Why an early start makes all the difference

early start makes all the difference

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I have started working at the age of 12 or 13. No child labor, I was a baby sitter, then a tutor to smaller kids, and since I also played the piano well enough, my music teacher would lend me the music room at lunch time to teach a one hour lesson. I remember I charged about $20 for that hour and that was HUGE money. While my friends were bored at the cafeteria, I was making money!


My high school was in a privileged neighborhood and most of my friends had big allowances. Yet none was to the tune of the $500+ I was making with my part time jobs. After school, I would pick up two kids and help them with homework until their mother got home. At 7pm I was home and ready to have dinner and study a bit.


Studying came easy so it didn’t take much time. I remember I bought myself a TV because I was bored, and looking back, I had 5 customers for tutoring or piano at any given time, plus the occasional baby sitting, my own piano, horse riding and tennis lesson, was a girl scout, spent some time playing the organ at church, and still had time to be BORED!


Moving on to college, I always had 2-3 gigs going on, there is a list of my odd jobs here, from McD employee of the month to technical engineer for a computer multinational, I worked ALL the time. Most of my classmates were party animals ”too busy studying” to work. Better said they wanted to have fun and be careless for another five years. Today, they make six figures and are slaves to their jobs, paying back student loans for fun nights they don’t remember a thing about, and I am the one laying on a hammock under the sun.


Today, I can barely handle half a dozen workers on the house and a hobby blog. Why am I bragging about the past? To show you that your most productive years are while you are young. Do you remember college, when you could sleep for two hours and be back in class in the morning? I did that too. Except I was a waitress until 2am and class started at 8am.


All those jobs allowed me to graduate college with savings, buy a property during the last year and set off to travel the world for a year instead of entering the rat race. As of now, from what I read on other blogs, and what my friends share about their finances, I still have a bigger net worth than most people my age.

Starting early gave me an incredible advantage. After a short career with an average salary, I was able to leave the corporate world at 29 and do what I wanted with my life and time. Let’s run a few numbers.


If you start saving $1,200 per year (just $100/month) from age 20 to 25, then $3,000 (up to $250/month) from 25 to 30, at a rate of 7% you will have $25,843 when you are 30. Yes, the rate is high, because you are young and can take some risks. Then let’s say you start a family, have kids, and stop saving but leave your savings at 7%. When you reach age 50, you will have $100,000 just for saving less than a car payment each month from 20 to 30.

If you start when you are 35, and save $4,000 per year, it will take you 15 years at the same rate to reach $100K. You will have invested $60,000 instead of $21,000 to get the same nest egg of $100K in retirement.

Remember that $100K is nothing when we talk about retirement, so while it may be easy to find $4,000 a year in your 20s, at age 35, finding $40,000 per year to build a million dollar nest egg is another story.


How to find more money while you are young?

Be careful about college. I went to college because I didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t passionate about my classes and don’t think I have learned a lot during those five years. Had I taken a job as a bank clerk or some low entry job in a company, I could have started around $20,000/year, and probably ended after five years around $35,000. Considering I was able to save $25K on half that salary, I would probably have saved $50K by age 22. College ‘’cost’’ me $25K. After that, things would probably have evened out, between hiring a college degree me with no experience or a 5 year experienced me with no college degree.

If you go, find a cheap degree. There are lots of way to study cheaply. You can get into a smaller college, then transfer for the last years into a more prestigious one. Find a job on campus, that will give you free housing, or a big discount on tuition.

Delay lifestyle inflation. I didn’t own a car until I was 30. In Europe, public transportation is easy and I always lived quite close to work. A car was not a necessity, I rented one when it was. You don’t have to live with your parents until you are 30, but if you can’t comfortably afford your lifestyle, try to do without.

Take ANY job. While you are young, don’t be too regarding, a job is a job. I flipped burgers, changed babies and faked smiles at Disneyland but it was money. You can do with the lack of sleep or the physical effort, go earn some money. If you are lazy now you will be worse in 20 years. Sure you could try to get a fantastic internship at your favorite company, even better. But if you don’t get it, find another source of income.

Be good at it. Even if you are flipping burgers, try to be the best you can, and negotiate a raise after a few months. I was teaching an adult French class at night and the language school shamelessly underpaid me. After a few weeks of excellent feedback from the students, I went back and got a 20% raise. You will probably be in an underpaid position, competing with other students who lack motivation, if you shine a little you can earn more, save more, and exit early.


Try your best to get an early start. If you didn’t do it for yourselves, tell your kids.

On a related topic check out why you NEED to work through college at cashtastrophe.


