7 Money Mistakes I Made in My 20s

Whew…our 20s. What a magical time, we’re young, but not old enough to rent a car (or a hotel in some cases). Our metabolism is still intact, our skin is vibrant and youthful, and we can go out and party with our friends until the wee hours of the morning, and still get up for class or work without a struggle!

]Now, I should write this in past-tense, as I am a very youthful and vibrant 30ish Millennial (haha), but as I reminisce on my 20s, while I had the absolute time of my life…I also did the absolute most with my money (or lack thereof). I remember having some of the most epic birthday trips, the most epic concert trips, and the most epic beauty collection! You know what I also had acquired…LOTS and LOTS of credit card and payday loan debt.

Now that I am more seasoned and have been through some life-altering events, even though my 20s were chaotic financially, I am so grateful for the many lessons learned; even if I had to learn them the hard way.

Here are seven money mistakes that I made in my 20s 

(so you don’t have to, lol)!

Not Having a Budget

 Since you’re here on the City Girl Savings website, let’s just get the most obvious mistake out of the way: Lena in her 20s couldn’t even pronounce the word “budget”. Ok, I’m joking about that, but you would have at least thought I was allergic to the word!

After college, when I received my first “big girl” job at an educational nonprofit with a $30k salary, I thought I was rich RICH! I was still living with my parents, my dad bought my first and 2nd cars (so no car payments), and I was going out to lunch and happy hours in downtown Chicago almost everyday (and most weekends…ok, every weekend).

I say all of this to say, I was not tracking a dime of what I spent, and whenever I received money, I spent it within minutes, no lie. I vividly remember receiving my first paycheck (it was a paper one, see I’m a 30ish Millennial lol), and going straight to the bank to cash it, not depositing it into my bank account, and heading straight to the mall. Of course, I blew most of my paycheck within the first week.

Again, I had no clue what a budget was, let alone how to track my spending.

Living by the “YOLO” Motto

*Cue Drake’s “The Motto”! Yep, that was my motto, my mantra, my personal national anthem! “You Only Live Once” got me into so much financial trouble! Speaking of that song, that song came out in 2012 when I was 24 (geez, I’m getting up there), and I remember planning a girls’ trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico for my 25th birthday.

*sigh* I had no business, let alone any disposable income, going anywhere besides my parents’ backyard for a vacation. However, I thought I had to do a grand 25th birthday because I “only turned 25 once” aka YOLO. That acronym was literally my justification for all my purchases in my 20s. I wanted to go to San Juan, YOLO. I wanted to see a huge kpop band three times, in three cities on the west coast, YOLO. I wanted to go to Toronto for Caribana for 48 hours, AND go to Vegas then Austin, YOLO (please don’t ask me about that trip, I do NOT remember a thing).

Drake’s “The Motto”, what a time, now I’m fine with JOMO (The Joy of Missing Out) haha!

Using Credit Cards Like Income

Because I did not know how to spell or pronounce “budget”, of course, I used and abused all my credit cards. If I spent all my paycheck before the next one, I just pulled out one of my credit cards, like it was additional income. Remember when I spent my first paycheck at the mall? I bet you were wondering how I made it to my next paycheck; yep, a credit card. SWIPE, SWIPE, SWIPE – CHARGE, CHARGE, CHARGE.

*A bonus mistake – none of my credit cards back them had a points program* Ugh, right in the feels!

In addition to using my credit cards as income, I also was just paying the minimum payment, but would continue to use the cards, so I was never paying them off. This created a dangerous cycle because these companies would also increase my limit, and of course, I would use that to my fullest advantage (disadvantage in hindsight). By the way, Raya has an amazing podcast episode about the traps of credit cards, interest, and the slippery slope of not using credit cards the right way.

Not Saving

If you’ve made it this far into the article, then this should not be a surprise. If I didn’t have a budget, didn’t track my spending, then you already know I was not saving. Budgeting and Saving – those two words did not exist in my vocabulary in my 20s.

Now that I think about it, I do remember “trying” to save money. I would put maybe $100/paycheck into my savings account, that was linked to my checking account…

HOWEVER, as quickly as I would transfer into my savings, I would quickly transfer it back into my checking, because I just had to buy makeup, or a pair of shoes or three. I remember transferring so much back-and-forth between my checking and savings account that my bank temporarily suspended my savings account because I made way too many transfers in a month’s time!

Buying Luxury Items

As I am typing this out, I’m also laughing because I truly had the audacity to spend $600 on a Coach purse and matching wallet. I ended up losing that same wallet on a trip to Florida (it’s what I deserved haha). But seriously, I was extremely materialistic in my 20s, and I equated my self-worth to what I possessed (thank goodness for wisdom and growth).

Clearly, I lived way above my means because I still cannot process how the words “budgeting” and “saving” weren’t in my vocabulary, but “luxury” was, oh my 20s! Funny enough, all those Coach purses I had, which I had quite the collection, I ended up donating most of them to Goodwill when I had to move in with my dad at the age of 30. Yes, I had to move back home due to my reckless spending, but that’s another blog post for another day!

Not Investing in Jobs’ 401k Plans

Again, if you made it this far into the article, SHOCKER! I vividly remember hearing about the “importance” of early retirement planning and how it’ll make such a difference in the long-run. I wasn’t trying to hear any of that, because for me, I thought I was young, I did not have to worry about retirement, so why would I invest now?


Now, even in my 30s, I would say investing is still something I am new to, but I am making small efforts in learning more about it. A huge progress from 20ish Lena. I do wish I learned about the power and magic of compound interest, but I am confident that I will be able to retire!

Not Working with a Financial Coach

I will save this one for last, because even though I have been heavily involved in the City Girl Savings community since my mid-20s, I just very recently started working with Raya as a client, which is crazy, right? I knew my finances were in trouble in my 20s, but I never wanted to be held accountable for my mistakes. I knew my habits had to change sooner than later, but I was not done “living”.

I even had about 4-5 different consultation calls with Raya before finally taking the plunge and committing to her 3-month coaching program. I will say that working with a financial coach, like Raya, has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. A decision that I know 20ish Lena would have been scared to make.


I haven’t made as many financial mistakes in my 30s, like I did in my 20s, but there is always room for improvement. What about you, what were some of your financial mistakes that you’ve learned from your 20s?

The CGS Team



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