Personal Finance

The Best Financial Advice I've Ever Received

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Last updated on July 23, 2019 Comments: 10

People frequently ask me to share the best piece of financial advice I’ve ever received. Most recently, this was a common theme at the Financial Blogger Conference in Chicago. One company in attendance,, filmed and edited a video of various personal finance bloggers sharing their best piece of financial advice. I think it’s important for people to share what has worked for them, and their inspiration, as they succeeded in improving their financial conditions.

I find it difficult to remember my attitude towards money as a teenager. I just didn’t think about it often. I understood the importance of earning an income, I had a bank account, and I had occasional jobs as I was an older teenager, but I never placed any emphasis on money management. I didn’t think about budgeting, investing, or looking for income opportunities because I was mostly concerned with my extra-curricular activities first and academics second. I don’t recall my parents ever making money a real issue, and I’m fine with that; if kids can be protected from the added stress of financial management until they’re older, they’ll do a better job of making the most of their adolescence.

But I did sail through college and my first few jobs without thinking about my financial condition, and I eventually paid for it. I had student loan debt, credit card debt, and thanks to some other mistakes, unpaid speeding tickets, a suspended driver’s license, an auto insurance surcharge, and many other expenses and debts I could have avoided.

I didn’t always get along with my boss, but he was a leader whose primary responsibility included motivating a group of 128 talented teenagers and young adults through monthly weekend rehearsals during the fall, two-week camps during the spring, and a seven-week tour across the country during the summer. It was a music program, but it also presented the group of students with the opportunity to improve themselves and their approaches to life, with lessons that would stick with them and inform how they live each day in the future.

The advice that has stuck with me the most, although it didn’t sink in until years later and I didn’t recognize it at the time, isn’t a piece of financial advice. It’s advice about life, attitudes, and philosophy that can be applied to personal finance. While I don’t remember his exact words, it boils down to this: Every moment is a choice.

There’s nothing unique about this idea. The concept has been used by motivational speakers, like Patch Adams and Wayne Dyer who focus on making conscious life choices, and by others who see this idea as a call to connect better with a supreme being of some sort. I am not a big fan of motivational speakers or preachers, so I carefully select concepts that have meaning to me, allowing myself to think independently. I dismissed the idea that sleeping through an alarm clock was a choice. I dismissed the idea that arriving at the office late due to a traffic jam was a choice. I didn’t even stop to consider that my financial condition, thousands of dollars in debt, was a choice.

It wasn’t until I was out of a job and had no place to live that I started to reconsider my approach to life. I’m forever grateful to my father, who helped me re-start my life from a better position with financial assistance, and to his long-term girlfriend, who allowed me to reside in her house while I changed the direction of my life. My time there gave me the opportunity to look at the choices I made, accept responsibility, and move forward with a new approach. I took the idea that every moment is a choice and applied that to my finances.

  • I started paying attention to my finances. There’s a moment in the film The Matrix where Neo, the main character, accepts that he is “The One” and finally sees the world around it for what it truly is. This is a powerful awakening. I saw that I was in control of my life, and in order for me to be in control of my finances, I needed to know where I stood and where I was going.
  • I made decisions that improved my financial condition. Recognizing that without a car, my options were limited, I found a job that was accessible by train. It wasn’t an ideal job, but I eventually made it my own. With income, I was able to save, and I moved out as soon as I could to avoid being a further burden on family.
  • I educated myself. I started reading more about managing money, particularly the Motley Fool discussion board that focused on living below your means. This eventually led to me creating Consumerism Commentary as a place to track my financial decisions — the choices I was making to improve my life.

When you don’t live as if every moment is a choice, you leave decision-making up to the world around you. You are subject to the whim of chance, and if the outcome isn’t what you’d like, there is always an excuse. There is always some way to blame your circumstances. Here are some of the excuses I’ve used to avert responsibility in the past:

  • “The road was closed due to a car accident.”
  • “I’m not feeling well today.”
  • “I didn’t know about this bill.”
  • “My car broke down.”

All of the above may have been true when I said it, but they are results of choices I made — the choice not to anticipate road closures or live closer to the destination, the choice to keep myself healthy, the choice to manage my finances and organize my bills, the choice to take care of my vehicle properly. Yes, sometimes there are forces beyond one’s control, but for the most part, the choices we make can make those external forces less relevant.

With this article, I have a choice. I could use my advice to deliver a direct motivational call for readers to take an active role in their lives my looking at every moment as a choice, or I could present the idea of every moment being a choice as a concept that worked well for me, and leaving the choice of whether to accept this approach up to the reader. I’m not a fan of motivational speakers, so I choose the latter.

This idea isn’t just about finances, it’s a philosophy that helps anyone become more involved in their life. Life is short, and taking ownership and responsibility adds to the reward you feel with each success and the drive to improve after every failure. It’s a life philosophy but it ties so well into personal finance. I wish I had come to this conclusion earlier in my life, but if my past experiences were to be any different than they are, I’d be a different person in some unknowable way today.

What’s the best financial advice you’ve ever received?

Article comments

Anonymous says:

The best financial advice i’ve received would be “Increase your means instead of living below them.” The idea being that you should find ways to live the life you want not limit yourself based on any constraints. This could be making more money or finding ways to be creative. An example might be to take work managing an upscale apartment complex to live in a nicer residence vs paying the overly high rent. Just find ways to live the life you want. This really only works if Debt is never a solution.

Anonymous says:

Two things from my father:
-Save [at least] 15% of every penny you earn.
-Live well below your means.

Anonymous says:

The best financial advice is often so simple. My parents imparted to me the advice that you never carry a balance on a credit card—-and I followed that advice. I am still a dinosaur who usually uses cash for my daily expenditures. It has the secondary advantage that it is harder to spend your last few bills of cash than it is to just swipe a card!

Anonymous says:

My dad was a very analytical thinker when it came to finances and he passed that onto me (both through teaching and genes). The big specific lessons he taught me were…

– Analyze financial decisions mathematically. I frequently use the financial functions (especially net present value, NPV) on Excel.
– Put as much into your 401K as you can, start early and make sure you get all the matching you’re elibigible for.
– Be conservative with investments if you know you’re going to need money soon.
– Don’t be afraid to borrow money if it makes financial sense. For instance, I once took out a 5 year car loan at a rate that was substantially lower than I was earning in a (low risk at the time) money market account.
– Don’t pay off low interest loans (like student loans) just to be done with them. You may suddenly need some money and you would have to borrow at a much higher rate.
– Never go a day without health insurance.
– Most importantly, save first, spend later


Anonymous says:

Fear debt.

Anonymous says:

Insure what you can’t afford to lose. Of all the risks you can take, the worst one is that an unforeseen event will cripple you for years, if not for the rest of your life, financially.

BTW, the life lessons from this post pretty much answer your question about whether it’s good to join a gym.

Luke Landes says:

Good point, Jack!

Anonymous says:

it’s all about education. I started learning about personal finance by reading the wall street journal books about personal finance and investing money. Then I started reading more books, online newsletters,,, motley fool and other sites. I don’t waste my time watching CNBC, Fox Business Channel & all those talking heads. I just read everything I can get my hands on.

Anonymous says:

The best advice I ever received was “saving for what you want” or just “savings”. Ilearned that pretty early in life and it has kept me in good shape.

I have always taken responsibility for the things I do and anything I was involved in. Responsibility includes not doing something as much as for a particlar act, project or accomplishment or failure.

Anonymous says:

Amen! Saving for what you want makes you appreciate the item(s) when you finally get it/them. Live within your means. It is a lot less burdensome that way. I hate the burden that debt brings.