10 life lessons I’d tell my teenage self

I am quickly approaching my 35th birthday. Shouldn’t one have it all figured out by the age of 35? I confess: I don’t. In my younger days when I thought of my 30-something year old self, I just assumed with time I would magically have a wonderful and stable existence with all the answers to life.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my life and thank God for my blessings everyday. God has been good to me. However, I am far from having it all figured out. But the fact that I have gone through life’s ups and downs, struggles and triumphs, I have learned some things about life along the way. There are things I would have done differently. There are also things that have happened to me in life for a reason: to either teach me a lesson, open a door, or close a door. Those things are bound to happen. They have to. Because, we don’t really know what were doing. Well most of us don’t anyway. Were all working on it though. If I could go back and share some of the wisdom I’ve gained through the years with my teenage self, I would tell her these 10 things:

1.) To never, ever, ever touch a cigarette

I started smoking at the tender age of 14. Yes 14! Why? Peer pressure is the single and only reason that I ever started. No one pressured me to smoke, but you know, all my friends were doing it. Guess what though? Its not cool. It never was and it never will be. “Cigarette smoking causes about 1 of every 5 deaths in the United States each year” (www.CDC.gov). Blah, blah right? That’s what I always thought as a smoker when I heard those statistics. However, by this time of my life, I have witnessed evidence of these statistics. I quit smoking about 4 and a 1/2 months ago after losing my dad to a massive stroke. My dad was only 59. He was also a smoker.

2.) To listen to your parents; they want the best for you more than you do

Parents have lived a lot more life than you. They have already made mistakes and learned from them. Parents want nothing but the best for their children, even more than the children want for themselves. They aren’t just laying down rules for the hell of it, or just to be mean and nasty like kids might think. They want their kids to be the best people they can be and have the best lives possible. That’s not an easy task for a parent. I cant even count the number of times I’ve thought to myself: “I should have listened to my Mom/Dad”. Trust me, they know more than you, regardless of how smart you think you are. I remember what my dad would say to my sisters and I when something we had done or said upsetted him: “You girls think your so smart!” We did. But we weren’t!

3.) Birth Control, Birth Control, Birth Control

Every junior high student has eventually had the sex education class. These students learn about protecting themselves from STDs and obviously that is very important. Condoms and birth control will not only save you from catching a deadly or life altering disease, they will protect you from becoming a parent before you are ready. I have three older sisters that got pregnant as teenagers. We were raised by our dad. Although he did the best he could, he wasn’t so good at having these types of conversations with us. I got pregnant at 17. My son is actually the same age right now. I am not going to be so naive to hope or believe that he is not or won’t be sexually active. I would rather let him know that if he needs anything (condoms), he can come to me. I will not get upset. The same goes for my daughter, who is only 14 now. I strongly hope this is an issue for a few years down the road for her. However, she can come to me and talk to me about birth control when she needs to, and she knows that. Better safe than sorry, right? There’s plenty of time to have a family later, when the person is mature and responsible enough to handle one.

4.) Read books, lots of books

I have learned so much on my own just from reading books. Ive learned a lot by reading fiction and non-fiction books. Reading is enjoyable and educational. I have read several self help books that have helped me learn a lot of things. For instance, I’ve read several financial books. I learned a lot of things that they don’t teach you in school, things your parents forgot or neglected to teach you. I’ve read books about finding happiness, finding the career your meant to have, how to find your flow, flipping houses, starting a business, etc. There are books out there about every topic. If you want to learn about something, anything, read. It is a much better way to spend your time than watching meaningless reality TV, for example. Here are a few books I strongly recommend:

“The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey

“Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success” by Nicholas Lore

4.) Definitely go to college, but ONLY if your absolutely sure what you want to do with your life

I’m totally an advocate for going to college and bettering yourself. However, you could throw away hundreds of thousands of dollars going to college for a career that is not suitable for you. I didn’t go to college right out of high school because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. A year later I decided to take on a 10 month course in computers (network administration). At that time computers and the internet were just starting to get big. I completed the course and it cost me $5,000. I never became a network administrator, but the computer background did get me some clerical jobs. A few years later, when I was 24, I enrolled at the community college for the graphic design program. I thought for sure this is what I wanted to do. About a year in I became anxious about the prospects of actually landing a job in the field of graphic design. I live an hour and a half from Chicago but really didn’t want to make the commute every day.

