Top 5 Financial Mistakes In My 20s

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Reaching is age of 31 brings me mixed feelings and emotions.

On the one hand, I am glad I’m married to a good husband, a beautiful son, have a stable job, and have a place to call home.

Without the first two achievements (husband and kid), I’m sure my whole Asian family (grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, etc.) would be sleepless at night wondering why I’m still single.

Every single one of our conversations would be peppered with questions such as:

— Are you dating anyone?

— Why are you still single?

— Have you met anyone you like?

— When do you plan to get married?

— Are there guys going after you?

I know because I was greeted with questions like the ones above even before I turned 26.

On the other hand, turning 31 is a bit melancholy.

For one, I started to see all these unwanted wrinkles making their marks clear on my face as time goes by. I can’t stop aging because it is a natural process in life. Everyone gets old.

But sometimes I think back on all the financial mistakes I’ve made in my 20s and wonder how much money I would have at the moment if those mistakes hadn’t happened.

We all know it is impossible to undo the past. I am naturally a frugal person (sometimes too frugal), so what I’ve done wrong financially is not earth-shattering. But everything adds up, even $1.

Related: When Frugality Goes Wrong

Below are the 5 biggest financial mistakes I made in my early 20s that I hope to not repeat in my 30s.

1. Not learning how to cook

Cooking is what I’ve regretted not learning how to do earlier. When I was in Vietnam, my mom wanted me to focus on school since it was so competitive. She happily took over the cooking and never forced me to learn any skills. I also had no interest in cooking and never bothered to learn.

Reality set in after I started college. Although I had a meal plan (through the financial aid package), the school dining hall closed during the holidays and summer break.

Having no talent for following recipes or being creative with food, I’ve struggled and failed many times trying to re-create what I see on Youtube or come up with my own recipe.

During the past 13 years of living alone in the US, I just don’t dare to quantify the amount of food that’s been wasted due to my failed culinary attempts.

Let’s simplify the issue by assuming I waste $20 worth of food every month. It amounts to $240/year or $2,880 after 12 years.

If I had invested $240 in a savings account that earns 0.01% interest rate/year twelve years ago and added $240 every year, I’d have $3,120.02 in investment by now thanks to the power of compounding interests.


Learn how to cook as early and as well as you can. Your life quality will go through the roof. Check our Joe’s and Mr. Tako’s blogs to see their amazingly delicious-looking and inexpensive home-made dishes.

I’m trying hard to learn how to cook from Mr. FAF and my mother-in-law. I’ve made some progress so far, but what I make doesn’t usually measure up for some mysterious reason. I think I might just need more practice.

Related: Why We Eat Out While In Debt

2. Not learning about and investing in retirement earlier

I just found out I had a retirement account set up and contributed to by my employer after working for 1.5 years. I have no idea how it happened, but somehow I managed to be clueless about retirement investment for so long.

You know those PSAs, news articles, and books that talk about the importance of eating healthy and working out, but you still manage to not follow such advice? That’s me and retirement.

I think a key reason for the delay is that I wanted to make sure Mr. FAF and I had enough cash in our bank account for an emergency and to pay our monthly mortgage.

But thinking back on missing the benefit of compounding interest rates and especially after reading J Money’s $20 post, I realized I could have contributed small chunks of money (i.e. $100/month) instead of thinking about the big grand $500-1,000/month.


Invest in your retirement as early as you can even if it’s $20/month.

After Mr. FAF started his new job in August, we have begun to investment in our retirement accounts more aggressively to take advantage of the compounding interest and his employer’s match.

Related: How Hubby & I Discovered We Will Be Millionaires By Doing One Thing

3. Buying clothes as a reward for myself

After I started the PhD program, I knew I would have a stable stipend coming in each month. It wasn’t enough, but as a single girl at that time, I thought I should live a little. After all, I had graduated college and was an adult then.

I went on an online shopping spree and bought a series of clothes from brands such as Victoria Secret and Macy’s. I was excited to start a new life and wanted my colleagues to have a good impression of me.

I must have spent $500 on new clothes back then. It might not sound like a good to you, but to a poor graduate student like me at the time, it was A LOT of money.