What do you wish you had told your 18 year old self about money?


This post was featured on the My Personal Finance Journey, thank you!

A 30 something French girl embarking on a journey towards Financial Independence. I blog about money, travel, simple and deliberate living, freedom and choices. You can find me on Twitter, Google+, or Reach Financial Independence's Facebook Page

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  1. Excellent Post Pauline! Like you I started early in life and studying came easy to me. I held part time jobs and tried to make money whenever I could. I would like to say I learned something in University but the degree did me no good. At least I had no school debt as it was all paid for with money I saved up. My second go at school was also paid the same way, saving my money. I am also in my 30’s and I find as I am getting older I have to get x amount of hours sleep and working overtime isn’t the same as when I was in my 20’s. I’m thankful I started young it not only gave me the elbow grease I needed to push forward it was a lessons I gained to carry with me into my later years.
    Canadian Budget Binder recently posted..Family Finances: Somebody Is Watching YouMy Profile

  2. Thanks for the link, Pauline!

    I’m impressed that you were earning so much babysitting. I earned about $3-$5/hr babysitting and thought I was raking in the dough because it was easy work and I did so much of it. But I still spent too much of my earnings buying lunches at school because I didn’t want to be bothered carrying a lunch around all day. A complete waste of money (not to mention unhealthy!), but that’s probably what I wish my 18-year-old self had known…
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..Spend Money To Make Money – Investing In Your CareerMy Profile

    • the rates were REALLY good in my neighborhood (one of the best in Paris), people had money and were encouraging entrepreneurship. ah, the good times..

  3. An early start is one thing that I didn’t get. I spent most of my life thus far in various stages of education and training. Not partying. Actual education. On the plus side, I am one of the few people who can say that they graduated college in the black.

    I do think that I burned out the most productive years of my life in school. I certainly have far less energy and enthusiasm for work now than I did at age 20. But to be fair, my only real talents were ever in academics so it’s not like skipping college and starting a business was ever in the cards for me.
    My Financial Independence Journey recently posted..ConocoPhillips (COP) Dividend Stock AnalysisMy Profile

    • You did get a great start by graduating debt free! and in your field with no degree you wouldn’t be making nearly as much today so the ride was worth it. My sister is a social worker with a 4 years degree in psychology, 3 years further degree in child supervision and makes under $2K/month.. pretty sure she would have made the same right out of high school working her way up.

  4. It is true that youth is wasted on the young, especially when it comes to the power of compound interest. When I was in my late teens I was making good money and blowing it as quickly as it came in. I probably would have my house paid off by now if I had just saved and been smarter with it.
    This is why financial literacy is so important.
    Justin@TheFrugalPath recently posted..Mortgage Loan: How much house can I afford?My Profile

  5. When I lived at home I never needed to work, my parents wanted me to focus solely on my education. I helped out a lot at home since my mom was sick a lot and my dad away on work half the time. So I got an allowance, which my mom taught me early on how to save. I think I learned quickly that if I wanted something I had to save, save save. I bought my own dog when I was 13! Due to several reasons that I´m not going to go into here, I haven`t had much work experience during college, but I am applying for summer jobs! But even if I haven`t had much work experience, I´ve still managed to save a lot of money. I have saved up $5400 for emergency, $12k for a downpayment. I´ve still managed to be wise about money, and save for the future.
    The Norwegian Girl recently posted..No More Gym ExpensesMy Profile

  6. Great post! It seems like I have always had a job or two as well. I always had waitressing jobs in high school. And before that, I babysat. I didn’t save any of the money I made at the time but it still prepared me to understand some general financial principles.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..I’m a Workaholic: A Club Thrifty ConfessionalMy Profile

  7. Be good at whatever job you find. Most people feel too proud to be the best burger flipper, but these are the folks who will find success eventually

  8. Wow, Pauline. This explains why you’re doing so well at your young age! If I had to tell my 18 year old self anything, it would be the exact words written in this post. Thanks for the great info. I’m sending this one on to my Maddie!
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted..Comment on 4 Meals for $10 by Holly@ClubThriftyMy Profile

  9. Good post Pauline! I too started working early, my first “official” job was when I turned 14 but I was doing other jobs when I was 11 or 12. I think it helped instill a good work ethic in me and be able to learn different things, all of which we want to teach our kids. Oh, how I wish I could get by on just two hours of sleep per night these days. :)
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Festival of Frugality #381: It’s Spring Edition!My Profile

    • I don’t know of any legal way to achieve that unfortunately! When you are young you do take any job and it helps put the little bumps on the road to adult life into perspective.

