What advice I would give my 23-year-old self

Whoa, another blast from the past. I originally wrote this post in 2013. What advice would you give your 23-year-old self? At that age, you’re just starting out. You’re full of potential and haven’t been worn down by life yet (hopefully). However, this is a very personal question. Everyone has different life experiences and shortcomings. This is not a generalized topic like the series I wrote about retirement advice for young folks. My advice to myself probably will be a lot different than yours. Well, let’s see what I have to say and maybe you can think about what you’d tell yourself. What could you have done better?

*Updated 2021.

Advice I would give my 23 year old self
“If you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”

Let’s see where I was when at 23… I just got a Master’s Degree in Electrical and Computer engineering and I was already working at Intel. The future Mrs. RB40 was struggling in the Peace Corps back then so I only had to worry about myself. Ah, the good old bachelor days. Financially, I was doing okay and did not have any debt. On the other hand, the only “asset” I had was a beat-up ancient Toyota Cressida. I was saving more than 15% of my salary and was just starting to invest in the stock market. That really was the beginning of the journey for me. I did pretty well overall, but if I had a time machine, here is some advice for young RB40.

Go It Alone

When I first started working at Intel, it was challenging and a lot of fun. I learned so many new things and met a bunch of really smart people. The income was nice too. I never had much income so I loved having some money. I spent a lot, but I saved a good amount too. Frugality was already built into my character because my family never had much when I was young.

Working at Intel was a nice start, but I think it was a mistake to work in a huge corporation like that. Now that I know more, I would tell my younger self to take more chances when you’re young. You have very little at that point so there isn’t much to lose. Take some chances and go work for a small company or try self-employment. Working in a big corporate company is safer, but it didn’t suit my personality. I never liked going to a pep rally or being part of a big organization. I’m more of a loner type than a team player.

Politics was a big part of the corporate culture and I wasn’t any good at it. In hindsight, I should have quit Intel much earlier. My potential was limited in a big corporation and I probably would have done better in a small start-up. I worked better in a small group or by myself anyway. I should have worked 60+ hours per week for myself rather than for a big corporation.

*2021 – I still think this is good advice for young RB40. Take some chances. What have you got to lose? You learn a lot more from being self-employed or working in a small company.


Networking is one of my biggest weaknesses. It’s hard for me to build relationships and form lasting friendships. I would tell my younger self to put more effort into networking and learning from mentors. I was always much more comfortable talking to my peer group rather than older, more experienced folks. I think the lack of mentors and role models really hindered my personal growth in the long run.

*2021 update – Now that I’m older, I don’t think this is good advice anymore. It’s probably better to work on your strengths than weaknesses. So what if I’m no good at networking? I still survived and thrived. Work on your strengths and specialize.

Emerging technology and media

The last 15 years was a very dynamic time in technology. I should have paid more attention to things like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. I started Retire By 40 in 2010 and I feel like it would have been much better if I kicked it off a couple of years earlier. There are so many opportunities to make money with new technologies and if you get in early, you would have a huge head start. It was tough because I was working 60+ hours per week quite often in my 20s and just wanted to have fun when I got out of work. It’s also hard now because Baby RB40 doesn’t give me much spare time. Maybe once Baby RB40 starts school, I can seriously get into new technologies.

*2021 update – Wow, time flies. There seem to be some new hot technologies every year. If I paid attention, I could have started a channel on TikTok, a podcast, or something like that. Now, I can barely keep up with all the new apps. I think this advice is good for a young person. Pay attention to new tech and get in early if you can. You never where you’ll get traction.

House hacking

I lived in an apartment when I was 23 and bought a house a few years later. Now, I think it would have been smarter to buy a duplex in a good location instead. I could rent out one unit and learn how to be a landlord. Living at an older duplex would have given me a lot of opportunities to learn more about home repairs and maintenance.

*2021 update – Hey, I made this one a reality. Now, we live in a duplex and rent one unit out. It is in a nice walkable area with many restaurants and shops nearby. I should have purchased a property like this when I was 23. It would have been way cheaper back then.