After two months, I got tired of the clothes that I had bought. The excitement had miraculously vanished and was replaced with a sense of guilt.

I felt guilty for not shopping for deals, for spending so much on something so superficial and unnecessary, and for not failing to save up for the future.

I felt better knowing that I had bought my whole family presents with the money I had worked hard for prior to graduating college.

But deep down, I knew I shouldn’t have spent so much on myself. I still had a degree to finish and all the expenses to take care of by myself.


I haven’t repeated the same mistake ever since. Whenever I feel like I should reward myself for something, I try to wait for a week to see what I really want or need.

The excitement usually wears off after a couple of days. Mr. FAF and I like celebrating by eating good food, so that’s what we do instead of me buying unnecessary clothes for myself.

Related: The Poor Life Of A PhD Student

4. Not investing in myself enough

I’m not talking about investment in knowledge and such. I feel like I was in school forever and was more than ready to have a job and start making money. Learning was great, but I wanted to see the monetary reward as well.

I’m talking about investing in skin care products to prevent premature aging. No matter if you’re a male or a female, please pay more attention to your skin and nurture it with good skin care products.

There was a long period in my life where I couldn’t care less about protecting myself from the sun or putting on moisturizer in the dry winter. Big mistake! Youth doesn’t last forever.


Take better care of your skin when you’re young since it will save you a lot of money spent on anti-wrinkle cream later.

Good skin care products don’t have to be expensive. I usually try to pick the one with the most natural ingredients. I currently use Neutrogena Green Tea moisturizer ($17/each) and have really liked it so far.

I also carry an umbrella in the hot summer (although people think I look weird). I invested $29 in an anti-UV ray umbrella on Amazon which lasted for more than a year.

I once tried the $25 anti-UV ray oil from L’Oréal at my colleague’s suggestion. But I felt that it was heavily perfumed. I could even taste the perfume when I drank water. The perfume somehow managed to get into my eyes, which caused a great deal of discomfort. I returned the product after two days.

I’m willing to invest in an expensive skincare product, but I have to know for sure that it works and is not some kind of temporary fixer.

Related: 10 Free & Inexpensive Ways To Prevent Wrinkles

5. Being too strict with money

I’ve heard my boss and other people describe me as disciplined, a quality that I have but didn’t fully realize until a year ago.

I just do what I think needs to be done and train myself to stick with a set schedule that can bring about the most productivity and yield the desired outcomes.

I apply the same principle to everything that I do whether it’s work, dating, marriage, friendships, or person finance.

If something doesn’t seem to generate the results that I expect, especially if I put a lot of work into it, I’m less likely to dedicate more (or any) time to that activity.

Mr. FAF is one of the people whose life has been impacted by my disciplined behavior. I usually don’t like to go around telling people what to do. But since Mr. FAF and I share so many things in life, I want him to demonstrate the same discipline as I do. I expect from him what I expect from myself.

However, I’ve realized that Mr. FAF is a totally different person from me with a different personality. He’s more carefree and less stressed out about life than I am. I tend to worry about everything while he believes that everything will get resolved somehow.


This personality clash has helped us balance our lives but have caused a lot of tension in our marriage. After multiple discussions, I have started to loosen up a little.

I myself am getting tired of being disciplined all the time. I want to relax and life life a little instead of trying to plan for everything that can go wrong in life. I will never stop worrying.

I wish I had realized this earlier. We could have been much happier and had fewer fights earlier in our marriage.

Related: A Free Article That Helped Our Marriage


I’ve made multiple financial mistakes in my life from eating at an overpriced restaurant to not investing earlier. I thought saving was the golden rule. I missed the other half of the equation: Investing.

Investing can be monetary or something as straightforward as skin care products for ourselves.

We can have lots of money in the bank one day. But if we don’t feel good about what we cook/eat, how we reward ourselves, how we look in the mirror, or how our spouse feels about us, then life won’t be as beautiful as we’d like it to be.


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14 thoughts on “Top 5 Financial Mistakes In My 20s”

  • Thanks for the mention! Cooking is all about practice. You’ll get better the more you cook. YouTube is a great resource for this. There are recipes for almost anything there. Just do the easy ones until you’re better.
    As for mistakes, we all made them. It’s part of growing up. 🙂
    BTW, Mrs. RB40 is getting grey hair now. That’s not good…

    • I always open the shortest videos on YouTube for instructions lol My favorites are about 2-3 minutes, but they might not be as helpful as the longer ones hehe.

