Top 10 Financial Mistakes I’ve Made (& you can avoid)

‘Live and learn’ is a wonderful motto to live by…. and one I take to heart often, but mostly because I stumble and fall and then vow not to make the same mistake again!

But not only do I think this motto applies to living your own life, it also means learning from others mistakes. Watching what they have done and deciding whether you want to follow their example or learn from their mistakes and forge your own problem-free path!

In fact I think it’s such a great concept to learn from other people which is why today I’m sharing the Top 10 Financial Mistakes I have made thus far in my almost 35 years on the planet. OK I wasn’t really responsible for the first 20 years so let’s say in the last 15 years… My twenties and first 5 years of my thirties!

Starting your cool first job that actually pays you a monthly salary, planning your first trip overseas or even the big white wedding you’ve always dreamed of are all amazing things that tend to happen during your twenties. These are all super exciting things that are part of growing up but the risk is that you run into them at full force without any thought to the more mundane aspects of your twenties… your finances!

Amazing experiences and beautiful shoes are all just a swipe away in this carefree season of your life, but the guys at 1Life wanted me to talk to you today about how you can stop being a stereotypical 20-year-old and begin planning a bit more carefully so you don’t have to deal with financial regrets once you hit your 30’s. And I should know!

Together with 1Life I’m outlining my Top 10 financial mistakes that I would advise you to avoid…. even if you’re a little bit reckless in all other aspects of your twenties!


Top 10 Financial Mistakes to Avoid

1. Not going to university because you don’t think you can afford it or your parents can’t 

Probably the biggest regret of my life is that I didn’t go to university. Not because I didn’t have the marks, I did! I just didn’t have the finances – or at least my parents didn’t. And after hearing their opinions on debt (‘don’t do it’) I decided that university just wasn’t going to happen for me and opted out of even exploring it further. I took the first bursary that came my way – to a secretarial / business college. This meant my studies were finished in one year and I hit the job market soon after which was awesome… I’d never earned so much in my life and was far better off than my student friends for a few years! But I really wish I had experienced university. Even if it meant I took out a student loan and paid if off over a few years. Later my sister, who is much more determined than I, found a way to get some of her studies subsidised. If only I’d known about that option!! Basically, learn from me – don’t give up too quickly on your dreams and desires, I would have loved to have had a journalism degree under my belt… But I suppose I’ve ended up here, and that’s not too bad ultimately! However I definitely know what I will encourage my kids to do one day… whether I can afford to pay for their studies or not.


2. Choosing to study something that will not actually result in a job or a good salary

As I mentioned above, I opted to go for the studies where my fees were covered and this meant that I ended up at a secretarial college. (Hello shorthand!) Obviously I excelled here – it wasn’t too hard considering I had my University Entrance and a good aggregate for Matric, but besides the boost to my confidence and the touch typing skills I left with, I can’t really say that this was the best choice for me. At the time I knew I was capable of more and that I should have applied myself to something a bit more academic. What this means now is that I don’t have a very strong CV in terms of qualifications… but it’s meant that I have always been eager to prove myself in any role I take on. It also means that I now love reading, learning and growing my knowledge by attending seminars. I’ve become an ‘early adopter’ of the internet, social media and blogging; again not a bad thing! And I’m in a good place now with a stronger CV due to the skills and experience I’ve developed over the years. What I would say is, learn from this: choose to study something that will result in a well paid career initially, but don’t stop learning. The likelihood is that you won’t spend your whole adult life in one job – your studies will need to equip you with a variety of flexible skills. You will need to keep learning along the way. Don’t be scared of learning new skills and making career leaps!


3. Not negotiating a better starting salary at your first job

This is something I read recently in my new career bible – ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg. So many graduates stumble at this first hurdle. Obviously going into a first job interview is an incredibly stressful thing BUT this isn’t the place to doubt yourself or undersell your skills. Remember that you’re there because they like what they saw on paper. One thing I would do differently if I was to do the interview process all over again is to banish nerves! An interview is essentially a meeting where you are BOTH deciding if the job and person will be a good fit. It’s not a one sided meeting, it’s a conversation. You need to arrive not over-confident but with a quiet self-belief that this company wants to hire you and that you have something of value to offer them. Then when salary negotiations start, be sure to ask for your worth. Start high, but fair, and negotiate slowly down from there. Don’t undersell yourself with a low first salary. It’s one of the worst things you can do according to Sandberg and it’s very hard to jump your salary back up to the level that it should be at any future job. Know your worth and ask for it.