I noticed that they were always looking for accountants in the local newspaper. I had enjoyed my introduction to accounting course and thought this might be a better career to get into. I ended up getting a bachelors degree in accounting. Looking back I think I really should have stuck with graphic design because art is much more suited for me. Currently, I am a bartender. Why? I could never land an entry level accounting job. I believe it is because I lacked the confidence in numbers that I may have had for art. I’m $50,000 in debt for school loans and I probably will never use that accounting degree because it simply doesn’t even interest me anymore. But hey, at least I’m educated right?

5.) Get a debit card, but forget about credit cards.

Everyone (well adults anyway) should have a debit card. A debit card allows you to purchase plane tickets, hotel rooms, shop online, or swipe it for your groceries at the local grocery store, for example. It is like a credit card in this way but you don’t have to pay a ton of interest on your purchases because you should already have the money in your bank account to cover it. I had a rough financial start to adulthood taking out loans or credit cards that I wasn’t so good about paying back. Now, when you don’t pay your credit card bill on time you rack up late charges and of course the interest. The longer you don’t pay, the more charges that rack up. After reading “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey, I got my financial fitness on. With a nice tax return, I knocked out all that credit card debt and vowed to never open a credit card again. A Couple years later, I fell into the department store trap: “You can save 15% on your purchases today if you open up a store credit card with us”. I was making a large purchase and figured I’d save quite a bit with that 15%. Oops! Stupid! 7 years later, I am still working on paying off that card. Now, when I’m offered this wonderful offer at checkout, I simply say: “No thank you, I’m pretty sure I’ll pay way more than that 15% in interest with your credit card” The cashier usually chuckles, agrees and gives me my total.

6.) Buy a slightly used car rather than brand new.

I’ve owned two brand new cars in my lifetime spending about $20,000 on each one. Imagine the interest I paid over those 6 year loans. I won’t bore you with numbers here, but I’ll tell you it was substantial. What if I would have bought the same car, maybe a year older instead. As soon as you drive a brand new car off the lot it depreciates 15%. So if my brand new car is $20,000, once I drive it off the lot it is now worth $17,000. Was that new car smell really worth $3,000? Probably not. Many slightly used cars also still carry a warranty since they can transfer ownership of the warranty from the first owner. Many people frown upon buying used cars because they may require more maintenance. But by doing your homework on the car and finding out what kind of problems it may or may not have had is very beneficial. You can decide then if you will buy or keep looking for a car with less mechanical issues.

Here is an example to show you how buying used may be beneficial to you.  I bought a brand new Pontiac G6 in 2006 for a total of about $22,000. Don’t forget all that interest I paid over those 6 years. My payments were $370 for 72 months, so I paid a total of roughly $26,640. That would be about $4,640 in interest ($26,640-$22,000). My payment had been late a few times over those 6 years too which resulted in a $35 late charge each time. I paid it off a few years ago. It now has 124,884 miles on it and is in fair condition.

A month ago my boyfriend used his tax return to buy a car. He bought a 2007 SAAB 9.3 for $5,000. The car is in excellent condition and only has 83,000 miles on it. That car brand new in 2007 would have cost the first owner between $26,000 and $43,000. Do you see where I’m going with this? I must say I am a little envious that his car is 1 year newer than mine with substantially less miles, needs less maintenance than mine, and cost him thousands of dollars less than what I had spent. I paid almost as much in interest as what he paid for the actual car that he bought. 

