Top 5 Financial Successes in my 20’s

For many, your 20’s can be considered lost years. Aimlessly trying to figure out the overall direction of your life. This is the era where mistakes are made and lessons are learned.

Earlier I detailed the top 5 financial mistakes I made in my 20’s. Let me tell you, it was difficult to whittle the list down to 5. As I wrote that post I reflected on those mistakes, but also realized that I had some great successes in my 20’s as well. It was the decade that I set a foundation for financial success for the future and I’d like to share the top 5 financial successes in my 20’s.

#1. Started Early

Looking back, I wish I would have had my parents open a custodial IRA account for me at 17. My first paychecks from making pizzas would have been much better spent in an IRA than on a knock-off sound system for my 1990 Chevy Corsica… yikes! It pains me to think about my financial priorities as a teenager.

Luckily for me, I took a couple of finance classes in college and realized early on how powerful compound returns are in building net worth. Albert Einstein said it best, “compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… he who doesn’t… pays it”.

I knew long before I started earning a respectable paycheck that I needed to prioritize saving and investing. Taking advantage of a long-term mindset to build net worth has served me well.

#2. Established a Retirement Plan

I remember my first finance job in college was as a Finance Intern at a chemical distribution company. I’ll use the term “finance” loosely as I was usually tasked with restocking the company fridges and snack drawers when I wasn’t doing data entry.

One thing that stands out was the company’s policy of automatic enrollment in their 401K plan. I remember it because I recall opening my first paycheck and asking, “What’s this money being taken out for a 401K?” Not my proudest moment, but I had to google a 401K to figure out what the heck it was!

That initial 401K was eventually rolled into an IRA and I’ve never looked back. I began reading as much as I could on retirement planning and I mapped out a retirement plan in my early 20’s. Take a look at how my wife and I invest our Roth IRA portfolios for retirement.

#3. Invested in Myself

Graduating from college and starting my first ‘career’ job during the great recession wasn’t easy. I detail some of the challenges in my post on 4 lessons learned from job loss.

However, no matter how much adversity I encountered, I continued to invest in myself. After graduating, I took classes at a community college to get the 5th year of credits to be eligible for the CPA exam. Then I studied tirelessly to pass the exam and get my license. After that I continued expanding my knowledge of accounting into fraud examinations and forensic accounting. Eventually I passed the Certified Fraud Examiner’s exam to receive my certification as a CFE.

By the time I was 26 I had a CPA and a CFE. Two credentials that can’t be taken away (as long as I continue earning CPE credits). Since then it’s opened the door to a number of opportunities.

#4. Learned About Personal Finance

I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but at some point in my 20’s I became obsessed with personal finance. I invested my time into becoming as knowledgeable as possible in all aspects of personal finance and financial planning.

I’ve read countless articles, blogs and books to gain a better understanding of what it takes to achieve financial success. It’s incredible how much information is out there and how easy it is to access. Knowledge is power and if you want to become a financial superhero, you need to gather as much information as possible.

I still have plenty to learn and a long way to go. But my 20’s set the foundation for my family’s financial future and most of the successes that I’ve had are due to the time I spent learning. Every day I learn new things from amazing blogs like How to Get Rich Slowly, Young Adult Money, Bare Budget Guy, and so many more.

#5. Established Key “Life” Accounts

In my early 20’s I set up a financial plan and established retirement accounts. Once I got married and started a family is when I started thinking beyond my own financial security, but about the security of my family as a whole.

Through my current job I was able to secure a sound life insurance policy. I have enough coverage to make sure that my family is secure if anything were to happen to me.

I’ve set up college savings accounts for my sons. For my oldest we’ve invested in the Washington GET program (which unfortunately is having funding issues with the recent passage of the College Affordability Act). For our youngest, we’ve set up a 529 account through Fidelity. We even have a Fidelity AMEX card that we put all of our household purchases on and 2% is funneled straight to his 529 account. Not a bad idea if you’re looking for a great mindless way to contribute to your kid’s college education.

Although it’s not easy to think about your own death, my wife and I also set up a will. We want to make sure that we have beneficiaries, custodians and caretakers all lined up for our kids in the case that the worst occurs. Even though it’s a bit awkward to plan for, there really is a peace of mind from establishing your will.

Finally, and one of the most important, my wife and I have established an emergency fund. I can’t stress how important it is to have access to a liquid emergency fund in case the unexpected happens. Whether it’s medical issues, job loss or something as simple as your car breaking down; an emergency fund protects your hard earned investments from being touched if hardships arise. 3-6 months of expenses in a liquid emergency fund is key.

Your 20’s are a difficult time. It’s the decade that you begin to find yourself and prioritize your life. Although I made more mistakes than I can count (much more than 5). There were some key lessons learned and critical steps taken on my journey to financial independence.

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photo cred: Scott Maxwell

7 comments
Andrew LivingRichCheaply
Andrew LivingRichCheaply

Starting early is a big one for me.  I'm very fortunate that my father encouraged me to open up an IRA and to participate in my employer's TSP plan (federal government's version of the 401k).  In the beginning, it didn't seem like there was much in there, but then compounding works its magic.  Time is on your side when you're young.

Laura Beth @ How To Get Rich Slowly
Laura Beth @ How To Get Rich Slowly

Wow, you really are a financial superhero!


You've done everything right. That says a lot about the person you are. I know from firsthand experience what it takes to pass the CPA exam. Very few people have what it takes to do it, and those that do often don't have the persistence. That credential alone is a life accomplishment. Tack on the CFE, some wise investment decisions at a young age and a willingness to learn and grow (not to mention the Corsica) and you have a recipe for success.


I enjoyed the post very much. Have a great night!

Laura Beth

Financial Tour Guide
Financial Tour Guide moderator

Thanks Laura! Passing the exam has been one of my greatest achievements. I always go by one of my favorite sayings, "anything worth achieving is hard otherwise everyone would be doing it."

I truly think that investing in yourself is one of the wisest finance moves you can make.

DC @ Young Adult Money
DC @ Young Adult Money

It's always good to reflect on past accomplishments.  I'm so jealous that you have a CPA!  If I do end up getting one, it would be through my MBA program, so realistically I could be 30 before I get it.  Definitely great to land that in your 20s, it only gets tougher over time (as I'm sure you know) to find the motivation and time to get it done.

Financial Tour Guide
Financial Tour Guide moderator

@DC @ Young Adult Money It's definitely worth the time and effort to get your CPA license.  It gives you instant credibility in your current job and for future opportunities. Locking in your MBA in combination with a CPA license would be incredible. You'll undoubtedly be set for a great career trajectory.

Financial Tour Guide
Financial Tour Guide moderator

@DC @ Young Adult Money @Financial Tour Guide One great thing about the exam these days is that you can take it one section at a time. Start with your strongest section, whether it's FAR, Audit, Tax or BEC and then you'll be well on your way.  You won't regret it!  And feel free to reach out if you have any questions on your journey to becoming a CPA.