10 Lessons I would give to my 23-year-old self

Later this year I’ll turn 34. It’s a weird idea for me that I’ll be closer to my mid-30’s than my early-30’s. It’s a really odd concept to me especially considering 9 out of 10 times I’d get ID’ed when purchasing alcohol from a liquor store or at a restaurant. I suppose that’s the result of having youthful Asian genes. 😀

When I graduated from university back in 2006 and entered the work force at 23, I felt that I was starting a new chapter of my life. Looking back to this important time of my life today, there are many things I wish I could have done differently. If I had, I truly believe I would be much better off financially today. Having said that, there are also many things I’ve done quite well that set me up well financially to where I am today. If I could go back in time, here are 10 lessons I would give to my 23-year-old self.

1. Stop Buying DVDs

I watched a lot of movies in my 20’s. Whenever I watched a great movie, I found myself having a huge desire to own the DVD so I could watch the movie again. It became a fascination to have a great DVD collection. I’d often to go Future Shop or other stores to buy the latest movie DVDs, or DVDs that were on sale. Due to this “addiction” I’ve spent quite a bit of money on DVDs.

Looking back, it was very silly to have spent all that money on DVDs, especially considering the only thing I can watch a DVD today is on an almost 9 year old MacBook Pro. We don’t own a TV at home, let alone a DVD player. Furthermore, DVDs aren’t even the “thing” anymore, as BlueRay and other technologies have taken over.

Today I have a box full of DVD’s sitting in one of the closets at home. So much for my awesome DVD library…

2. Quit listening to hot tips

When I first started investing in stocks, I would listen to hot tips and try to make a quick buck or two. Boy did these hot tips burn me.

Thanks to these hot tips, I purchased my fair shares of penny stocks, I also did a number of day trades (and short term trades). More often than not, I would end up on the losing end of the spectrum.

For example, one time I decided to day-trade Ballard (BLP.TO) based on a hot tip. The stock had been going up for a couple of days straight. Based on momentum charts, things looked good. Everything indicated that the stock would continue to climb. The stock was riding on some new contracts that the company had just won and there were more contracts to be won. So I pulled the buy trigger for a couple thousand dollars in my RRSP account. As soon as I purchased the stock, the price started dropping. The stock price went from bright green (up) to bright red (down) in a matter of minutes. Frustrated and a bit nervous, I decided to set a stop limit to avoid the stock gaping down and ending up with a big loss. The stop limit was triggered about 10 minutes from my buy order being filled and I lost about 15%.

And that was not the first time I pulled a dumb move like that.


3. Invest in dividend stocks or index ETFs instead of mutual funds

Although I started investing early when I was 23 years old, I was buying mutual funds that financial advisers from banks were recommending. I knew that minimizing Management Expense Ratio (MER) was a good idea but I’d often get persuaded by these “financial advisers” to go with active managed funds. Simply because these funds had better historical returns.  Unfortunately, the active managed funds also happened to have much higher MER’s than mutual funds that tracked index.

For some odd reason, I kept repeating this mistake again and again, even after reading books like A Random Walk Down Wall Street. I was not willing to do my homework and taking charge of my own finance. Instead, I wanted someone to look after my money and manage it for me so I didn’t have to. Simply put, I was lazy. Not taking any responsibility meant I was paying extra fees on these active managed funds.

I should have learned about dividend growth investing or pass index ETFs investing, or a hybrid of both investing strategies that we are currently deploying today. If I had purchased dividend stocks like Royal Bank, Disney, TD, Johnson & Johnson over 10 years ago, I’d be sitting at a very comfortable yield on cost for these stocks, collecting great dividend payouts every quarter. Likewise, index ETFs have much lower MER than most mutual funds. Even a small 0.5% difference in fee can make a HUGE difference in the long term.

4. Take advantage of the economic downturn

When I entered the work force after graduating from university in 2006, life was good. I was making more money than I ever had before. Since I had money left over each month, I decided to start investing money in the stock market by purchasing mutual funds.

Then the financial crisis hit. As a result of the financial crisis, the stock market stumbled too. Since I had some spare cash laying around, I thought I’d take advantage of the down market by buying some top Canadian dividend stocks. Two of the stocks I purchased were Royal Bank (RY.TO) and ING Direct (now called Intact Financial, IFC.TO).