Minimize video games

Man, I spent a ton of time playing video games in my 20s. It just sucked up so much time that could have been spent more productively. My excuse was that I used it to decompress, but Mrs. RB40 said I was always getting mad at the games. I could have used those wasted hours to learn about the stock market or the emerging technologies mentioned above. Oh well, live and learn. These days I rarely play video games. It just isn’t that fun anymore.

*2021 update – These days, playing video games isn’t a problem for me. However, our son is somewhat addicted. He spends a ton of time gaming every day. It’s fun for him, but I think it’s a waste of time. Hopefully, he’ll get it out of his system at some point. When he’s 23, he can use the time much more wisely.

These words of wisdom are very specific to young RB40. I guess everything worked out alright because I’m a happy stay-at-home dad these days. I’m not stressed out and life is great. Working at Intel gave us a big leg up financially, but I got burned out completely before 40. Who knows what would have happened if I took the other direction instead? I probably would still be working and there wouldn’t be a Retire By 40 blog. Life is kind of funny, isn’t it?

What would you tell your 23-year-old self? Don’t forget to tell us how many years it has been since you were 23. I will be 48 later this year for reference. 

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

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74 thoughts on “What advice I would give my 23-year-old self”

  1. Hello, I am a 23yr old female, no debt, 59,000 annual. I am currently paying my way through nursing school for my RN (currently LPN). I take full advantage of my employer’s 401k plan and I taught myself basic investments and stated investing a year ago. I also invest with Betterment as well. I have an emergency fund of 6months worth. However, I’m an avid traveler and highly spontaneous. I’m tempted to sell majority of my securities and travel 5continents and 25countries. I have a pretty flexible schedule now and I won’t have that freedom soon. I figured I should be able to save a lot more with the salary increase and should have almost no problem saving up?? I appreciate all inputs and thanks in advance.

  2. Hello. I just wanted to say that this advice couldn’t have come at a better time. I am 23 years old and I have just graduated with my B.S. in Computer Engineering. Instead of working at a big corporation (I did two internships at big corporations before graduating), I moved to a very small startup (2 other developers and I). We’re an internet marketing analytics/automation company, which is a very interesting space to be in. Unfortunately, I don’t have any benefits and my salary is less than spectacular. I luckily work with two excellent senior developers. I manage to save about half of my salary and I feel like I’m learning a lot. I’m really worried that staying in this “small startup” atmosphere will keep me from getting a lot of money. It is my understanding that web developers are paid a lot less than enterprise. Am I doing the right thing? I’m not sure. I would love to converse with you via e-mail if you ever read this. I am convinced that you are my future self.

    • Hey there,
      I think you are doing pretty well. You are still young so it’s a good time to take some chances. You can always get a job at a big corporation later if needed. Hopefully your start up experience goes well and the company grows.
      Some of my friends did very well and some just moved on to a big company. Perhaps give it a couple of years and see where it goes.
      You can contact me to chat more if you’d like (joe at retireby40.org)
      Good luck!

  3. I agree with Judy. Those college loan payments are tough – it took me into my early 30’s to pay off my school loans. I’m in my late 40’s now, with 3 school age kids. They may not like it, but they are all going to community college, then transfer to a 4 year school (and hopefully graduate with no debt). I would have bought a multifamily as my first house, and kept it. I’d also relocate to a more affordable part of the country. I’ll probably never retire, mainly because I can’t afford it but also I don’t mind my work. But thanks for this great blog, RB40. I really enjoy it.

    • We only have one kid so I think we should be able to help out quite a bit. If we don’t have enough, then he’d probably go to a local college for 2 years and then transfer. Thanks for the compliment!

  4. I’m 38 and my advice to my 23 year old self would have nothing to do with money. I’ve always been pretty responsible with spending even though I didn’t always know about investment vehicles and such.

    I’d tell myself to never sell yourself short for anything. Be bold, life is too short, live it to the fullest. I’d tell myself to never lower your standards for anything when it comes to life, especially women. I’d tell myself to stop being so serious about everything. I’d tell myself to smile and laugh more, and get out there and stop being afraid. I’d also tell myself that my joint pain is caused by anklosying spondilitis, and to find a doctor that knows what he’s doing.

    • I don’t know anything about anklosying spondilitis.
      But I’m coming up on 50 yo soon, and the aches and pains are starting to show up more in the joints.

