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If I were 20-something today – spending lessons from a baby boomer nearing retirement

Written by Anne Papmehl

Friday, October 28th, 2016

In my early twenties, I worked with a middle-aged German lady named Jo. She became like a mother to me, sharing her wisdom and advice with the kind concern of a loving parent.

Jo knew me so well she claimed she could sense when I was about to go on a clothes shopping spree. “I saw it in your eyes when you left work last night," she'd say in her thick German accent as I strode into the office the next day wearing my new duds. Occasionally, she'd gently suggest it might be a good idea if I spent a little less and saved a little more. I didn't pay much attention.

Today as a baby boomer nearing retirement, I wish I'd listened to Jo. While I've never been the type to spend beyond my means, I bought lots of things in my youth that I could have done without: clothes I never wore, subscriptions to magazines I never read and housewares I never used but purchased because they were on sale. On top of that, there were plenty of restaurant lunches and dinners.

I think of what I could've achieved financially had I applied a little self-restraint to my spending back then: extra retirement savings, less debt, greater peace of mind and an uncluttered home.

I see many young people today falling into similar spending traps. It all adds up and prevents us from saving.

So if I were 20-something today, here's what I'd do differently:

I'd make a spending plan, also known as a budget. After ensuring all my monthly expenses were covered (including savings), I'd set aside a certain amount for fun stuff (entertainment, dining out, magazines) and stay within that limit. A budget can be a great safeguard against impulse buying.

I'd track my spending by reviewing my bank and credit card statements at the end of each month, after 6 months and at the end of the year to see how I spent my money, where I was wasteful and where I could improve.

I'd think things through. Before buying a new article of clothing or household item, I'd ask myself: "Do I really need this? Will I actually use it, and will I be worse off by not buying it?" Another safety check against impulse buying.

I'd be a better comparison shopper. I'd find out who's offering the best deal on everything I plan to buy, from food and shampoo to insurance and smartphone plans. It's so much easier to do it these days with the internet — something we didn't have in my youth.

I'd reward good spending behaviour. Whenever I'd avoid making a frivolous purchase, I'd reward myself with a deposit of the equivalent amount of money in my bank account.

Time passes slowly when you're young, and retirement seems an eternity away. But both time and your spending have a way of catching up with you. Before you know it, retirement is around the corner, and you're regretting not having saved more.

One of the easiest ways to have money when you're older is to avoid reckless spending when you're younger.

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