Personal finance isn’t something you should learn the hard way. Trust me.

I was 22 years old. I had just graduated college with a degree in journalism. I got a pretty great job in the marketing department of a big corporation, and I was making more money than almost all of my friends. I had just signed the lease on an apartment in the hippest part of town. It was a one-bedroom loft, and I had decked it out with all new furniture and electronics. For the first time, I would be on my own. No parents. No roommates. Adulting was fun!

Next, I had my sights set on a shiny new car to replace the reliable-but-ragged Camry my parents had handed down to me when I left for college. But when I went to the dealership, they wouldn’t give me a loan. “Your debt-to-income ratio is too high,” the man in the crisp, white shirt and bright blue tie told me. I walked out of there feeling so defeated. My what? What does that even mean?

Fast forward to the day I received my first student loan bill. I literally dropped the envelope when I saw the amount. I hadn’t planned for this at all. And even though I was still driving that beat-up car, after rent and bills and credit card payments each month, I didn’t have enough left over to pay it. What was I going to do?

Well, to start with, I sold all the new stuff I bought for my new place and reduced my daily spending to the bare minimum. Then, when my lease was up, I moved. I got a new place… with roommates. And I started learning. I researched and read. I even met with a financial planner for a free consultation. I ended up with a budget, a savings plan, and a debt payoff plan.

Nearly 5 years later, I’m proud to say I’m almost debt-free. I have a 401k, an emergency fund, and a newer, pre-owned Camry.

As it turns out, adulting IS fun. But it’s also hard. I wish I had known about things like credit, debt, and investments A LOT sooner. Hopefully, by sharing what I’ve learned here, I can help others avoid the mistakes I made.