photo: Giphy

I have been working since I was 15, so over the years I have made money — the problem was, I didn’t know how to manage it. Like many of us, I didn’t get good financial advice early enough in life.

My grandmother told me to be independent and work (that advice has served me very well), my mom told me to save, and my dad told me that debt was no bueno (he was a cash-only kind of man). Beyond this basic information I was pretty much on my own in dealing with my finances. I certainly don’t blame my family — you can’t pass down what you don’t know — but now I have some serious catching up to do.

Related From Vivala: What Immigrants Can Teach Us About Money

Like many of us, even though I worked, I always felt stressed out about money, so I didn’t pay attention to it in my 20s and that was my first mistake.

How you deal with your money in your 20s can really make a difference when you are in your 30s — like when you want to buy a house, start a family, or quit your job (the world is yours, you decide).

So what advice would I give my twentysomething self?

  1. These days apps like Mint, Digit, Betterment, and Mi Dinero Mi Futuro make it simple to manage your money.
  2. Take care of your credit score at all costs! Credit is king in personal finance. Good credit equals tens of thousands of dollars in savings on big purchases. Try to keep your credit score (follow my vivala.com money column to get more tips on how to manage your credit).
  3. Build an emergency cash fund and don’t touch it. A recent report found that 62 percent of Americans have less than a $1,000 in their savings. Start small and build over time to make sure you have enough to cover life’s emergencies.
  4. Start investing in a retirement account as early as possible. Remember it is not how much you invest, it’s how long you invest! (Tweetable). A 401(k) is a retirement plan offered through an employer. If your employer offers a 401(k), remember to take the "employer match" — it’s free money! Even if your employer does not offer a 401(k), you can still open an Investment Retirement Account (a.k.a. IRA or Roth IRA). Let compound interest work for you. For example, if you invest $5,000 when you are 25 years old and contribute $100 a month for 10 years, your investment can grow to approximately $30,000 by the time you are 35 years old (based on a 9 percent yearly return). In other words, your $17K grows to $30K, not bad.
  5. Get yourself on a budget and don’t spend more than you make. Habits are much easier to form when you are young — and living within your means is one habit you want to stick with if you don’t want to be broke at the end of every month. The good news is that it is easier than you think. The 50/20/30 Budget is a simple-to-follow rule of thumb budget that works for every income.
  6. Last but not least, buy experiences, not stuff. Use your money to take trips, do things that matter, and make memories. There is nothing worse than having $10K in credit card debt and nothing to show for it. 
Ramona Ortega is a financial expert and founder and CEO of Mi Dinero Mi Futuro, a personal finance platform on a mission to empower Latinas to manage their money with confidence.