7.) Learn the basics any driver should know

With anything, the better you maintain your vehicle, the longer it will last. When I got my very first car I had no idea that you were supposed to change your oil every 3,000 miles. To this day I’m not sure why my dad and I hadn’t talked this over. He was working and raising 4 daughters on his own so I suppose I’ll give him a pass on that, ha! But anyway, when my check engine light came on I went to buy oil to dump in my car for whatever reason. The gas station attendant suggested that maybe the computer in my car was damaged. I liked that suggestion and ran with it. As I was driving down the interstate one day shortly after speaking with the wise gas station attendant, there was a small explosion under the hood. Turned out I blew up my engine. Main reason: not changing my oil. Replacing that engine cost half of what that car (which I was making payments on) cost me. So, if your going to drive a car you should definitely learn the basics. I found an article for the 6 things every driver should know This article covers the basics that I’m referring to pretty well. The only thing I would add is that you not only need to check your oil to be sure you have enough, it needs to be changed every 3,000 miles, or so. I know experts have increased that number over the years though depending on how old your car is. Your car’s manual or your auto mechanic should be able to help you determine how many miles your car can handle before it needs an oil change. Anyway, learn these basics.You will most likely find yourself in a predicament at some point if you do not know these things.

8.) Save, Save, Save

Im going to go ahead and assume that many people struggle with this one as much as I do. It is very hard to save money, especially when you don’t have much. But it is possible. Experts suggest having an emergency fund to cover 9 to 12 months of expenses. This will come in handy if your car breaks down, if you get sick and have to be off work, or if you loose your job, for example. There are many different ways to save. You can have a percentage automatically deducted from your paycheck and put into a savings account, for example. Doing this with an online account may be even more beneficial because the funds are not as quickly accessible. You will also want to look for a savings account that earns the highest interest. What I am currently doing that has been working out great for me is saving cash and coins in a large pickle jar. I admit, I am not good at saving. Therefore, I super glued the lid onto the jar so it is more difficult for me to get at. It has been fun to watch the money pile up inside and to guess how much might be there. When it is full I will cut the top off and put it into an online savings account so it can earn some interest.

It is also important that you begin at an early age to put money into your company sponsored 401K. Usually your company will match your contributions or add a certain percentage of what you contribute. The earlier you begin saving for retirement the more your money will grow, and the more comfortable you will be at retirement age. If you would like more information about how a 401K plan works, click here.

9.) Life is to short to stay in an unhappy relationship; there are plenty of fish in the sea.

This one shouldn’t require much explanation. However, all too often I speak with people or know people who are totally miserable in their romantic relationship. Why don’t they just move on? They’ll claim it’s because of money, the kids, their marriage vows, or some other connection that they are too fearful to break free from. I understand trying to save a relationship that you are fully vested in. But if it can’t be “fixed” with counseling or some other effort, you need to move on so that you can be happy again. Some people will also claim that there is no one else for them, or no one else will want them. Come on! There are over 7 billion people on Earth. Certainly you are not with the only person that will ever have you or be a good fit for you. And if you are unhappy with or fighting constantly with your current partner, he or she is not a good fit for you anyway.

I admit that I have stayed too long before because I was so afraid of hurting the other persons feelings. Until I realized that my feelings are important too. Why should I suffer for the other person to be happy? It is not fair to me or to the other person, actually. Not to mention when people are not happy in a relationship, they may begin to stray. Staying in a relationship for the kids, or whatever, and having an affair on the side isn’t right either. That is an explosive situation. Just move on already people and end the misery.

10.) Life is also too short to stay at a job you hate

I don’t care how much you make, or how much time you have invested, or how great your benefits are. If you hate your job, you simply must move on. It seems unnecessary to give you a bunch of statistics on how much time Americans spend at work. It is obvious that we spend the majority of our waking hours at work from Monday through Friday, and some people even on the weekends. Why do you want to spend any portion of your life on being unhappy if there is something you can do about it? You should work hard to find your true calling so that you can do the work that you are meant for. There is nothing wrong with trial and error. Go back to school if you need to(but only if your positive about what your going to do). Read carer coaching books, research different careers your interested in, go to career seminars, job fairs, etc. You can even research, save up for, and start your own business if that is feasable. Yes, all of this seems like a lot of work, but this is the only life you are going to have. Make it a happy one all around.

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