4. Not starting to save for your old age from your very first pay check

I was pretty good on this one, I started saving for a car from my first salary. But once I had the car I forgot all about saving for a very long time! This is such a critical thing to get right. In fact it’s so important that many financial advisors will tell you to pay yourself first from every paycheck – that’s BEFORE rent, petrol, car payments etc etc. If you know anything about compound interest from your high school accounting days then you’ll know the importance of starting to save from day 1… I’m not a financial advisor but I can totally see the value in it. In fact there are documented cases of people saving a fair percentage of their salary from age 22/ 23 and retiring by 30 based purely on the fact that they saved! WOW I definitely didn’t get that one right. But I’m trying to make amends now… better late than never they say!


5. Not having a budget from day one 

To do this ‘saving and investing’ thing well, you need to have a budget from day one. And you need to STICK TO IT. One of the biggest mistakes you can make in your twenties is not having a clear budget for your monthly spending. I vividly remember creating little envelopes with certain amounts allocated for each area of my budget. And then dipping in and out of them and shuffling the money around all month to try and cover the extras I hadn’t planned on! Don’t forget that the amazing job that you enjoy so much, even one that pays you well, might actually be throwing you off your budget. The problem is that you always think that you’ll cover the cost of the new handbag on sale from next month’s salary, and then your next salary will cover the plane ticket to your cousin’s wedding in Plett and so on and so on. Saving is never fun. It’s just not. But saving and spending wisely will result in a lot of fun later in life. And a lot less stress – and when you get to my age, no stress is actually called fun!


6. General excessive spending on stuff, not experiences

The temptation during your twenties is to live hard and fast and spend, spend, spend on all the gorgeous things you couldn’t afford in your teens. But it’s so important to try and change your mindset – and that is to avoid spending money on things you don’t need. It’s something I’m still learning in my mid-thirties and will probably still be dealing with in my late 60’s! But more and more I’m realising that we really don’t need as much as we think we do. Things such as regular shopping sprees, going out every weekend night, having multiple retail credit accounts that will inevitably put you into debt and eating out at restaurants a few times a week are really bleeding your potential savings dry! Take some time out of your busy social life to create a budget and prioritise what you really need and adjust your spending accordingly so that you can start saving for what you really want. The truth of the matter is that experiences are far more valuable than stuff in the long run. So go ahead and save for that sailing trip your friends want to plan round the Med. Now that’s something I can encourage as I truly believe that money spent on travel is never wasted.


7. Planning a big white wedding & inviting people you will never see anymore in your 30’s

I got married at 21. Yes 21! A mere baby really. Fortunately between my parents and in-laws we were lucky enough not to have to cover too many of the costs, but the truth is that these days most couples do have to pay their own way when it comes to a wedding. And here lies one of my other big regrets. I wish I had planned, and paid for, a much smaller wedding. There were people at my wedding that I didn’t even know the names of. People who came and spent the night dancing and dining on our dime and we didn’t even chat on the night. And let’s not get started on the long list of faces who appear in our photos but we never see anymore. OK some of them were really tight friends at the time and life has got in the way so we just don’t connect often but there were definitely some ‘plus ones’ we could have scratched off the list and saved ourselves and our folks some cash! A small intimate affair would have been far better than the 180 plus we had. In retrospect someone said to me that you shouldn’t invite anyone to your wedding that you wouldn’t offer to take out to a top class restaurant for a meal. If you’re not prepared to pay R300 per head for that person then they probably don’t belong at your wedding! Harsh but true.


8. Not really applying yourself to your career because you think you will have babies soon

When I got married at 21 I figured it wouldn’t be long until we had babies and I would be a full time mom at home forever… I basically applied myself to my career with those thoughts in the back of my mind. I didn’t exactly ‘Lean In’ like Sheryl would have wanted me to! There are two essential truths to take into account here, ultimately these are that no one knows the future and everyone changes. Once we got married we realised we wanted to enjoy time sans kids for a while… and this ended up being almost 5 years! We wanted to travel and live overseas which delayed our plans. When we finally had a baby I realised just how freaking hard it is being a stay-at-home mom. It wasn’t what I expected (understatement!) As much as I was grateful for the opportunity to be the main caregiver to our son, I soon realised I wasn’t cut out for 24/7 with him. I then had to back pedal and explain to my husband, mom, in-laws etc that I really didn’t want to be at home all day, everyday. For both sets of parents who knew nothing else than the traditional nuclear family of the 80’s this was a bit of a shock! I slowly eased back into part-time work knowing in the back of my mind that there would soon be another baby on the way. And then we waited…..over 2 years!! It took 16 months of trying to fall pregnant and another 10 months of pregnancy before I had baby no 2. That’s a long time to be just working part-time in a nowhere job. I could have been applying myself so much more!


