4 Money Lessons I Wish I Learned Before I Was 40, Even Though I’m Rich

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  • My husband and I are well on our way to retiring wealthy, but we haven’t always been smart with our money.
  • I wish we had started investing earlier and learned earlier that we could do more by working for ourselves.
  • I also learned that it is possible to make some bad decisions and still do well.

When my husband and I started taking our finances seriously in our late 20’s, we naturally thought we had all funderstood. We believed we would live intensely frugal lives and work to pay off every penny of debt we owed, and that’s exactly what we did. However, we never gave much thought to what happens next or how our attitudes about money could dramatically change as we get older.

The reality is that we became self-employed somewhere along the way and started making more money. And, now that I’m preparing to turn 43 next month, I can confidently say that we are financially independent and well on our way to retiring wealthy when our children leave home in seven years.

That said, there are some lessons I learned in my 30s and 40s that I wish I’d clicked on sooner, and for more than one reason. Here’s an overview of what I wish I knew about money when I was younger and why.

1. Making more money changes everything

The first lesson I wish I’d learned sooner is how impactful boosting your income can be, especially since I was only making about $40,000 at my old 9-5 job.

No matter what anyone says to the contrary, there’s only so much you can save when you’re on a fixed income. You can cut your cable bill and start using a monthly meal plan. From there, other steps like buying a smaller house and shopping for auto insurance and homeowners insurance can only save you so much.

Even worse, working a traditional 9-5 job also means getting whatever raise you’re awarded each year, if you get one. At my old job from more than a decade ago, I was pretty much limited to a 3% raise every year no matter what.

On the flip side, finding a way to make more money can solve a myriad of problems by helping you invest for the future much quicker. If I could go back and change anything in this realm, I would have quit my traditional job to become self-employed as soon as possible instead of spending years wondering if I’d made the right move.

For those who aren’t interested in self-employment, finding other ways to make more money can be a big deal. This could mean working overtime at work, taking a side job, or changing jobs to secure higher pay.

2. The power of compound interest is amazing

This lesson connects to the first one, but I really wish we had started investing for retirement at a much younger age. We actually first opened 401(k) plans in our late 20’s and contributed only a nominal percentage of our incomes at the time. Now that I know and understand the magic of compound interest, I wish we had contributed so much more than we did.

Festival

0.25%; 0.06 – 0.13% for low cost investment funds

Account types

Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs and SEP IRAs

Investment types

ETFs, index funds and crypto trusts

Front of Wealth Front of Wealth IRA

Festival

0.25%; 0.06 – 0.13% for low cost investment funds

Account types

Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs and SEP IRAs

Investment types

ETFs, index funds and crypto trusts

The fact is, investing as regularly and as early as possible is the best way to benefit from compound interest so you can retire when you want and on your terms. After all, investing early lets you start building a nest egg that increases in value over time, and compound interest eventually lets you build on the wealth you’ve already earned on your investments in the past.

As an example, consider this financial scenario:

Imagine investing $1,500 a month for 30 years starting at age 30, which means you’re making $540,000 in contributions during that time. If you averaged a 7% return, you’d finish the 30-year period at age 60 with just over $1.7 million.

Now imagine investing $2,250 for 20 years starting at age 40, which means you’re making the same $540,000 in investments in a shorter time frame. With the same 7% return, you’d finish 20 years at age 60 with just over $1.106 million.

3. You can make a lot of bad decisions and still be right

While my husband and I have made some very good financial decisions, we have also made some pretty tragic ones. For example, we delayed retirement investments, as I mentioned, and spent too much renovating our second home and sold it at a loss.

We also spent a lot of money trading our cars for new ones during the first few years of our marriage, and we initially had our investments with a high-cost brokerage firm that charges expensive and unnecessary commissions.

As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve realized that you can make a lot of big mistakes and still do pretty well. You just have to make a few good decisions mixed in with the bad ones, and you have to focus on slowly “moving forward” over time, even if it feels like you’re taking three steps forward and two steps back every year.

In the end, my husband and I made a lot of great decisions, including venturing into self-employment, investing a ton during our top-earning years, and avoiding debt for more than a decade and counting. While the mistakes of our past have held us back to some extent, the good decisions we’ve made have more than made up for the difference.

4. Mental energy is expensive

Especially in the last few years, I’ve learned that my mental energy needs to be preserved for the things in life that really matter. This often means I’m more than willing to pay for the conveniences that help me stay sane, whether that means cleaning my house regularly or ordering groceries online so I can skip the store.

It took me a long time to learn this lesson, mostly because I was so frugal. There have been years in my life where I spent hours trying to save a few bucks, cutting off coupons or driving from store to store to store sales.

Now that I’m older, I’d rather spend my free time working or relaxing with my kids. It took a decade, but now I know for sure that my time is better spent investing in my family or my job. Anything else that can be outsourced is, and I rarely worry about the cost.

Ultimately, getting older is teaching me that money matters a lot, but not for the reasons I once thought. These days I use money to buy freedom and time, the two things in life that are priceless.

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