If you could go back in time, what would you tell your 20-year-old self about money?

What an intriguing question — especially coming during the Lenten season.

Lent is a time to reflect on Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the cross. What does it mean to us? How should it change us? It’s a time to more deeply examine our conscience so we can see more clearly how closely we are imitating Christ and how we are falling short of imitating him. As a result of that reflection, we then recommit ourselves to becoming even more faithful disciples. Taking a look back in our past is a healthy part of that process.

One of the most frequent comments I hear from participants in my financial-freedom study groups is: “I wish I’d learned these concepts 20 years ago.”

Does that mean all who say this would have effectively applied the principles of financial wisdom back then? Of course not. We might like to think we’d have acted smarter in our youth if only we’d known better, but youth is, well, youth. Typically, age and experience do play a role in the development of wisdom. The good news is: You can apply the principles, starting today.

What are some of the specific mistakes people would like to go back and correct? Some of the most popular: “I wouldn’t have applied for the first credit card in college.” … “I would have paid for my own wedding. My poor folks.” … “I would have been more generous.” … “I wouldn’t have worried so much.” … “I would have lived below my means.” … “I would have stayed out of debt.”

Recently, a participant wondered what his 60-year-old self would say to his 40-year-old self 20 years from now. Another great question!

Of course, the primary purpose of such an examination isn’t about the past, but about the future. Lent is a time of getting back to basics, and that can be comforting during this time of economic upheaval. While there will continue to be pain in the short run as we work through our excesses over the last several years, developing healthier attitudes toward debt (see Proverbs 22:7) and saving (see Genesis 41) will bring long-term benefits to households and society at large.

I’ve been pleased to see that as people consider what they would have done differently they don’t just think about getting out of debt and saving more. They also consider the possibility that they could have been more generous.

Remember: What we do with our resources is ultimately about demonstrating our love of God and neighbor. So be generous, even during these difficult times. Almsgiving is described in the Catechism as one of the three forms of interior penance insisted on by Scripture and the Church Fathers, the other two being prayer and fasting (No. 1434). Lent is an especially good time to live these practices out more faithfully.

So: What financial advice would you like to go back and give to your 20-year-old self?

God love you!

Phil Lenahan is president of

Veritas Financial Ministries