Experience builds as the years go by – and even the experts say they’ve learned a lot about money matters along the way.
So if you’re a young adult preparing to head off for university and get your first taste of financial freedom, or simply looking to get a better grip on your finances, these are the money lessons experts would give to their younger selves…
1. Budgeting is key
“When I received my first student loan, it was, at the time, the most money I’d ever had sitting in a bank account in my life,” says Alice Haine, personal finance analyst at investment platform Bestinvest. “But rather than plan carefully how to use it, I booked a summer holiday to Spain with my new university friends – a great way to create lasting memories, but not a great way to pay the regular bills.
“A budget is particularly key for students starting their studies in 2022, as many will be managing their money for the first time and during the worst cost-of-living crisis in several decades. The harsh reality of inflation is that it eats into purchasing power, meaning any cash you have simply does not go as far as it might have done in the past.
“The best strategy is to compile a list of regular payments, such as rent, food, household bills, books and going out, and then work out exactly how much income – either from parents, student loans, grants or a part-time job – there is to cover those expenses.”
2. Save a little and often
Elle McAtamney, PR manager at website TopCashback says: “I worked during university, which was a good idea for several reasons, not least for the fact I was able to subsidise my student loan with a few extra pounds.
“It made my living a bit more comfortable – and sure, I treated myself to ‘timeless’ fashion pieces such as Ugg boots, which was a nice-to-have, but not particularly useful for my future self.
“I would advise 18-year-old me to start squirrelling some of those earnings away every payday, learning good money-saving habits, to put me in better stead for my 20s and beyond.”
3. Investing isn’t just for an elite few
Louise Hill, co-founder of kids’ prepaid debit card and financial education app GoHenry, says: “It’s only in my 50s that I’ve started investing, and I wish I had done it much earlier. I’d encourage young people to give it a go and start by investing small amounts in stocks and shares, using one of the many mobile apps that have helped demystify it.
“Before, it always sounded like something old men did in stuffy clubrooms, but now it’s accessible for everyone, so take advantage of that! Remember that the value of your investment can go down as well as up though.”
4. Set savings goals
Graham Binns, head of the branch network at Leeds Building Society, says: “Focusing on why you are saving helps, because it gives you an ambition to reach – whether it’s a holiday, money towards a car, or just having a bit of spare cash for a rainy day.
“It’s natural for initial enthusiasm to wear off over time, so it’s also important to not feel guilty.”
6. Grocery money really is grocery money
“Something I wish I’d been better at was setting aside a realistic amount of money for my food shopping, so I always knew I was covered. This means some budgeting,” says Ban Mahsoub, head of money services at Tesco Bank. “I’d suggest giving yourself a few weeks or months to work out how much you need to spend on your food and other essentials. Then start to put that money aside when you get your student loan or grant.”
Mahsoub also suggests keeping an eye out for student deals, adding: “Signing up is often free and you can get some good discounts on everyday purchases.”
7. It’s never too early to think about a pension
Emma-Lou Montgomery, associate director for personal investing at Fidelity International, says: “If I’d known the potential for money to build over time, I would have started pension saving when I was 18.
“If you are working at university and earn over £10,000 or £192 a week, your employer will pay into a pension for you as part of auto-enrolment, and this is a real opportunity. You’re in a prime position to reap the rewards of all that juicy compounding. That’s when the interest you earn on your money starts to make money for you.
“If you are doing your own thing, pop a few pounds or the cost of a drink into a Sipp (self invested personal pension). Starting small and starting early is a good step in the right direction.”
8. Finally, don’t get carried away
Montgomery adds: “When you open your student account, you are often presented with a shiny new credit card and an overdraft from the bank.”
While these can be a useful buffer, she warns they can make people feel like they have more money than they actually do – so it’s important to take care.