Made some money blunders in your youth? Here's how to fix them now.

None of us had it all figured out in our 20s. We were just starting out in the world, getting used to that whole financial independence thing, and making our fair share of mistakes.

Whether you built up some credit card debt, put off saving for the future, or just let yourself get stuck in a dead-end low-paying job, you’re not alone, your 20s are rough. Chalk it up to the learning experience.

Now that we’re a bit older (and hopefully a lot wiser), some of those money mistakes could be following us, hurting us financially now and possibly well into the future. But you can make some changes today in your older and wiser 30s to fix the errors of your younger years and set future you up for your 40s and beyond.

1. Set financial goals

Now that you’re on to the second phase of your career (and hopefully making more money), setting goals should be a priority. After all, it is hard to achieve anything if you don’t know how you’re going to get there.

To get started, consider what motivates you and where you want to be in five or 10 years, and then set reasonable milestones to reach your ultimate goal. For example: Want to be financially solvent enough not to sweat the small money emergencies? Building up an emergency fund might be the first step.

2. Follow the money

Financial experts recommend tracking your spending periodically, so you know where the money goes.

If you haven’t tracked your spending so far, you could be spending far more on stuff you don’t need than you realize. To correct this, haul out Excel or your budgeting app of choice and go over your spending in the past one to six months. Putting your purchases into categories or tracked by a retailer can be the eye-opener you need to get your budget on track to meet those goals.

3. Focus on your work-life balance

We’re not advocating you turn down a high-paying job or pass on a lucrative gig, but in a post-Uber world, we have more opportunities than ever to earn a bit of side cash at nights, on the weekends or round the clock. Problem is, our expenses tend to inflate when our cash load does. You work more, so you spend more, so you work more.

While experts can’t entirely agree on what job burnout actually stems from, they do agree it can have some serious repercussions – like fatigue, insomnia, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, according to It can also impact you at work, putting your job (and those future promotions) at risk. To get some relief, set a budget and stick to the limits, work on your work-life balance, and see a mental health professional if you need to.

4. Save for the emergencies

A 2019 survey by CNBC Make It found only 44 percent of millennials had enough stashed to cover three months of expenses.

Now that you’ve got some experience under your belt, you know stuff can – and will – happen, so you need to be prepared. While many experts recommend at least six months banked (and up to 12 if you’re self-employed), using a simple formula can help you get there: the 50, 30, 20 rule.

Design your budget so 50 percent of your income goes to basic needs, 30 percent to discretionary purchases and 20 to savings. Can’t stretch it? Save what you can. Even $1,000 could make a big difference down the line.

5. Pump up that credit score

According to a study by Credit Karma, the average credit score for 18 to 24-year-olds is 630. In the 25 to 34-year-old range, the average drops to 628. Having a lower credit score means higher interest rates, worse terms, and more denials.

Thankfully, it is never too late to improve your credit score. Equifax recommends three easy-ish moves to see the biggest impact. Pay your bills on time, every time (it is the biggest part of your credit score). Keep your debt ratios low, or better yet, pay those cards off every month if you can. And finally, only apply for credit when you actually need it.

6. Save for retirement

Even if you’ve never saved a dime, you can start saving for retirement now and still land on a nice, soft nest egg. Start by maximizing your 401(k) at least up to your employer’s match. You can also invest in an IRA or a host of individual stocks, mutual funds and bonds to play catch-up. Not sure where to start? A financial advisor can help you build a custom plan to reach your retirement goals.

Find out: How to Save for Retirement

7. Know your worth

Being underpaid can compound over time. A study by George Mason University and Temple University found being underpaid could cost you $600,000 over the length of your career.

If you think you should be making more, negotiating with your boss might give you a boost. But if don’t see your career path, or your salary, rising much higher, it might be time to hit the job market.

8. Speak up for yourself

Unless you’re naturally super confident (and congrats, if you are), learning how to stand up for yourself can take time. Trouble is, all those little things you let go of can really start to add up. Your buddy didn’t pay you back for that small loan, your landlord wouldn’t return your security deposit, that store wouldn’t accept your valid coupon.

While not everything in life is worth stressing, it can literally pay to stand up for yourself. Doing so is a skill you can learn now. Even if you’re non-confrontational by nature, many companies offer chat and email help, so you can get problems corrected without being face-to-face. Remember, practice makes perfect.

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About the Author

Angela Colley

Angela Colley

Angela Colley is a freelance writer based in New Orleans and an expert at the fine art of renting apartments. And it IS an art.

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