  10. While I certainly applaud you for your work ethic while you were young, sometimes I think it’s better to not dwell on the past. That’s actually a topic of a future post, why it’s sometimes pointless/unproductive to spend energy thinking about how you “should have” done things differently. It’s a good warning to kids, but if someone is already past their college years, it’s better to focus on what they can do differently today.

    This is not an attack no your post, just my thought on the issue. You know I love your blog 😉
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..4 Ways to Make Money if You Need it ASAPMy Profile

    • I know you do haha!
      No you can’t dwell on the past and what is done is done. Though maybe doing a few what ifs will help you not repeat the mistakes from the past.
      I like the lifetime earnings exercise, where you sum up all the money you have made in your life, and come up with a pretty big number. Then you check your net worth and see how much you have saved/invested over the years. Usually eye opening, if you are the average graduate after 10 years you have made about half a million dollars and many are still with a negative NW.

  11. I have always worked, too, though not to the extent that you did. I think more importantly than finding a cheap degree, is finding a useful degree. Go for business or something practical like nursing.
    Tushar @ Everything Finance recently posted..Why Property Management Is a Great BusinessMy Profile

    • I went for business, but I don’t think if you are really good as a businessperson you need a 5 year business degree. I learned some stuff but could have taken a 1 year class to learn what I still use today.

  12. The only time I didn’t have a job was when I first started grad school and was worried the workload would be too much. Boy was I wrong. I realized grad school was actually easier than undergrad (or maybe my undergrad was just insanely hard). So I quickly got another job as a line / short order cook since I had always thought it would be fun. While it didn’t teach me too much that is applicable to my job, I can now pretty much cook the perfect steak and I used to be able to cook the pefrect egg. I know my wife appreciates my steak cooking skills!

  13. I wish I had some of your spirit when I was younger. I didn’t do anything to help myself, unfortunately. Even though I was the first of my friends to get a job at 15. I hope my children have values similar to yours as a child (and throughout life). I think they’ll be better equipped than I was, because I had no role models to help me achieve success as a child. I didn’t realize that that was possible until my 20s.

  14. While I enjoyed my degree and it led me to my current career, I didn’t need the degree top do what I’m doing now. If I didn’t have the loans I did, I would be much further financially ahead.
    Brian recently posted..How do I get a down payment? (…in Vancouver?!)My Profile

    • but then it is hard to know how much a company would have paid for someone without a degree or if they would have hired you at all, even though they don-t use your degree skills, employers like to see it on a curriculum.

  15. I would tell my 18 year old self to not spend so much money on clothes! I spent way too much.
    Michelle recently posted..Tips For Beginner Bloggers Part 1 – The BasicsMy Profile

  16. Luckily, my parents taught me to work when I was young. I did jobs around the neighborhood, so I was earning money before I could legally have a job. Once I could get one, I did. It taught me the responsibility that is required to make it through life.
    Grayson @ Debt RoundUp recently posted..When You Can’t Pay Them All – Deciding Which Bills to Pay FirstMy Profile

    • I like how as kids we would just take any job and think whatever small amount we make is a ton of money. Then a first full time job feels like being a millionaire.

  17. Great advice! I was always a saver and it is a good habit that has helped me achieve financial freedom at a relatively young (38 y.o.) age. That was 28 years ago! I picked up a great home in my late 20s and invested in income property in my 30s.
    krantcents recently posted..Follow Me to Wealth!My Profile

  18. Excellent post. I really regret not getting an earlier start on being financially responsible. I worked from the time I was 15 on, but basically spent every penny through my high school and college years.
    The First Million is the Hardest recently posted..My Favorite Savings AccountMy Profile

  19. Girl Meets Debt says:

    I have this cute image of little Pauline hustling money teaching piano lessons at age 12 :) I love the advice of be good at what you do! Even if a job pays low, if you shine at what you do, you will move up!
    Girl Meets Debt recently posted..I’m an 80′s Child because…My Profile

  20. You seem to be that rare European with enough get up and go! Almost and American I would have thought! In the anglo-saxon world the university fees are now so high that you question whether it is worth it, which may well be true but it puts off the truly talented but poor people. Intelligence bear no relation to parental wealth! Long live the internet and online (proper) degrees!
    John@MoneyPrinciple recently posted..The stupidity of Osborne and his politicsMy Profile

    • It is crazy expensive to study in the US! even the UK is getting quite dear. Almost American, me? not sure I agree, but I do have more initiative than my French peers.

