My ex is a prize jerk. A real “winner,” as my mother would say. We dated for six months of my life that I’ll never get back; however, it wasn’t all for naught. Even though he was a manipulative, emotionally remedial, lying sack of you know what, Rick (whose real name is definitely not Rick), had one very important skill that I lacked: he was great with money. Rick’s dad was a personal finance manager, and as such, had begun teaching Rick about money at a very young age. Of all the crap I got from my ex, he did give me one thing that changed my life: my Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card. Looking back, he probably only referred me for the points (more on those later), but it was worth it. That being said, I don’t think you should have to date a pathological narcissist to learn a few basics about money. So, allow me to take one for the team and pass down three essential tips I gleaned from this real winner.

 

Find the right credit card for you

Earlier in our relationship, Rick booked us a weekend getaway in D.C. to meet his college friends, and he explained to me that he had scored the train tickets and hotel with credit card points from his Chase Sapphire Preferred. I had a vague understanding of points, but had never used them for anything. To put it bluntly, points are like free money, and you get them by using your credit card. I was intrigued, so Rick referred me to sign up for the same card. You should know that while opening too many credit cards can hurt your credit score, there’s no hard and fast rule as to how many you should have. But what I learned from Rick is that depending on your lifestyle, certain cards are way better than others. (Same goes for men, and I guess you could say Rick taught me that very valuable lesson, too.)

 

In my case, the Chase Sapphire Preferred was perfect. The annual fee was manageable, and the points system was, for lack of a better word, dope. I got a sign-up bonus, which translated to $500 in cash back or $625 in travel rewards. Rick also got 50,0000 points for referring me. And unlike my United card, I could use my travel rewards toward any airline. If you’re a young professional who travels a lot, I highly recommend it.  Forbes has a great breakdown of the Chase Sapphire Preferred perks. If you’re not much of a traveler, Nerd Wallet also has a very straightforward guide to various cards on the market. Once you find the right credit card for you, there’s no reason to use cash unless you have to, since that money isn’t working for you (read: getting you points).

 

Save a fixed percentage of your income.

This might sound self-evident, but saving consistent money IRL is an entirely different story. Rick saved half of his income. Then again, Rick didn’t have student loans and managed to keep his rent well below 30 percent of his post-tax income, another habit of the fiscally responsible. Both Rick and I lived in New York City at the time, so this was quite the feat considering the hellscape that is Manhattan real estate. He managed this by having a roommate and living in a less-than-cool neighborhood, but do you know what’s cooler than being cool? Having a savings account.

 

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re in your 20s and 30s, you should aim to save 20 percent of your income every month. Now this really all depends on your income level and other factors like debt. But saving money now is really the key to financial independence down the road when you’re ready for retirement and bingo. The idea is to get to place where you are no longer working for your money, and you can maintain your lifestyle entirely on your investments’ interests and dividends. The earlier and more you can save, the more quickly you will be in a place to do just that.

 

You’re never too young to invest.

Speaking of investments, you’re never too young to get in the game. Now, Rick had the privilege of having his father invest in stocks for him before he could say the word “stock.” Good for Rick. But remember, just because you don’t have a portfolio now, doesn’t mean it’s ever too early or too late to start. (And by the way, stocks aren’t the only option. I recently invested in a handful of cryptocurrencies with a nifty little app called Coinbase.)


The great thing about the investing in the stock market is that you don’t have to be all that involved in the process. There are a bunch of online robo-advisors who will invest and manage your money for you. Alternatively, you can invest the good old-fashioned way, and choose stocks and stock funds on your own. For beginners, mutual funds are a safe bet, because they are diversified—by definition, they include a pre-picked group of individual stocks, bonds, and assets. While mutual funds won’t skyrocket in the way an individual stock might, if one of the stocks in your fund takes a dive, you’re better protected. Mutual funds require a minimum $1,000 investment, but you can purchase an exchange-traded fund for $10 or less. If you’re not interested in investing in individual stocks, Time has a very handy kind to the various types of funds in which you can invest.