I purchased both stocks at a much discounted price. My original thought was that I’d wait for the market to recover.

For Royal Bank, I bought 100 shares at $26.92 on Feb 26, 2009. I thought I purchased at an all time low.

The stock recovered a bit in early March but then the market started dropping again. Panicked, I decided to sell all 100 shares on March 3 at $29.05 to take in a small profit. I thought I was a genius.


Little did I know that the stock price would continue to climb after my sell.

Today the stock would worth around $76, plus I would have received $1,781 in dividend in total to date. My yield on cost would be a jaw dropping 11.74%!!! Oops, talk about losing a golden opportunity.


Similarly, I purchased 100 shares of ING Direct at $29.49 on Nov 21, 2008. This was the time when insurance companies were suffering big time. I liked the business model and thought the stock price would bounce back once the economy picked up. After the stock bounced around for a number of months, I ran out of patience and decided to sell all the shares at $32.25 on Feb 3, 2009, again taking a small profit.

ING Direct has since changed its name to Intact Financial so I don’t have a chart to show this trade. But just knowing that IFC.TO worth around $89 today meant that I missed another great opportunity. If I had held on the position, I would have received $1,334 in dividend in total to date. The yield on cost would be 7.86%!!!

Looking back, I definitely wish that I had held onto these stocks and used all the cash I had available to buy all the big 5 Canadian bank stocks during the financial crisis, instead of holding cash in GIC and fearing what was happening in the stock market. What I failed to realize is that the likes of Royal Bank, The Bank of Montreal, CIBC, The Bank of Nova Scotia and TD Canada Trust all have been paying dividends since the 1800’s. I should have known better. This is why I’d tell my 23-year-old self to take advantage of the economic downturn and load up on solid stocks for the long term.

5. Be patient

As I showed above with my Royal Bank, and Intac Financial trades, if I had been patient, I would be doing very well today. But I was young and impatient. I was looking for the quick buck and the excitement of big stock gains in very short period of time. Thanks to my impatience, I had gotten out of many trades way too early, losing either huge gains, or huge amount of dividends.

Here’s another example. A long time ago, I used to watch Business News Network (BNN) regularly. I’d base my purchase on picks of the day (see lesson #2 above). One of the stocks that caught my attention was WI-LAN Inc (WIN.TO). The stock picker suggested that the stock was undervalue. After some quick analysis, I decided to purchase some shares of at $1.70. After less than a month, the stock price was bouncing all over the place. My patient ran short so I sold all my shares at $1.98. Yes I made some money but if I had waited for a year, the price would have doubled. If I had simply waited for 2 years before selling the stock, I would have made a 6 bagger on this stock.

Be patient, my 23-year-old self.

6. Listening to my intuition

I recalled using Google in the 90’s and thought the search engine was a million time better than Yahoo and other search engines around. I thought to myself, if Google were to go public one day, I should purchase some shares and hold forever. I thought Google had great potentials.

Similarly, when Apple first announced the original iPhone, I thought the phone was very cool but didn’t think too much about it. About a month after the launch, a co-worker showed me the phone. After playing around for a little bit, I thought the phone was revolutionary. I even talked to my co-worker about purchasing some Apple stocks because the iPhone would totally take over the smartphone market.

But instead of listening to my intuition and purchasing shares of Google and Apple, I didn’t go through with it. Yes I eventually purchased Google and Apple stocks but it wasn’t until many years later. Talk about missed opportunity.

Just for fun, let’s look at the historical chart for Google from when it first went public to today.

Google historical price

And here’s what the Apple stock chart looked like from 2007 to today.


7. Say yes to free money

If work has RRSP (or 401(k)) matching, take advantage of it. It’s essentially free money from your employer. It amazes me how many people don’t take advantage of this great benefit.

Likewise, if work has an employee stock purchasing plan and is matching cash contribution to a certain percentage, get on top of it!

Always say yes to free money!

8. Maximize RRSP/401(k) and TFSA/Roth IRA

One thing that I’m very glad that I’ve done since started working is to always maximize my RRSP and TFSA contribution room every single year. Tax sheltered & tax free accounts are efficient ways to reduce your income tax. Furthermore, investment in RRSP/401(k) and TFSA/Roth IRA can really take advantage of the power of compound interest.