      I’ve been checking out the McDougall Starch Solution as a better way to go in for me – basically a plant-based diet, and high in starch and complex carbs.
      I’m not a vegan, vegetarian, fanatical evangelist that wants everybody to change to that lifestyle kind of person.

      But I did a search on anklosying spondilitis mcdougall, and got this thread –

      I’m not associated with McDougall in any way.
      And I’m assuming you found a doc to help you.

      I’m just curious how the doc and you went about relieving the joint pain.
      Diet, meds, something else?

  5. I like all of your pointers except “get into emerging media,” because it’s a very hindsight regret. How was your 23 year old self supposed to know that emerging media was the technology that would take off instead of solar panels, which are a flop so far. Now if you had explained that you wished you learned more about various topics in general, then I completely agree. It’s just very hard to look back and say I wish I spent more time specifically studying this area.

  6. The video games and networking resonate very well with me as well, although I’m only 25. I did spend a great deal playing on the computer instead of doing something productive like starting my own business sooner or learning. I am pretty shy as well, so networking has always been tough, but I’m trying to improve!

    It’s a good thing that you can be this honest with yourself.

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  8. At 23, I had graduated with an undergrad business degree and worked for a mid-size company. I think I made some decent moves back then, but could have done things a bit differently by my mid-late 20’s. I suppose the one thing I would have done is had more of an immediate sense of urgency then. The more we get done earlier in life, the easier we can make our life when older.

    • It’s hard to have a sense of urgency when you are young and trying to have fun. I wish I worked a bit more independently at that age.

  9. Hmm, that’s really thought-provoking. I am concerned more about where we’ll be at 5-10 years down the road than where we’re at now. I feel like I’ve made good career moves and put away a lot of money, just seeing a slow death in my industry which leaves me a bit unnerved about the future (which I’m not sure I would have reasonably foreseen or left the industry in my twenties). The only thing I’d have done different might have been to work a little less and maintain better ties with my old HS and college buddies. My wife’s done a great job with that, but I haven’t.

    • I agree with you. It’s better to look into the future. I don’t dwell on the past much, it’s just get me depressed. 🙂
      I did pretty well with y college friends, but I lost all contacts with my HS friends.

  10. I am 35 and I would have told my 23-year old self to have be more serious with life. At that time, I was so overwhelm with going out with friends and having a good time after finishing college.

  11. Haha I’m reading this blog now and I can seriously say I feel the same way, though only 25. Networking is hard, I just started my own blog when it’s something I should have been doing a long time ago, and all I want to do after work is hang out and just enjoy simple things…like video games. Everyday I tell myself I’ll go to sleep sooner and have more energy to write or draw or blog the next day, but it doesn’t happen. Here’s to making a change this weekend!

    • I spent way too much time on video games. The thing that changed that is our kid. He needs so much attention that I don’t have any time left to goof off on the XBOX.

  12. At 23, I was just finishing up my BA. Financially, I was stable and debt-free. I think I would have told myself, stay that way (debt-free I mean) and get into the career that ultimately I ended up in. At 23, I had no clue what I wanted to be “when I grew up.” It took me over a decade to figure out a career path!

    • It’s great to have a career path figured out. It seems to be much harder today than in the past. It took me a very long time to figure out that I want to be an entrepreneur.

  13. I’ll be 50 in September.
    At 24 I graduated and moved into my own little studio apartment and started in a real job. Life was good and going in good directions.
    A friend stopped by and needed a roomate so he could move out of his folks house.
    Was going to save me a couple hundred bucks a month.
    I said yes.
    If I could only do one thing over in my life, I would’ve said no when he asked.
    He was an unmotivated partier that had a negative influence on me that still comes back to haunt me at times. Caused me some major financial problems as well. And that couple hundred bucks I was supposed to save monthly – pennies compared to what it cost me in the end.
    So I would say ‘self, skip the living with roomates phase’.
    And if I had to go the roomate route, I would say to at least find a roomate that is headed in good directions.

