The 10 Year Challenge – Financial Edition

Over the past few weeks, I have seen a lot of people doing the 10-year photo challenge. If you haven’t seen it before, basically, you put a picture of yourself from 2008/9 next to a picture from 2018/9. Some people took the challenge as a way to brag about how much they haven’t aged. Others used it as a before and after in regards to transformations. And then there are the people doing it because the internet is doing it #NoCaptionNeeded. I thought it would be fun to partake in the challenge but the financial edition.

Ten years ago I was turning 20, finishing up my second year of College, working as a cashier making around $21 per hour. I worked whenever and in whatever department they asked because all I knew was more hours meant bigger cheques. I made sure I took every extra hour because I wanted to save as much as I could before I left for University. However, I was only saving because that is what I thought you’re supposed to do. My savings had no purpose and I wasn’t savvy in any aspect of personal finance. I knew nothing about budgeting, tracking expenses, investments, financial goals or delayed gratification.

2009 was also the year I got introduced to debt, $30k to be exact. And even though I got the loan, I didn’t understand it. I knew nothing about interest, principal payments, extra principal payment or that my parents would be paying the balance until I graduated. This was definitely the first of my many dumb financial decisions. Don’t believe me?

Other dumb financial decisions I have made during this 10-year period:

  • Have no idea of what I spent the $10k on in college. I do know it wasn’t school tuition or living expenses and that none of those purchases made it back to Bermuda (well.. except for the tattoo)
  • Upon graduation, I gave into lifestyle inflation and was buying just to buy. Again, 99% of that stuff isn’t with me today.
  • Got a $5k loan (which is the minimum they gave) for a $4k bike because I wanted transportation right at that moment instead of saving for it.
  • Didn’t put the extra $1k back on the loan and instead used it for shopping and my trip to Halifax. You guessed it! That crap isn’t here today.
  • I applied for a credit card and didn’t know how it really worked. So I would swipe and make only the minimum payments. I think the smartest thing I did was make my limit $2k.
  • During my first job, I took a pension vacation which means I stopped making my 5% contributions for 12 months. This also meant my employer stopped making the 5% contributions too. At the time I told myself it must be fine because I wasn’t the only one that did it. Now I realize we were all dumb!
  • Got an $8k loan to finish getting my CPA but used it for a trip to Jamaica and as an emergency fund because I didn’t have one when my job start date fell through.

Fast forward to today, I turned 30 on Sunday and work for a company that provides great benefits (I don’t think there is a better company and I hope I retire from this place). I continuously work on my attitude towards money and make my finances a priority. And I have only been able to do that through making these smart financial decisions:

  • Paid off $25k in 12 months and have been debt free for 3 years.
  • Put an extra 10% toward retirement every month.
  • Created sinking funds for annual expenses and built up my emergency fund to four months.
  • No longer save just to save – every penny saved has a purpose whether it is short-term savings or long term savings.
  • Tracked expenses in order to change spending habits
  • Pay off credit cards in full every month and never raised the limit

The past 10 years has allowed me to foster a positive relationship with money, an attitude of “Plan for tomorrow while living for today”. And while I have definitely made my fair share of dumb decisions, I am glad it didn’t take me forever to learn from them. I just want the next 10 years to be even better and maybe learn a thing or two about investments.

How much have your finances changed over the last 10 years? Did you make any decisions that you regret? Or did everything go as planned?