Whatever you do, do not “invest” in GIC’s or term deposits in your RRSP/401(k) or TFSA/Roth IRA. First of all, the interest rates nowadays are terrible. Second, you’re essentially losing purchasing power by putting money in GIC’s/term deposits because inflation starts eating into the interests earned. This of course does not apply if you plan to use the money in the short term. But that would defeat the purpose of these registered accounts.

9. Maximize savings rate

When you’re single and young, it’s a lot easier to save money every month. So when you’re 23 years old and just started working, aim to maximize your savings rate each month. Aiming for 50% savings rate is good but 80% or higher is even better. It sure is a lot more challenging to have savings rate in the above 80% range when you have a family and have dependents.

When I started working, I kept an excel sheet to track my income and expenses. Although I wasn’t specifically tracking my savings rate, I was trying to keep an eye on my expenses.

I recently went through this excel sheet and calculated my savings rate. Below is a 3 year snap shot of my savings rate after started working. A bit of explaining first, for about 1.5 years I moved back with my parents paying no rent. When I finally moved out again to live with a flatmate, my expenses increased.


As mentioned, back then all I was doing was to track my income vs. expenses. I didn’t know anything about maximizing my savings rate. I was still living like a poor student, so I was living below my means. As you can see, my savings rate was pretty decent without me even trying.

I definitely wish I could have paid more attention to maximize my savings rate in my 20’s. This could be done by going out for drinks less often, eating out less, partying less, and also generating more income through side hustles.

10. Stop caring about what others think of you – just be yourself

This is probably the most important lesson. Stop caring about what other think of you. Stop feeling that you need to impress people by wearing brand name clothes, having expensive jewelries, driving an expensive car, or having the latest electronic gadgets. If people are friends with you because you have these expensive, latest toys, they shouldn’t really be considered friends. You’re better off being friends with people that don’t care about what you own. Stop second guessing what people think about you behind your back. You can’t control how others feel about you, so the only thing you can do, is to do things that will result in happiness for yourself and yourself alone.

Be yourself and be comfortable about the decisions you make in life. You’ll make some good decisions, you’ll make some bad decisions. That is life. Don’t base your important life decisions on what other people might think or say about you. This is your life after all. Take charge.

Dear readers, do you have any lessons you’d give to your 23-year-old self?

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74 thoughts on “10 Lessons I would give to my 23-year-old self”

  1. A great list. I hope that some of your younger readers can learn from your own mistakes so they don’t have to go through them on their own. Unfortunately I have to say I missed out big on Apple too. I wanted to purchase some shares right when Steve Jobs announced his first leave of absence but just never got around to it. That would have been for a pre split price of <$100. Oops!

  2. “Live and learn” as they say, right? Looking back I think I’d tell my 23yo self to pay off my student loan ASAP and then vow to never go into debt again. I totally had the means to pay that thing off in 2-3 years, but chose not to because I had better things to do with my money like lease a car, pay for an upscale apartment, and buy a VCR 🙂 Ugh.

  3. Between the two of us, we can relate to a lot of these! Mr. ONL never got into day trading, but he definitely bought some stocks based on hot tips that we actually still have — and after 10 years they still haven’t recovered their value! (Actually, you’re making me think this might be a good year to take a capital loss, while we’re in a high bracket — thanks!) 😉 And I definitely wish I’d gotten into the saving habit earlier, and stopped spending on stupid stuff that I thought I needed around the house. If I could go back and tell my 23 or 24 year old self, “All this crap you’re buying is going to get KonMari’d to Goodwill in the 2010s,” I would! 🙂

    • Agreed about Goodwill! I have 5 more boxes that I’m bringing over this weekend. So tired of making trips there. I try not to buy much outside of consumables anymore since everything ends up at Goodwill.

    • As long as Mr. ONL doesn’t day trade anymore. 🙂

      It’s amazing how much better off we could have been if we made some smarter choices in our early 20’s.

  4. Very good lessons to learn that many others have experienced as well. I particularly relate to #3, #5, and who couldn’t do a better with #9 in their young adult years! But we can learn from it and move on, trying to do better in the future.

