My Best Financial Advice for 20-Somethings: Grab a Slice of Humble Pie



As a recent college graduate, I have noticed a common trend among my peer group of early 20-somethings: There seems to be an unspoken competition to see who can prove to the world that they’re the most successful at a young age.

I can’t even count the number of people I have seen on my social media feeds (namely Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) over the past year who have posted pictures of their first “adult car”, first down payment on a home, or first Rolex watch. I also can’t count the number of captions that read “Look Ma, I made it”, “Hard work pays off”, and “I’m finally getting the hang of this adult thing”. I can’t help but cringe when I think of all the money being wasted.

This post-college spending madness seems to be fueled by the common belief that we worked so hard for 4+ years, we have earned this! We deserve to buy our first real car, a new home, and a new wardrobe. Forget student loans and credit card debt, we worked our butt off to graduate. It’s time to prove we made it to the world

Social media only intensifies this belief. Us 20-somethings see everyone around us blowing through cash on every social media feed each day and it makes it seem like a normal thing to do. It leads to this race to appear successful as soon as we graduate college, even if it is fake success (you don’t own that house or car if you’re making monthly payments on it). 

But what most of us don’t realize is that it’s all an illusion. Most 20-somethings aren’t actually able to buy new homes and cars with their own cash, it’s simply the power of financing on display. The only reason most young people can afford big ticket items are because they’re stretching their credit cards to the limit. They’re taking out loans and doing whatever it takes to foot the bill without having the money to back it up.

It’s this exact spending that puts most 20-somethings in a horrible spot financially. It’s this antsy desire to prove we’re successful as quick as possible that completely screws us over. And to top it off, there’s the common excuse that 20-somethings are supposed to suck at money. After all, we’re just getting started. Everyone has debt. It’s just a learning process.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s an antidote to this ridiculous post-college spending:

Be humble, be patient, and have a long term view.

My advice to my fellow 20-somethings: Stop being concerned with what people think your life looks like now, and instead play the long game. Keep living like a college student for a few years after graduation. Have the realization that most people don’t actually care what your life looks like so you won’t feel so pressured to prove to your peers that you’re successful.

Focus on your own personal growth, your own unique situation, and your own finances. Forego flashy spending for the next 5-10 years so you can have tremendous freedom for the next 70 years. Let go of the desire to blow money on stuff you don’t actually want to impress people who you don’t even like. An uncomfortable truth is: no matter how much you spend to show you’re successful, there will always be someone out there who is capable of spending more.

This doesn’t mean you have to live in complete deprivation and survive on rice and beans for the next decade. But it does mean you’ll have to be humble and recognize that you’re capable of putting in a tremendous amount of work while you’re young to create an incredible life for your future self.

Simply step off the the treadmill of “proving” yourself to the world, to your parents, to your peers. It’s so much less stressful to live below your means, focus on your own success, and put in the work to build a financially kick-ass life while you’re still young. Play the long-term game. Choose to be patient. Forget being flashy. 

To all my fellow 20-somethings: Grab another slice of humble pie.

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8 Replies to “My Best Financial Advice for 20-Somethings: Grab a Slice of Humble Pie”

  1. I need to print this and give it to everyone at my office. I work in a corporate office with a lot of college grads and their first salary job. The amount of new Jeeps, BMWs, and other nice cars are insane. Meanwhile, my old Nissan Altima treats me just fine.

    I have also learned about this new term ‘adulting’. Apparently it can mean that you buy new expensive things because you have a new job, or so many people say they don’t want to ‘adult’ by avoiding their 401k and HSA.

    The bank of Mom and Dad also seems to be a primary lender at my office, so I suppose some can get away with this for now. In the end I shake my head and know that I will be just fine soon enough and I wish them all the best. Great Article Zach!

    1. Cameron – yes! Most of the college grads I work with have bought brand new cars as well. Unfortunately it’s the norm. And most 20-somethings I know don’t bother to contribute to their 401k either because it’s associated with retirement and that feels so far away. I have the same mindset as you though, I just follow my own financial path and I wish my peers the best. Thanks for the feedback 🙂

  2. Zach, I applaud you for taking the road less traveled. My daughter is 22, and recently started her first “real job”. I wrote a post to her titled “The First 6 Steps To Financial Wealth”. They were: 1) Realize the value of time, 2) Build an emergency fund, 3) Don’t buy something until you have cash saved to pay for it, 4) Know where your money is going, 5) Max out your employer match, and 6) Track your progress.

    I hope the “20-somethings” that need to hear get a chance to see your post. I’m with you on the “wince reaction” to the blatant display of debt-financed materialism so prominently displayed. Let’s hope they learn, before it’s too late.

    1. Fritz, those 6 steps you outlined are tremendously helpful for any young person to know. I particularly like number one – Realize the value of time. Once you place importance on your time you begin to focus on how to maximize the time you have under your control, which inevitably leads to getting your finances under control. I appreciate the positive feedback!

  3. People that attempt to flash wealth around are usually fake wealthy and are in debt. Most people that actually have wealth I find are humble about it. If others know someone is wealthy, they will come out of the wood work to try to cash in and take advantage of them. Being smart and playing the long game is the smart play. Build wealth and be humble about it. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. Most people who have any real wealth are usually discrete about it. They practice “stealth wealth” because it’s just easier that way and less stressful. Being humble is key in building and maintaining wealth!

  4. Practicing stealth wealth is a great way to stay humble as well as remain focused on yourself and your family. I admit I used to post pics of these kinds of things in the past too. But I’m glad I stopped soon enough!

    1. I don’t think posting pictures is wrong, but it goes back to your motivation for posting. If it’s to impress people and try to create an image of a good life, I think that’s a losing game. It’s also a never ending game. No matter how many pictures you post to prove your status, there will always be someone who will outdo you or post more often.

      Cheers to stealth wealth 🙂

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