If you could go back in time and have a 5 minute conversation with yourself ten years ago, what would you say?
So the prompt strikes again! Don’t we all wish we could share our hard won wisdom with our past selves?
Well, let’s see. Ten years ago it was 2001. Alissa and I were a few months shy of our first wedding anniversary and living in our first apartment in Ballard. There are a number of “little” things that I would toss out there.
1) Don’t bother with the paralegal program. You won’t use it.
2) Make sure Alissa has sunscreen on her shoulders at the Dodger/Mariners game. And don’t look at the sun through binoculars.
3) You’re a writer at heart. Start working on those skills now.
4) No matter how much it makes sense in the moment, never, ever cash out a 401k before you’re old enough.
Ultimately, though, those are little things. If I could give my past self really good advice, I would give him Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Revisited. It is the best plan for personal finance that I’ve encountered, and if Alissa and I had read it a decade ago, there are a lot of financial mistakes, large and small that could have been avoided. I like its simple, step by step approach to taking control of money in a world where money can easily take control of the unwary. If this seems a little materialistic, it’s not. There’s a difference between conspicuous consumption and having the freedom that comes from a sound financial footing. Ramsey’s plan is a prescription for the latter.
In a way, I am doing this very thing with “my past self” in the tax office. Obviously, I have not encountered an 2001 version of myself, but I do encounter lot of young clients who are just getting started on their financial life. I’m not meeting them as a financial planner, and I can’t endorse any specific personal finance philosophy. However, at the end of each tax interview I can customize what gets printed out. For younger clients, I select information on money management and the benefits of saving, and I tell them that the earlier they can establish good financial habits, the more those habits will pay off for them.
Of course this question begs larger ones. Is this the best of all possible worlds? Are we not shaped by our mistakes? In adversity, don’t we learn important lessons that are overlooked in prosperity? I’m not naive enough to believe that by avoiding the mistakes I’ve made over the past decade I will have prevented other mistakes, perhaps more costly ones. I’m happy now, even with the challenges in my life. I love my wife, and I love navigating the seas of life with her. I love my kids, and I can pass the lessons I’ve learned down to them.