    • I think everyone could try to do better with their savings rate when they’re single and young. Being more patient would have done some wonders for me. Oh well, you live and learn.

  5. This is a really good list — I especially like the last one. Along those lines, I’d tell my 23 year old self to stop comparing myself to all my friends. It doesn’t matter who is moving up the corporate ladder the fastest, who bought their house first, or who is driving the newest car. Instead, focus on paying off debt and accumulate savings. Compounding is your best friend 🙂

    • Thanks Kate. The last one is probably the most important IMO. If you’re trying to please others, you’ll never make the right decisions in life. Compounding is indeed your best friend.

  6. All great advice. I especially agree with saving more. I did get this advice when I was starting out, but I didn’t really want to hear it.

    I have also succumbed to the same problem with mutual funds. Don’t let the brokers talk you into it. Many of them have no money themselves, so why would we listen to their advice?

    • It’s always great to be able to save more when you can. Really wished someone could have told my younger self about that when I first started working.

  7. For me, I would also add:
    – don’t be afraid of negotiating your salary/asking for a raise
    – don’t wait to be in debt to track your income/expenses and make a budget
    – bring your lunch to work instead of spending a fortune in restaurants/take-out

    • Hi Stephanie,

      Great points. Negotiating salary/asking for a raise will do wonder in the long term. Bringing your lunch to work is always a good idea in my book.

  8. These are some good ones! The old “if I knew then what I know now” adage… kind of depressing in a way.

    While you were the big movie watcher, I was the big music lover. I owned around 650 CDs at one point. Still love my music, but even with the music clubs, that was still a big investment that might have been better off being put into something else that might have made me some money instead.

    — Jim

    • Hi Jim,

      Wow that’s a lot of CDs. I owned a few CDs in my younger days but certainly not as many as you. Funny how CDs all went away when digital music became popular.

  9. Well Stephanie (above) added some great tips. Only thing I would add is:

    Hustle, just because you have a decent paying job doesn’t mean you can’t earn more as a mystery shopper or starting a blog. Plus whatever you make, put that away in investments like #3. It’s always better to have your money working for you rather than you working for it.

  10. It is impressive to me that you maximized your RRSP and TFSA contribution room every single year, especially RRSP. I do personally max out my TFSA every year, but I found it difficult for RRSP since it’s contribution room is huge (18% income) and most importantly, it is not very liquid.

    I do understand RRSP is a great deductible on the income tax, however, I couldn’t gasp the concept of not being able to allocate my own asset without taking penalty on early withdraws. I believe by putting a majority of my savings into RRSP could lead to the loss of many potential opportunities, such other alternative investments including real estate, or better yet, capitals to start a business.

    • Hi Jack,

      Yes there are penalties for RRSP early withdraws but I think there are definitely ways around that to minimize the penalties. If alternative investments have better returns than investing in your RRSP, definitely go with these investments instead.

      • Unfortunately, we are no longer eligible for the HBP, and I do actually plan to withdraw some of my RRSPs to pay for the grad school in the near future. Taking income tax deductible into consideration, it is tough to find any alternative investments can beat RRSP investments.

        • To be honest, I don’t think HBP is a good idea. You’re taking a huge growth hit in your RRSP to buy a home. I’d argue taking money out of RRSP for education is not a good idea in general but that may different based on each individual.

          • It depends on how much you withdraw, how quickly you can put the money back and how your investments are performing. I withdrew a modest amount when I bought my first home, as a “top-up” to my down payment. I was able to put the amount back in a reasonable time. The hit wasn’t too big or too bad.

  11. I feel like many of us could provide incredible lists of DO NOT DO THIS to our younger selves – even just a year or two ago. It is very good to remember the lessons we’ve learned and pass it on to the next generation or even just keep them as road signs for the future to not make the same mistakes. Thanks for sharing. As always, very much enjoyed your post.