9. Getting stuck in a career time-loop and not looking to move on to a new job opportunity soon enough

Which brings me to my next point. Don’t waste time in a job you hate, or one that’s not growing you or developing your skills. Your 20’s are a great time to move forward in your career. Yes, no one wants to hire a job-hopper who only spends 6 months in each job, but don’t stay in one spot too long either. If you’ve been in the same position for 5 years it’s time to look around. It’s important to know that your 20’s are an opportunity to realise who you are and what your future plans might be. Being stuck in the same job that isn’t for you, but pays well or is comfortable and safe, is not going to help you progress in life. Having the freedom of choosing the path you want will eventually make you a stronger person and give you the confidence in making decisions for yourself.


10. Relying on the fact that your husband is the ‘breadwinner’ with a good income and not earning and saving in your own name

This is actually a lesson I’ve only just learnt myself. For over 9 years I’ve been a mom and my career has been adjusted accordingly. As I said, I’ve always wanted to be around for my kids as much as possible and this has meant that I’ve chosen to work part-time only for the past few years. Until now. I’ve just decided that although the flexi work from home role I’ve been in for a while has been awesome, it’s now time for me to ramp things up a notch. I need to take control of my own career and stop relying on my husband to be the main income earner. Even though I’ve been motivated to do this for myself (with a bit of help from Sheryl’s inspiring book), this hasn’t been an easy transition by any stretch of the imagination… in fact there have been more than a few tears. BUT I can honestly say I am now in a good place. I’m earning again. A real salary. With real money! And it feels amazing. OK I don’t get to spend any of it but knowing it’s going into our bond and a new savings account IN MY OWN NAME is super cool. I’m so proud to know I’m doing this. I’m a real grown up girl making it in this world. Now, please don’t get me wrong. I have the hugest respect for full-time mom’s. My mom was one. I was one. Many of my amazing friends are too. But for me, I needed to do this brave thing and get back into the world of work. Yes, it might be motivated by the small nagging fear I have about one day finding myself a single mom with not a penny to my name, but it’s more than that…. I’m doing this for myself, and it feels good! If I can encourage any of your twenty-somethings or full-time mama’s out there in just one thing it’s this: Embrace change. Be open to life in all it’s messy glory. Change is inevitable. It’s gonna happen and you can’t stop it, all you can do is roll with it and see what unfolds. It’s usually good stuff!




Your twenties are meant to be a fun period in your life, a season of fun. But it’s important to find a balance – don’t get too reckless, but also don’t get too serious either. Be flexible and make good choices in your life. Financial education has the power to change lives. Make time to educate yourself on financial matters so that you can make the best financial decisions for yourself without relying on someone else.



This post was writted by Kathryn Rossiter and sponsored by 1Life Insurance. Visit them to get reliable information on life insurance online and get a quote for Life Cover online.


Images: Supplied

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Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for over 9 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!

  1. Brilliant article that completely resonated with me. Good solid advice that I wish someone told me at that age. Thanks for this! Really enjoyed reading it.

  2. Love this article! I’m carrying out my MA in Media Theory & Practice. I’m loving it, but sometimes I actually think that all the studying is quite unnecessary because we hardly gain any practical journalistic skills.
    And if you think 180+ guests are a lot of guests, think 500+ guests at Indian weddings — waste of money! And half of those people always criticise at least one thing re your wedding – either the food wasn’t too good or your dress wasn’t so stunning… So I like your point on only inviting those who really should be there. 🙂

  3. I love this! I am actually in the same boat for tip 1 but I am now looking to do my degree part time. Funding it myself through this next chapter of my life. I am lucky that I am still in my early 20’s so I can get my studies done and still have time to have my life in my late 20’s.

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