    I would also tell me to research and watch the housing market closer.
    I bought my first condo in about 1991 – end of a housing bubble. Could have bought the one next door for half price about 9 months later.
    Because of that, I had a hard time selling until late in the next housing bubble 13 years later – one bedroom one bath – so it’s the last option before renting, and the last one to go up in value even in a bubble.
    And self, the housing market goes in cycles – put away some dollars so that when prices are at there lowest, you can buy a small fixer upper to rent out.

    • Sorry to hear about the roomate. It’s better to rent to someone you don’t know. 🙂
      I’ll keep a closer eye on the housing market too. These cycles are so long. Hopefully I’ll be smart enough to recognize the next bubble.

  14. Well, I am almost 29 now, so I am still doing things wrong (like playing a lot of video games, despite the time I have for them is lower and lower as my wife needs me more now that she’s pregnant). But back to the advice, I would love to give a ton of advice tomy 20 yr old self: during those times I was the student that cared about nothing but to party all night and sleep all day. That ruined my health and stopped me from thinking about the future. If instead of partying I would’ve taken care of my health and, as you said, would’ve thought about starting a blog or getting into the new media… probably today I’d be writing this comment from a beach in Hawaii, not from my little home 🙂

    • Sorry to hear about your health. That’s the most important thing. It’s hard to do anything if you’re not healthy.
      Cut down on the video games! 🙂

  15. I would tell my 23 yr old self to quit thinking you are smarter then others when it comes to investing. There is a reason no one was investing in your stinker stock picks! Oh well, live and learn. I’d also say quit going out so much and put that money into your 401k, the hangover wasn’t worth it.

  16. My advice to my 23 year old self is to learn more from the mistakes I will be making along the way and turn those lessons into great motivators.

  17. Have more self-confidence. Grades really aren’t important. Don’t cry in anybody’s office. You will get As in those two courses you wanted to put off taking but they won’t let you.

    Oh, and that weird discoloration under your arms is not any of the things the dermatologist says it is. It’s actually acanthosis nigirins which you have because you have PCOS and you’re eating a low-fat diet. When you switch to a high fat good-carb diet you will not have to worry about self-confidence or crying in anybody’s office (and the discoloration will go away) because your hormones won’t be out of whack anymore. So do that.

      • It was really just a blip without self-confidence, fueled, I suspect, by a combination of hormonal problems and just not fitting into East coast culture on top of everything else. Ages 0-22 and 27+ were (and are) plenty self-confident. Just those 5 years when I was eating all wrong for my body type (possibly also bcp exacerbating the PCOS).

  18. I would have told myself to spend more in college actually learning the basics of being self-employed. It would have been a lot easier to be out in the world by now with the business and perhaps a part time job that could help cover some of the expenses.

  19. I’m 23 and this advice is definitely useful. By the way just turned 23 last week! My hubby is also 23.
    I graduated with no student loans! Yupee. And my husband doesn’t have any either. We only had one car loan and it’s paid off.
    I love reading Joe’s blog because I have implemented a lot of his advice. Planning to buy our first fixer upper home pretty soon. Hopefully, we can build up the cash in one or two years, and then buy another fixer upper to fix up and rent. That’s my plan!
    I invest 11% + 7% employer match of my salary to my 401K. I plan to increase it pretty soon to account for my husband’s lack of 401K at his company.
    We have opened my ROTH IRA, and I hope we have enough money to open his.
    I love the personal finance community because I learn so much!
    I’m not really sure what I would do different. I say I should have graduated with a different degree like petroleum engineering but I’m doing pretty well.

    • Happy Birthday! 23 is such a great time. You are doing so well and I feel great to be able to help.
      Enjoy your youth while you can. 😉

  20. I’m over 30 years past 23, yikes! Advice to my 23-year old self: Adopt a plant-based diet! (See the documentary Forks Over Knives.)

    • Great advice. I’m trying to eat more vegetarian meals too, but being a carnivore is a hard habit to break.

    • Kurt,
      I totally agree. Of course, we didn’t have the China Study over 30 years ago. Since I had a heart event three years ago, I switched over to the plant based diet, lost 30 pounds, and am in great shape. In my day (age 76), we were told that steak and milk were essentials of the American diet. Now we know different. Both are out, and green veggies are in, along with beans.

  21. It was only 3 years ago, but I feel very fortunate to have sites like this that got me thinking about finances early on, and some financially savvy parents.