    -Dividend Reaper

    • Thanks Dividend Reaper. Too bad quite often our younger selves are simply not ready to listen to these lessons. 🙁

  12. my 25 yo self would have like that tip. I finished grad school in 2006. Stock was going wild at first. After seeing stock decline so much, I got scared a little bit. But then again, back then I had a huge mortgage and very little savings, I had to think differently, manage my risk differently. LOL 🙂 I did manage to sock away 6%, 8%, 10%, 15% then maxed out my 401K at $18K though since 2010. That’s not too bad LOL:)

    • That’s pretty good that you managed to sock away so much money in your 401k. That certainly have done wonders for you. 🙂

  13. In April 2003, everyone in my college Investment Analysis class had to give a presentation on one of the stocks we had each picked at the beginning of the semester and recommend to buy it or not. My stock was Apple, and I have a whole presentation recommending to buy it, despite their terrible financial ratios. I got a D on the assignment. This was literally the day before the iTunes Store opened. Too bad I was a poor college student and couldn’t spare a few dollars to invest. I got the bad grade AND no Apple stock!

  14. I am glad that I read this before I hit 23 (Kind of a point you made on your comment on my blog :p) I really like how you about taking advantage of economic downturn as well as listen to your intuition. Before I started blogging and understanding investing I never would have thought about leaving some cash in the portfolio specifically for a pull back or downturn. The amount of money to be made could set somebody for life… if they are patient (something I really need to work on). I am always on the lookout for what people are talking about these days and the new trend as it will usually reflect in the company’s next quarter. Depending on the trend it would be worth a long term holding such as Google or Apple. Hopefully I can spot the next hottest stock before it blows up big.

    One thing I would add is always look for supplemental income. In your case it is dividend income. Having an additional source is great whenever there is uncertainty.

    • Hi Stefan,

      Great to hear that you read the article before you hit 23. Hopefully these lessons will help you a lot in the future.

  15. My situation is I only started in late 2012. when I was 30. I started not as a dividend investor but focusing on profit by trading frequently. In the beginning it all went good . I made some money. In mid 2014 I lost all the money i made as a profit and also lost huge amount of my principal that was invested. Ohh.. all that U.S dollar I wasted in trading chinese stocks. During the same time I also hold some of the dividend stocks like TD and BNS which I didn’t sell and realized the dividend coming every quarter that interested me. I started reading dividend blog like this and made me more motivated.
    Today I would only like to focus on solid companies and focus on dividend growth/ Although I have been doing my best the problem is I started it quite late i.e after I got married now I am going to be a dad soon and since i m the only working member its very hard for me to save and invest. I am doing my best and would like to stay focus.

    • It’s amazing that so many of us were looking for the big bucks early on and end up losing big thanks to these moves.

      Stay focused on solid companies is a great idea.

  16. These are great lessons. I wish I contributed more to my 401k and IRA instead of trading stocks in a brokerage account. I also wish I didn’t finance a used car purchase when I was 22.

  17. Apple and Google. We all saw it happening right before our eyes. I didn’t invest in either. I’m still not sure why. I love the first piece of advice, don’t buy DVDs. I wonder how many people have libraries of those useless babies taking up space in their homes.

  18. I definitely have a drawer full of DVDs that have not been used in about 2-3 years (some never).

    Have a few “hot tips” mucking up my account – will unload them at a loss one day

  19. Funny I just turned 36 recently and I cringed that I was closer to my late 30s than mid 30s! haha Fortunately, I do have those youthful Asian genes as well though I do have graying hair. I definitely would have told myself to stop jumping on the hot stock tips…they rarely turned out well. And I absolutely would have increased my savings rate. I thought that I was doing a good job contributing to the match with my employer (compared to many co-workers who didn’t contribute at all). I was pretty frugal but I probably had too much money sitting in “high interest” savings accounts earning like 2% at the time.

    • It’s easy to listen to the hot stock tips and just pull the buy trigger. It’s all about being able to ignore all the noises. 🙂

  20. hey 🙂

    Thats a very good post! I am now 23, I turn 24 in two weeks. Your post reminds me to be patient.
    I am pushing myself to higher heights everyday.

    Your post lets me hope that I will be very wealthy in my thirties.
    Thanks for sharing!

    best regards from Austria

  21. Fantastic list! I can relate to all of these — especially #1! My collection was CDs, not DVDs, but the same lesson applies. I just donated a huge box of hundreds of albums I had collected. I don’t even want to think about how much money I spent on them.

  22. Can my 23-year-old join the class?

    Myalmost-40-year-old would be in a very different situation now.