  21. $500+ from part time jobs? Yikes! I’m not making that much with full time work!
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..Three Tips For Driving in ConstructionMy Profile

  22. I usually had some sort of job from 16 on unless it was impossible during school term. The sad thing is that I never saved any of the money. Not that it would have been tons of money, but I could certainly have paid off some of my student loans or never taken them in the first place. I will always make my daughter save part of any money she earns. It’s a lesson I wish my parents had taught me.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Get Out of Debt-Debt Heroes Book for FreeMy Profile

  23. Exactly, Pauline. Compound interest also make a huge impact.

  24. Great stuff. Starting early can be a great thing. From a savings perspective, obviously getting a foundation early and investing it allows compounding to work to our advantage. Beyond that, learning the value of work and also independence/resourcefulness, is great to do before the masses do. Now, I started working part-time in high school but nothing too crazy. No regrets, but I think it’s okay for kids to work as long as grades don’t suffer.
    Digital Personal Finance recently posted..Free is Good – So Use Your Library!My Profile

    • I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I only studied. I may have gone to an even better school, have a brilliant career… in this case, working was a total waste of resources.

  25. This is fantastically comprehensive, Pauline. I wish I had read it about 20 years ago or even 10. But the anger I have at my past self only motivates more to make better choices now. Thanks for a marvy post!
    cj recently posted..I am Not a Bum Loser After AllMy Profile

    • thank you for your kind words CJ! you can only change the future for sure, which is already a great step forward, not to repeat more of the same.

  26. I started working when I was young too, started with babysitting then at 15 I got permission from my mother (for legal reasons) to apply to work a few shifts at a local pizza store. I so wish I had started saving earlier- even a few bucks just to get in the habit. I was never really picky about work and have always worked, I was determined to make as much money as I could given my talents, something I think I capitalised on pretty well but didn’t save enough.
    Catherine recently posted..Things I Don’t Understand: Designer ClothesMy Profile

  27. Nick @ ayoungpro.com says:

    Great post Pauline! You basically took everything I want to discuss on my blog and condensed it into one post. :)
    Nick @ ayoungpro.com recently posted..Career Advice: Be An EntrepreneurMy Profile

  28. This is so important, Pauline. We did not do it. We are the 40+ers trying to do it now. Although it feels great to have a handle on things now, I think we should trumpet this post to all the youngsters out there! Brilliant!

    Thank you!
    Tammy R recently posted..I am Not a Bum Loser After AllMy Profile

  29. Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    Wow! $20 for a piano lesson – that’s great money. There are adults today who would love that to make that per hour. I was child entrepreneur too, although with a far less glamorous or well-paying job delivering newspapers. But it was a start!

    I absolutely agree the younger you are when you start saving – the better. Unfortunately, most young people don’t seem to understand this. They put off saving for retirement (or other goals even) because that’s what “old” people do. Their mentality is now is the time to have fun. The reality is they can have fun and save at the same time. And their “old” self, would really thank them for doing so.
    Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted..3 Money Myths Parents Need to Stop BelievingMy Profile

    • My parents showed me the US movies with newspapers kids who were 10 or so, to show me how lazy I was at 12 to only have baby sitting gigs here and there haha. The paper route is tough, waking up so early, etc! But you learn the value of hard work and any other assignment then seems easy.

  30. Nice post! We can defer our study debt here in Australia. It shocked me to speak to a friend, who graduated high school at the same time, to still have a study debt! (it gets taken from your pay at a rate set by the government as a function of your salary). I ponied up the cash back when I was at university, and haven’t had payroll deductions for a least two years!

    Interestingly I’m still relatively young (28), but have decided one job as a wage slave is my preference now. I’d be bored if I wasn’t a wage slave (as in, I’m not sure I could fill a day…) & I like the free time to spend with people, get fit, cook etc. Too much time, and I’m a mess (which is why I have an ambitious Easter weekend to do list!). So I could earn more (with another job) and save more – but I’m content with my decisions now.
    SarahN recently posted..Long weekend’s to do listMy Profile

    • Same in the UK, the gvt sets the amount of student loan you have to repay, and some people take years to completely pay it.. Having too much time is a good problem, but sometimes I struggle to be productive too. Love the freedom though.

  31. Great article. I’m so thankful now that I DID start saving and working young, like you talk about. Now I’m in good shape to make good investments and continue compounding my capital.


  1. […] get that, she is an independent woman, wants to feel like she is contributing something to the household, and making a difference at the […]

  2. […] for all young adults, even before they go to college. One of my most popular posts here talks about how getting an early start with my finances made all the difference, and how graduating college debt-free allowed me to save and invest my way to early financial […]

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