What’s the worst financial decision you've ever made? Was it that time you decided to get second-hand tickets for a couple hundred quid and they were fake? That pair of designer trousers that your thighs tore through after five uses, putting them at well over 50 quid per wear? Or might it have been the nights out that resulted in a three-digit sum wiped from your account and the receipt being nothing but a blurred memory, the smell of Domino’s and the sting of bile?
Whatever your biggest spunking of cash was, for most people, it probably happened in your twenties. Sure, uni can be reckless, but the real financial fuck-ups happen when you haven’t got a student loan but do have an ever-expanding overdraft and ever-growing rent.
Well, twenty-somethings, don’t worry too much. There’s still time to turn things around. Here’s some wisdom from people in their thirties about what they wish they’d done a few years earlier.
‘I should have put money aside and started saving earlier’
"The conversations around me were “you're so bad with money”, which is what planted the seed in my head that I was bad with money. But actually, I wasn't bad with money. I was just working class and I didn't have a 20 grand deposit that meant I could treat my salary like [those around me] did.
Being realistic about what you're going to be able to do versus the people you meet is a solid tip. Everybody around me was living off the assumption that when it got to the point where they needed to buy a gaff, there was money coming in from their parents for deposits. I should have paid more attention to not absorb that sentiment, because I didn't have that help. I should have put money aside and started saving earlier, but because they were spending their entire incomes, so was I. I didn't save anything. – Bobby, 35, educational mentor
‘Honestly, one thing I wouldn’t have done in my twenties is buy a house’
My wife and I had always said we were going to travel and explore the world. We did it during the pandemic – we sold our house and left the UK. I've grown so much as a person as a result. Now I wish I'd spent my money on things like that earlier in life. Honestly, one thing I wouldn't have done in my twenties is buy a house. I know the public says to buy a house and settle down all that kind of stuff. I found it can tie you down too much and you end up getting a lot of financial pressure from it. There's more to life than spending all your money on boilers and gardens, especially at that age.
I still don't have kids, so I think if I had kids I would probably change my mind. But yeah, I would definitely get all the travelling down and properly live life first. And then sure, if I could afford it, I'd get a house. – Ravi, 32, CEO of Rockstar Marketing
‘Suddenly, I had way more tax to pay than I had understood’
I was very driven [in my twenties], but I was not disciplined and struggled dealing with the difficult, confusing or scary stuff around money. I was optimistically thinking I'll just do my taxes on an app at some point in the afternoon. Suddenly, I had way more tax to pay than I had understood – like a few years’ worth, which totally fucked me financially. It took out all my savings.
Honestly, I think I thought I could maybe get away with not paying taxes for some reason, and it was confusing because I wasn’t in the UK but my bank accounts were. I was like, ‘Where do I pay my taxes?’ After that, I was terrified of getting it wrong so I invested in an accountant, which also cost money. However, it’s good to remember that most people can sort their shit out if they’re in their twenties. There’s time to get back on track. – Faith, 30, freelance consultant
‘I wish that I'd tried to learn to save and budget more for myself’
"I wish that I'd tried to learn to save and budget more for myself. That knowledge didn't come through my school and it didn't come through my parents. They're Glaswegian factory workers. So you know, they don't really save because they don't have any money.
Until I was about 27, I lived in the moment workwise and that was working in fashion styling. I was either at shoots, going to parties or just hanging out. When I was 28, I thought, ‘I do not want to be a 40-year-old stylist.’ There's no career trajectory. So I just kind of thought of a way that I could earn a bit more money and still use all the same contacts and skills, which is what I do now.
I’m in a better position financially for sure, I’m comfortable and secure. Though I don’t have those fringe benefits – the free clothes, the nice parties – I also wish I had put more into a pension. We've got a very Tory government – I don't think there's going to be much in the way of state pensions when we're older. – Jo, 39, director at Talent Atelier
‘I buy so much less now – but it lasts so much longer and the quality is so much better’
Due to parental bereavement, I was able to get myself out of debt. By the end of my twenties, I was something like £20,000 in debt. That wasn't the first time I had been in debt either. I worked myself out of about £10,000 of debt about five years prior to that. Even though I'm out of debt, I have absolutely no savings, no pension. Also, I left a job in 2016 and took a slightly less well-paid job, but it was a very wise choice.
Basically, the minute I didn't have to be at work, I was buying take-outs, going out drinking and spending a fortune at the weekend because I was so unhappy during the week. I've also now worked my pay grade up so I'm on more than I was in 2016.
I would also say, like, spend more but buy less. I buy so much less now – but it lasts so much longer and the quality is so much better. A bargain isn't always a bargain. Also, it’s glib, but try to not get caught up in credit cards. There’s nothing more shameful than being sat in a mortgage office, next to your mother, when the mortgage advisor has to tell your mother that you've had £20,000 worth of debt and she's never been told. – Clare, 32, timetabling administrator
‘Life's more expensive than you expect’
I think the main thing I would have told myself like a decade ago is that it is well worth having savings. You don't know what's going to come up. You don't know what big purchases you're going to have to make or exactly when you'll want to make any. It's always good to have that flexibility and a safety net. Life's more expensive than you expect. So having a budget is definitely worth considering.
Having just bought a house, I’m finding it really difficult to save for fun things. Now a lot of the income is tied up into living expenses. But you don’t want to have just bought a house and then have to stay in the house every single evening and never do anything fun. Though of course, not everyone can have that perfectly comfortable life. So don't make your twenties miserable in order to save everything – have some fun, don't get too hung up on it. – Dan, 30, beer salesman
‘I wish I had just done some research’
During my twenties, I was putting away maybe £200 a month. I wasn't in the best paid job, but I put away a little bit every month. I thought that was enough. I put it into premium bonds, because that's what my nan gave me as a kid. It wasn't until I got to 30 that it hit that I realised I should get my financial shit together properly. I wish I'd been more careful with money, or at least had more information about the best ways of saving.
It's difficult because financial literacy isn't really taught in schools. My parents didn't really talk about it, so I needed to learn all of that on my own. I wish I'd thought about how financially fucked I could have been and had just done some research for myself. Looked into how much is needed for a deposit, how to put money away in different ISAs and how all that works.
At the same time, I know people that have been careful with money in their twenties and have lived quite a tame life. At least I went out. Sure, I can't remember all of it, but I had a lot of fun. I guess that's a trade off for financial stability, you know. – Elliott, 30, senior copywriter