    I hop to take all these lesson’s and pass them on to my kids by te time they are 18. What if they have a nice DIG portfolio at that age… Just imagine…

  23. Yup I can relate to hot stock tips when I put money into GBSN.. Great post, I loved it. I’ll be a subscriber of yours for life!

  24. Terrific list. The one thing I would have told my 23-year-old (or any age before 32 really) self would be to educate myself to the greatest extend possible about personal finance. While I am absolutely on a great path now, I often give a little thought to how much I’d really be crushing it if I had started my journey to financial freedom 5 – 9 years earlier.

  25. Great tips Tawcam, as a 24 year old, I really appreciate them 🙂

    Patience is definitely a huge thing for investors. I think Buffett said along the lines that the stock market is a great way of transferring wealth from the impatient to the patient. That is the key, after you’ve chosen a decent business of course.


  26. Great list. I can identify with several of these as well. I might add: do your own taxes and figure out how different things are taxed. When I think of all the money I spent on tax prep while blindly playing around with different investments-completely oblivious of IRAs- I want to wack my young self over the head.

    • Hi Lena,

      That’s a great one. I’ve done my own taxes since started working and have learned quite a few things on how to be more tax efficient. 🙂

  27. Oh Tawcan. I learned a lot from this post! I am a 25-year-old guy and would like to be successful at money like you. 😀

  28. Hey Tawcan,

    Great list buddy. Really resonates with me since I’ll be turning 23 at the end of this year. Fortunately, I follow most of these tips. Really crazy to see how low you purchased shares in RY and IFC before and sold early compared to now. Those price jumps is what makes me hope that the markets can achieve the same thing going forward.

  29. I would tell 23-year-old me to stop buying so many clothes and to bump up my savings rate! I paid very little rent at the time yet was spending my money on shopping and travel. I don’t regret the travel but I also could have saved that money too. Great tips!

  30. I’m not sure that one can tell a 23 year old person much they would listen to. All your points are great and thinking back to when I was 23, saving and investing wasn’t something I cared about or even felt a need to consider.

    What we decided was to set aside savings for out grand kids by purchasing one DRIP stock and periodically add funds to buy more. Over the years the stock raised it’s dividend and the reinvestments have grown the value of their holdings. Every now and them we showed them the quarterly statements with a chart of how their dividends have grown.

    Now that one of them is 18, she will take over the DRIP and she wants to continue to add her own money. If she does and increases the amount as she gets older I think some of your points will come into play without anyone telling her.

    • That’s true, most 23 year olds will probably not listen to these advice but a few might.

      The DRIPing part is exactly what we’re doing with Baby T1.0’s dividend portfolio.

      • She has seen DG work through the Financial Crisis and how DG drives price growth. We are trying to teach her that DG, not ETF Indexing works through good and bad times, which I doubt Indexing will do.

        By getting Baby T involved, or when she/he is able to understand, I’m sure it will have the same impact as our grand daughter experienced.

  31. I am turning 35 myself later this year and I would love just 10 mins with my 23 year old self. I would tell him to start caring about his finances earlier. There is no reason why I didn’t have investments back them (even if I had made bad choices with them at least I would have been in the game).

  32. Some of the things you mention in this post are very recognizable for me. I nearly bought around 5000EUR worth of Google stock in 2005 but at the last moment I didn’t pull the trigger as I was scared as they had already gone up so much since the IPO. Those shares would now be worth over 40,000EUR. Same thing with NVIDIA, I owned a block of 655 NVIDIA shares in 2008/2009 but eventually I sold them at a small loss. Those shares would be worth at least 5x as much today.

  33. Glad to have got the information when am 21, am hopping to implement all these strategies onwards so that when I will be 31, I will be smiling my way off!

    Thanks for the great advice !

  34. Super good ideas in this post. One of the reasons I blog is to leave my future kids w some pointers I hope serve as a head start. Of course, all the better if we can have those conversations ourselves, but some kind of almanac is nice to pass down. I hit my 20’s with a bunch of good habits, but by the time I was in my later 20’s, living in a capital city and studying full time, a lot of those good habits diminished (not to mention the not so good ones blossoming)…having a high savings rate and investing early are two important ones I let go! Good to be getting back on track 🙂 I would probably also tell my 20 year old self to travel more and for a few months at a time (working holidays etc).


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