving, adjust your spending before you go chasing more money.  Remember, there’s no amount of income you can’t spend.  If you lack discipline, it might be best to automate your savings by having some cash sucked to another account on the day your pay goes in.

 

— Wants vs Needs

Learn the difference between your wants and your needs.  If you do, you’ll be wealthier than most of the population, not just in dollar terms, but in life satisfaction.  Because you grow to realise most of what we spend money on is completely optional, and not necessary for a happy life.

By living in Australia, you’re already living in one of the richest countries in the world, with the highest living standards in history.  The ultra-rich of 100 years ago couldn’t even imagine how the average person lives today – the entertainment, food options, medical care, technology, all of it!

So you’ve already hit the jackpot!  The secret is understanding (and then accepting) that with every decade that passes, we have more and more income, after paying for basic living expenses.  So keep your lifestyle costs contained, and you’ll comfortably have an increasing surplus of cash to invest.

 

— Long-term thinking

What makes some people so good with money is the ability to think long term.  Delayed gratification.  To forgo something today for larger benefits later.  Learning about compound interest is the best way to realise the importance of thinking long term.

Here’s an example.  Investing $10,000 with an annual return of 7%, becomes around $300,000 in 50 years time.  A one-time investment, with nothing added.  With a 7% annual return, your investment doubles every decade.  How good is that!

Any amount of money, invested wisely, has the ability to multiply itself repeatedly, forever.  When you see what your savings could turn into, this helps you realise the importance of not wasting money.  It did for me.

 

— Strategies

Related to above.  When investing, don’t be convinced that a complex or exciting investment strategy will work better than a simple one.  In fact, fancier, higher risk approaches often fail to live up to the hype.

And since most of your wealth in the first 10-15 years will come from saving, rather than investment performance, there’s really no need to chase higher returns.

Choose an investment strategy that is relative boring, reliable, and requires zero effort on your part.  The goal is a passive income stream from your investments.  No need to make it harder than it has to be!

 

Summary

I can’t even say I’ve perfected many of the lessons above!  But I think they’re important nonetheless.  Many of them interlink with each other.  That’s because your health, wealth and happiness all ride on similar things.

So how can I sum up this half-rant, half-letter to my teenage self?

Take responsibility for your life and be accountable for your choices.  Stay curious and keep learning.  Find things to work on that you’re genuinely interested in.  Look after your health, physically and mentally.  Have a long term plan and goals to work towards.  Realise how good you already have it, living in modern-day Australia.  And understand that money is a tool, not a toy.  If you manage it well, you can be financially independent in around 10 years or so.

These things, combined with healthy relationships, are a great start to living the good life.  Finally, remember to stop and smell the roses – find something to be grateful for each day.

Now, over to you!  What lessons or messages do you have for your teenage self?  Please share in the comments…

24 comments

  1. Goosebumps after goosebumps with blog post Dave.

    I loved these points

    • “Going back to study still doesn’t interest me, and I still wouldn’t know what type of job to go for! Somewhat ironically, I can now spend as much time as I want learning about finance or investing, without having to worry about making a career out of it.” 💥 you have studied, but you’ve done it your own way, not following the conventional system, and more importantly you have applied what you have learned.

    • Take 100% responsibility 💥 great reminder, this gives us a lot of freedom

    • Be your own leader 💥 this is a tweetable ! I couldn’t agree more

    • The ultra-rich of 100 years ago couldn’t even imagine how the average person lives today 💥 something to appreciate and be grateful for every single day, so many people have not internalised this blessing

    Thanks for the inspiration in this blog post, I felt it!

  2. I think you’ve covered most of what I’d say to my teenage self!

    Except maybe I’d change the strategy advice a little bit. Saving is important, sure, but there’s no harm in chasing investments. If anything it’ll make for a good lesson, regardless of the outcome. Plus there’s ample opportunity for mistakes to correct themselves if they have time on their side.

    1. Thanks for your input Ms FM. I see your point. Even with the advice of not chasing exciting investments, most people will want to figure things out for themselves anyway – it’s just human nature to want to get higher returns! As long as it’s only a small amount of the person’s savings, it’s probably no big deal. But it could definitely derail FI for a long while if leverage is involved for example (I’m thinking an overpriced and overhyped off-the-plan apartment for example).

  3. Hi Dave. It puzzles me a little that on one hand you seem to not like ‘going back to study’ yet on the other your articles imply (to me at least) that you have read/studied/absorbed an enormous amount of data (which almost anybody can do and most do) and then distilled that down to a few useful conclusions (thats the tricky bit that is often left out). (It takes a lot of barley to finish up with a good wee dram of whisky). I will add to your points regarding the relevance of further education (uni or whatever) to life’s work outcomes. University will often develop an irrelevance to one’s means of income support so long as it is seen as just another form of vocational training. This is a symptom of modern bureaucracy amongst other things. Further education is first and foremost the gateway to exploring niche areas with passion in order to produce new and meaningful expansion to human endeavour. Probably the only element that should link higher education to vocation is the financial leverage that is acquired along the way which you did in fact allude to. In this age of quickly moving from job to job it may prove unfortunate for many that such instant gratification obviates the fact that sometimes it can take several years before a true passion can be found within a single broad vocation. Don’t ask me how I know! Don’t get me wrong – further education is not everybody’s cup of tea. Too many stay in the education system way too long when their creative side would blossom by ‘being on the tools’ sooner rather than later. BTW your blog must be good otherwise what am I doing sitting here at 6am Sunday morning reading it. Cheers.

