For many years I've quoted our friend Bill from here in Walker who said "you can figure it out now or you can figure it out later, but you'll be much happier if you can figure it out now."
Jared Dillian from Mauldin Economics Tweeted a similar sentiment with this poll;
Another quote from when I was 18, someone very smart said to me that your 20's are for horsing (he use a different word...) around and you make your money in your 30's and 40's. He was in his early 30's at the time so I imagine he might include 50's and 60's into his idea but either way, you get the idea.
To Jared's Tweet, I might have started figuring things out right before I got married. I got a job at Charles Schwab when I was 26, five months before I got married. If I remember correctly, we were eligible for the 401k right away but even if that is incorrect I started putting 10% in as soon as I could. My first job out of college was at Lehman Brothers and while that didn't very well it went well enough for me to get all my credit card debt from college paid off with enough left over for me to quit that job while I looked for the next thing (an example of the optionality I write about so frequently).
The idea of credit card debt (or other consumer debt) being an obstacle to many things (figuring it out and optionality as two examples) is highlighted in this article from Marketwatch about the extent to which Generation X, my age cohort is up a creek. It says the median amount saved for retirement for Gen-X is only $35,000. Who knows how accurate that is but there is some dollar amount in this conversation below such that you have an emergency fund not a retirement plan, at least not yet.
However old you are, you know people older than you who have not figured it out for themselves and you probably know (or have known) teenagers who have it figured out already. Age is arguably less important than the possibility that once you do figure it out, every aspect of you life will become easier.
For my money, keys to figure things out include;
- Letting go of the small stuff
- Build and maintain meaningful relationships
- Learning to live below your means
- Spending time figure out what matters to you and what doesn't (maybe that BMW isn't so important afterall?)
- Finding time to care of your health
- Understand the concept of path of least resistance versus path of most resistance
- Volunteer your time (time is worth more than money to an organization that needs your help)
- Time is more important than money for you personally too
There are probably others but that is a decent start to making every other aspect of your life easier. Part of making your life easier is that when you start to make real progress you can then plan financially for the right thing, invest the right way for what matters to you instead of what doesn't.