      I have grey hair too. But I stopped plugging them years ago since I’m afraid I might be balding one day @_@

  • Your skin obsession continues!!! I really don’t think it’s possible to eat wrinkles at 31. Plus you’re Asian, we keep a little while longer usually. I’ll get them right around the corner and I’ll be even uglier V_V;; then we’ll be two old bloggers with our own anti aging blog too.

    • *see wrinkles (well you definitely can’t eat them.)

      Oh Jared missed the retirement train too. His dad for some reason never told him to max out his retirement so he just didn’t do it. I think his dad thought it was so obvious that he didn’t have to. All the other kids knew, poor little Jared missed all the notifications too. He’s still a super smart cookie. The best time to invest is today!

      • I’d eat those wrinkles away if I could 😀 Hmm maybe I’m a bit obsessed with my skin. I think I became more aware of the relationship between skin and aging after I started dating Mr. FAF. He has really nice skin, and everyone keeps saying he looks younger than he is. I’m jealous!

        Good thing Jared took your advice! 😉

  • You know, they say hindsight is 20/20, and we all make mistakes. The important part is to learn from them and not make them anymore in the future! I’ve definitely wasted my fair share of food in my 20s from poorly executed ‘experiments’, but now that I know how to whip up a super cheap meal that tastes great, that skill is paying back dividends. Gah, I probably should care about skin care more… but I think natural aging is beautiful, so a few wrinkles or grey hairs don’t scare me. And ain’t no way I’m paying to fake-color my hair for decades so hopefully I don’t go grey for a long time and/or hubby agrees with me!

  • As a 21year old, these few mistakes to avoid are really useful. Learning from your mistakes is important to make less of my own. I’m really working on my discipline regarding my personal finances.
    I love your article ideas. Keep them coming.

  • You seem to be a saint compared to me if our financial mistakes are the deciding factor. I did a post a few weeks back called “Investing nightmares – don’t do what I did” where I described three mistakes that I made which cost me $606,000. It was the first time I’d looked back and had a go at the math, and I was stunned speechless (and that doesn’t happen to me often!).

    Oh, and turning 31, I wish. I do have a few laughter lines, I admit – it sounds so much more upbeat than wrinkles😆

  • I made a lot of mistakes in my 20’s. I’m still paying for some of them. I learned from every single one of them. I also had a lot of fun in my 20’s and traveled a lot. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t change anything. I’m making sure that my 30’s will be better.

  • I think mine was not investing in myself enough. I ate poorly, didn’t work out and didn’t improve myself much until I was in my late 20s. That’s a lot of years missed!

  • We all made our own financial mistakes especially in our 20s. I believe what’s more important is to recognized them, learn from it and take action. Lack of investing and building credit card debit along with student loans summed up my financial profile in my 20s and I really learned a lot going through that because it made me know how of an importance your finances are.

  • 😂😂😂

    #5 is totally me too, in terms of mentality.

    After everything with V, I’ve always been the point of regimental, crazed focus. For some reason I have no problem with it, but I think my parents get worried some times about why I’m so relentless for Medical school at the expense of everything else. But to me, the goal is the only thing that matters right now.

  • Wait until you get to your mid-30’s! I am getting crow’s feet (the wrinkles around the eyes) I think. Have you tried facial acupuncture? I’m not sure if it’s covered by your benefits, but I have used facial acupuncture for the past few years and really liked it. It stimulates the collagen production in your face and increased circulation in your face. I haven’t gone since last year because you shouldn’t do it while you are pregnant, but I have an appointment booked soon so I’m looking forward to it.

  • One of my biggest mistake in my 20s was not investing in a home in Southern California. At the time in 2000, I was working for a homebuilder as a Financial Analyst. It was a big decision so I consulted my Asian parents. They didn’t want me to endure financial stress at such an early life and instead wanted me to enjoy life a little more first. Fast forward to now, the home probably can easily fetch 4-5 times the purchase price!

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