    1. Thanks Peter for the interesting comment. And thanks for reading it first thing Sunday morning 🙂

      I suppose it does sound odd. Basically, I’m very much a fan of freestyle learning and don’t enjoy the nature of the more rigid, academic style learning. Students are more likely to stick with something even if they don’t enjoy it because of the time and money already spent on a subject, and in this case, I don’t see that as valuable, given the resulting career likely won’t be enjoyable either. Essentially, they can feel pressure or guilt to finish.

      I have read and continue to read quite a lot, but nothing is mandatory. There is nothing required of me and no pressure. If something doesn’t interest me, I simply ignore it, but if another topic interests me I can dive in as deep as I want. It’s the freestyle nature of it all that fits better with me (and perhaps others too). Also, I never could take to the archaic way in which many lessons are taught in school – it’s simply a matter of remembering the answer, that’s not really learning to me. It’s quite possible I simply got the wrong impression from school. Or perhaps I’m not well suited to traditional study, but I just prefer freestyle learning and real world experience.

  4. Nice write-up Dave.

    Like your former self, I currently work in warehousing/logistics in Perth. I fell into it as a result of not knowing what I wanted to do and study never interested me, still doesn’t (although I love learning online in my own time, i’m forever reading about topics of interest). I had the mindset that I might as well be earning and saving if I don’t know what to do.. and if I figure it out along the way i’ll be ahead financially.

    My folks had a very frugal approach to money while I was growing up which I learned from, so that’s really allowed me to squeeze more value out of an otherwise average job.

    At 29 (30 next month) I’m well on my way financially.

    Looking back I’m not sure I’d change much, obviously knowing what you want to do early on would help tremendously but I still don’t know 🙂 If anything, it would be: form a long term goal to structure around and invest as soon as possible.

    I saved heavily throughout my 20’s and earned decent interest back when rates were higher but fear of the stock market stopped me from investing until I was 29.

    1. Cheers for sharing Scott. That’s interesting – sounds like we’ve had a similar path. Yay for freestyle learning!

      Great to see you’re making progress even without a high paying job! I also remember those nice high interest rates for savings accounts – those days are long gone 🙂

  5. Hi Dave
    You snuck in a little paragraph there starting with “Decide how you’d like your life to be…..etc”
    I think there is probably another whole post in that. After my 52 summers on this beautiful planet this concept has been the #1 lesson/learning for me. If more kids and teenagers were taught the sheer power of clear and meaningful visualisation and considered achievement that flows from it. I sincerely wish I had know about this as a teenager. Oh well, better late than never.
    If anyone thinks they are not intelligent or motivated, just stand back and watch even the most inactive mind switch on big time when it has a meaningful goal written down and fully visualised every day!
    In the context of the FIRE community, I continually hear people saying the can never save (enter desired amount) to retire off and simply sign-off mentally. The opposite happened to me – it switched my bored mind on and my mind became super alert for opportunities, learnings, ideas and new emotional energy.

    1. Hey Phil, great comment mate!
      Imagining your future sounds a bit airy fairy to most of us, but if we have no direction or aim for our future, we’ll end up with a random result.

      You put it very well – we can all create goals that ignite some excitement in us and give us energy, and FI is as good a goal as any 😉

      It’s easier if we decide that something is not possible, which lets us relax and go back to what we were doing before, instead of trying to figure out how to achieve it, sadly.

      Looking forward to hearing about your future stories/adventures mate!

  6. Hi Dave,

    Such a great summary that cuts across the most important aspects of life. In essence, it is not how much you earn, but what you do with what you earn. I’ve actually adopted a saying from my father – Spend Some, Save Some, which has evolved to Spend Some, Save More. I also can’t help reflect on what you are saying with a book i consider mandatory reading for all people, especially the younger generations. “The Richest Man in Babylon”, has so many parallels with what you have laid out. Wise advise indeed.
    Regards
    Dave

    1. Thanks Dr Dave! I really like that saying, good one.
      Ahh that’s an excellent book, highly recommended! Love the tone it’s written in too, it makes you stop and think about it more – I should read it again 🙂

  7. I swear to god I would sit down with teenage Jeff and properly explain compound interest in the context of saving, investing, and reinvesting the dividends… Man, I wish I knew then what I know now… Great article Dave. Suitable for the last chapter of your book… Keep ’em coming!

