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17 Money Lessons People Learned The Hard Way In Their 20s

"Just because you try and ignore your debt doesn’t mean it’ll go away (looking at you, student loans)."

For many of us, our 20s are full of growth, new experiences, and figuring out who we are. But this learning curve usually includes making a few mistakes along the way — especially when it comes to money.

So I asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to share the biggest money mistakes they made in their 20s. Here are their responses:

1. "Going to college. I thought it was what you were supposed to do right out of high school, so I did it. But I was so unfocused and confused about life that it became one of the dumbest decisions I’ve ever made."

Character saying school's not meant for everyone

2. "Cosigning on an auto loan I couldn't afford with my S.O. Turns out he didn't consider paying bills to be important to him, and I lost my ass on it and spent years with a repo on my credit. Speaking of that particular S.O., staying with him was also a huge financial mistake. If the person you love does not pay bills and accuses you of being 'money hungry,' just frigging leave."


3. "Avoid credit card debt, but not a credit card. When I was in college, I was lucky that I had a full-tuition scholarship and was able to work hard enough and live cheaply enough to cover the rest of my expenses debt-free."

Woman holding a phone and a credit card

4. "Learn from me — don’t be an ostrich. Just because you try and ignore your debt doesn’t mean it’ll go away (looking at you, student loans). Creditors want to work with you to help you. Payment plans, income-based repayment, they might be options for you."

"Knowing what your debts are and paying them off, even a little at a time, is a lot better for your credit and mental health than just assuming you can’t do anything about the debt."


5. "I left an office job to do freelance work in my 20s, and I really didn't know that much about freelancing going in. That income is taxed more than 15%, and you are responsible for paying it! Math is not my strong suit, plus at the time I wasn't that savvy about negotiating my rates, so ultimately I ended up working more hours for a lot less money."

Woman doing freelance work at home

6. "Opted out of a 401(k) because I wanted my whole paycheck. I was with that company for three years; we could have had it all."


Psst, not really sure what's up with 401(k)s? Check out these 401(k) facts to know before you're 30 for a quick overview.

7. "Don’t let your car insurance lapse! I had a really cheap deal from AAA and then I didn’t bother to open mail from them (thinking it was spam or sales offers) for, like, six months. Turns out they were trying to get in touch because my credit card on my account was about to expire. Because the expiration date on my credit card changed and I never updated it, they canceled my coverage!"

8. "Getting credit cards. Discovering ebay."


9. "I had federal student loans so I paid them in one app each month, in one payment. One month I had to decide between paying my car payment or my student loan payment and decided the car payment was more important. I was not aware that even though I thought I was missing just one payment, it actually counted as late for each of the 27 loans it was broken into."

10. "Buying extravagant gifts for boyfriends. Just don’t."


11. "My partner at the time (who was 10 years older than me) convinced me to get a load of credit cards because ‘credit card companies will wipe the debt off if you don’t pay within five years.' What he meant was that you can file for bankruptcy, which will affect your credit score for years to come. So here I am 10 years later still slogging away paying my debts. The debts lasted a lot longer in my life than he did!! 😂😂"

Paperwork for bankruptcy court

12. "Got married. Grew up in a strict household and wanted to be an adult. Expensive and mentally unstable mistake!"


13. "Moving out for the sake of it. I had no money, no savings, and piled into a student house with some pals. You soon learn it ain't all it's made out to be. It was actually horrific. I could have saved a small deposit rather than paying a shitty landlord's mortgage."

my landlord won’t fix the hole in my ceiling so i fixed it myself

Twitter: @all4thacass

14. "I had no one in my family to explain exactly how student loans worked. I went to a local small school, like the kind you used to see in TV commercials. Being from a low income family, I applied for grants and loans. I received both, but when the loans came through, the school issued a check to me after they took what they needed."

"I had no clue that I didn't have to take that money, and I was told that it was extra. It was about $4,000 every quarter. I had never had that much money at once, so I pretty much blew it on whatever I wanted. Once I graduated, I realized it was not extra, and I had to pay it back."


15. "First mistake was never listening to my dad about saving money. How I wish I’d have listened to that advice."

Person holding a jar of coins labeled savings

16. "If you live in a city and are a low-income graduate, definitely try to get a work-from-home job. In my first jobs, I literally spent so much money commuting (it’s so expensive to travel in the UK). And with long hours, I’d end up needing to eat lunch and dinner out, and occasionally breakfast. It gets really unsustainable in the long run!"

"And I obviously would get back so late it was hard to manage making dinner and lunch prep too. Working from home I could have put away so much more savings!"


17. And finally, "I bought $100 worth of fancy cheese a week."

Woman buying cheese at a fancy cheese store

Note: Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.

Now it's your turn! What's a money mistake you made in your 20s? Share it in the comments so others can learn from you.

And for more stories about life and money, check out the rest of our personal finance posts