Before Chelsea Fagan became the founder and CEO of The Financial Diet, she learned more than a few money lessons the hard way – like this one about credit card use:

“When I was in high school, someone came to our cafeteria and offered us to sign up for a Hello Kitty® credit card. I opened up an account, ran it up to the $500 max, threw it away and ignored the bills,”she recalls. That was a problematic start to her credit history, and one that took her a long time to dig out from.

This cautionary tale is just one of many that Chelsea imparts in 6 Money Lessons I Wish I’d Learned Earlier, a relatable and practical student webcast sponsored by PNC’s My Finance Academy.

In this “judgment free” webcast, as Chelsea calls it, she challenges viewers to change the way we think and talk about money. Specifically, she’d like to see more open and honest discussions that leave young people feeling confident, rather than intimidated, when it comes to their finances. That’s why she established The Financial Diet, a hugely successful media platform focused on sharing financial insights in a realistic and relatable way.

“The cards we’re playing with are vastly different from those our parents held when they were our age. Some of the old rules need to be updated to better reflect the financial challenges we face,” Chelsea says. “It’s important for us to build healthy relationships with money. There’s a lot we can control by simply making tiny changes. What we do now can have huge impacts on our future wealth.”

Here’s a quick preview of the six money lessons she wishes she had learned sooner:

1. Don’t Judge Yourself Based on Your Net Worth

It’s easy to feel demoralized when we’re not making as much money as we think we should, or when we’re dealing with debt or other financial challenges. But it’s important to understand that your financial situation does not define you and that today’s economic environment can be tough on younger generations.

Says Chelsea, “There’s no reason to beat yourself up about your financial circumstances. Just keep taking positive steps forward.”

2. Start Investing ASAP

Investing isn’t reserved for older, wealthier people. It’s very much a young person’s game, and it doesn’t take a lot of cash to get started. What’s most important to understand, Chelsea says, is that time is your greatest asset. “Time and compound interest can truly work to your advantage,” she says. Watch the webcast for a great example of how compound interest can either work for you or against you.

3. Don’t Shy Away from Credit

“I started my adult life by ruining my credit score through credit card debt, so credit used to terrify me. But today I have an excellent credit score and use credit not just responsibly but to my huge advantage,” Chelsea shares. “I can’t stress this enough: Not paying interest is the difference between a good and bad credit card strategy.”

Using credit responsibly is pivotal to building a good credit history and score, and to protecting yourself from falling into a debt spiral. “You can earn points, miles, cash back and other rewards by using certain credit cards, but then you need to pay those balances in full each month. You get all the benefits without paying a single dollar of interest.”

4. Tackle Debt Your Way

“The best strategy to reduce debt is the one that works for you,” says Chelsea. In the webcast, she covers two popular approaches to consider:

  • The “Avalanche Method” – Pay toward balances with the highest interest rates first (while continuing to make at least the minimum monthly payment on other balances). This can help you limit the negative effects of compounding interest that causes your balances to grow.
  • The “Snowball Method” – Focus on paying off your lowest balances first. This approach helps you build momentum and the confidence to tackle larger and larger balances until your debt is gone!

5. Have a Financial Buddy

“Back when I was trying to rehab my finances, one of the hardest parts was feeling like I couldn’t be honest with some of my friends about what I could and couldn’t afford to do socially,” says Chelsea. “A financial buddy — someone with whom you can be totally honest — can help you navigate those awkward situations and make good decisions for yourself.”

Watch the webcast to learn how having a financial buddy can motivate both of you to stay on track toward your respective financial goals.

6. Set Your Own Goals

Many people grew up believing in certain “universal” milestones — you have to buy a house by the time you’re a certain age, for example. These expectations were established in an economic environment far different from the one we live in today, plus they don’t take personal goals and preferences into account, says Chelsea.

“Forcing yourself to adhere to arbitrary standards of financial growth is what leads people to spend beyond their means, buy homes they can’t afford, and commit to jobs that aren’t right for them,” she shares. “Focus on what is meaningful and sustainable for you and tune out the rest.”

To get more of Chelsea Fagan’s practical, life-changing money management insights, watch “6 Money Lessons I Wish I’d Learned Earlier,” sponsored by PNC My Finance Academy.