    1. Haha I can’t fault your persistence Jeff 😉
      All of us have seem to get the same feeling of wishing we started earlier, even Warren Buffett has mentioned it half-jokingly. Thanks for your support mate 🙂

  8. What an amazing post. My son just turned 12, and it getting to the age when we will start to talk more seriously amount money, finance and the future.
    I love the comment “It’s my view that managing money is one of the most underappreciated skills on earth.”
    Could not agree more. Most schools don’t teach the basics of personal finance, and many people just learn from their parents and through personal mistakes. Very interested to see how the Barefoot Investor’s push for education in schools will go- https://barefootmoneymovement.org.au

    Thanks again for a great post.

    1. Thanks for the comment Trent. Awesome that you’re going to be teaching your son about this stuff early on!
      The schools can’t teach it because the teachers, likely aren’t all that good with personal finance either! So what if the kids ask questions? And who’s going to teach the teachers? Barefoot I guess 🙂 Looks like a great initiative though, and such a valuable skill to learn at a young age.

  9. Good advice there I think. A lot of it relates to doing the right thing consistently.

    This reminds me of a great book ‘Too soon old, Too late smart’ by Gordon Livingstone. One of his insights is that almost all good things in your life are the result of good actions building up over time, whereas dramatic changes are almost always bad rather than good.

  10. Hey Dave,

    Did teenagers suddenly get an attention span while I wasn’t watching?

    I am nearly 40, and fairly new to the FI/RE concept. My husband and I had been talking about retiring early. We’re comfortable; but we didn’t actually have a plan to retire early until we got a kick in the butt from reading a few different things which were recommended to us (Barefoot Investor, Simple Path to Wealth and a couple of others). We now have a plan laid out for ourselves which is entirely achievable to retire before our kids finish school.

    I have been really impressed with your blog: a proponent of frugality without being too preachy about it; Australia-focussed content; a natural writing style and you can convey some pretty tricky concepts easily; I don’t think you have mentioned eating lentils and taking cold showers once – so my husband is mostly on board.

    I had been trying to work out why no-one told me about all this at high school. Then I realised they tried. I had been watching Peter Thornhill’s YouTube series and he puts up a compounding interest table he demonstrated to his son’s high school class. It brought up a long-forgotten memory of having heard something along those lines as a 17-year-old and it not exciting me one iota.

    And now here I am trying to work out how I can pass on the lessons I should have learnt as a teenager to my kids. I know my kids won’t listen to me – I’m *too old*. They will probably learn from my example and I’m doing my best to set that example. But what they really need is someone young and hip and not so much older than them, who can lead them down the right path. And I’ve been looking for a resource I can put them on to at the right time.

    Everything you have written here is solid advice, but I don’t see it resonating with teenagers. I see it resonating with their parents.

    In this age of twitter, I think you will lose a lot of teens pretty early in this article. You probably need to take a lesson or two from clickbait – ‘Get rich in five simple steps…’ or ‘He worked hard for a few years, you’ll never guess what happened next…’

    What advice would I give to my teenage self? Probably this:
    1. Don’t get into debt except a mortgage
    2. Save at least 20% of your income, preferably more.
    3. The higher the percentage you can save, the more your future self will thank you.
    4. Your future-self wishes you had listened to point 3.

    So, Dave – you are a young and hip person not too much older than my kids – If you had to reduce your post to a tweet or two, what would it be?

    1. Hey there, glad you’re enjoying the blog 🙂

      The idea behind this post was because someone actually asked me this question, what would I tell younger self if I could? So it wasn’t really directed at teenagers, I know they don’t read my blog. I try to help people who want to learn, not those who don’t. How can you help someone who doesn’t care either way?

      I make no claims to be connected to young people and in many ways, I’m pretty out of touch generally lol. I just write down what has helped me and what I think can help others. Don’t be fooled by my age – I’m an old man at heart 😉

      In some ways I don’t think it’s possible to push this message on young people – they’ll likely just close off if not interested. Some will be naturally curious, but I think through life experience the others will come to think differently, “hey maybe I should actually keep some of this money, it might be handy in the future.”

      When the attention span is the length of a tweet, it all seems a little fruitless. But If I had to boil it down it would be something like this:
      “Things can get old fast. What we enjoy today, we may be sick of tomorrow. This includes work, holidays, parties, shopping etc. One thing that never gets old: having freedom. The freedom in your life is directly related to how much money you don’t spend. Put another way, how much you save and invest, creating a ball of money which generates income and works hard, so you don’t have to.”

      That’s already too long, haha! An afterthought is: “And no, your life happiness is not affected by spending less – that’s just marketing and advertising bullshit. Everyone around us is chasing short-term sugar highs of pleasure, but that’s not real happiness – it’s an escape, and it’s fake.”

      As you can see, brevity is not my strength and I’m probably too cynical to be embraced by the younger ‘live for today’ crowd lol 😆

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