    Bought a duplex at 25, started my Roth at 18 (only 50 a month, but it adds up). I think I’ll get there.

    Only thing I would go back and say to my high school self is put a little more effort it high school…missed getting a 12k/year scholarship by .1 on my GPA. All it would’ve taken was about 40 hours more of my time a year.

  22. It’s been only 3 years since I was 23, so I’ll go back a bit further to when I was 18 and just graduated high school. First, go to a community college to get as many credits as possible that would transfer over to the university. Do NOT start off at University: the cost is insane and your loans will drag you down. Great job working 2 part-time jobs while in school, keep up that great work! But put more money into savings or pay off your FAFSA student loan as quickly as possible, that interest rate is terrible. Then put as much money as possible into savings. Don’t trust your banker – they put your IRA into a money market and while you are making mere pennies on your thousands of dollars, you could really be making anywhere from 4-10% return (this is one of my greatest regrets) in an actual mutual fund. Take your year or two off and travel the world. When you are 26, you’ll have so much stress and grief riding on your shoulders, that dream has gone down the drain and you will be jaded and bitter. It’s just not worth it, younger self!

    • I think community college is a great idea too. I wouldn’t trade my experience at the university though. I made some life long friends over there.
      You’re still young at 26! You can take a little time off to travel. Hope you feel better.

  23. Not to be unoriginal, but my list would be very similar. Buy a duplex for future renting, look for start up opportunities anywhere I can, lay off buying so many guitars, and (hindsight being 20/20) stash as much money away before 2008 and then put it all in the stock market after the crash. For me, that was 7 years ago.

    As an interesting comparison, my brother had the hardest time out of school finding a “real job” and got in with a small marketing training firm. He now has a very nice side business (perhaps soon to be full time business) where he consults on email, blog and social media marketing.

    • Guitars are investment! 🙂
      Kudos to your brother for getting started on the side business so early. Great job.

  24. You should feel very fortunate that you were debt free when you were 23 years old. Most college graduates have an enormous amount of college debt. I graduated nursing school in 1987 with college loan debt of $11,500.00. I was married with two children at the time. It took me 7 years to pay that debt. I am now close to retirement, selling the house and living in an RV (traveling the USA) with my hubbie and 2 cats. Checking out the travel nursing scene until retirement.

    My point is…I work with many young nurses who have a montly college loan debt that is equal to or is more than the cost of rent. It is hard to sock away 30% of your income when you incur that kind of debt. I, like most people, wished I would have done things differently and made better decisions in life. But that is just learning and growing, sometimes the hard way. I love your blog, wish I would have had it when I was younger. I will pass this blog onto my grandaughter, who is just graduating high school. I hope she reads it and gains some knowledge from it.

    • I’m thankful everyday that I didn’t have student loan debt.
      It’s getting harder and harder every day and I’ll try my best to help out our kid with college cost.

  25. I would have said – Save at least 30% of your income. Invest in stable dividend paying companies or real estate. Lean back relax and live well:-) ehhh and don’t drink another beer after the first 10:-)

  26. I got married when I was 23 and the obvious answer would be to make a better choice in husbands but then I wouldn’t have exactly the wonderful sons that I have so I would never miss that wedding day.

    I would tell my late 20s self to not be so afraid and end the marriage then instead of waiting until I was 40 to restart my life.

    I am in my late 40s now and my sons are wonderful young men but I am woefully behind on my retirement savings.

    • It’s funny to look back sometime. The choices you made have both good and bad consequences. Great job with your sons!

  27. “What would you tell your 23 year old self? Don’t forget to tell us how many years it has been since you were 23. I will be 40 later this year for your reference.”

    Well I am 45! When I was 23, I invest a lot to things that aren’t important and just for pleasure. So I would tell myself to stop doing that. I could have save the money instead.

  28. I would teach my 23 year old self the basics of investing so that I could have started building wealth at a much earlier age. I also would have explained exactly how grad school really works and explained how to avoid a lot of the traps and pitfalls associated lurking around for naive students.

    • Learning to invest as soon as possible is a good one. It takes a lot of time to figure out your strategy and the earlier you start, the better.


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