A Good Start
I’ve been an adult for almost 40 years and the primary bread winner for most of that time. I had a great education, I was taught well by my parents on how to handle money, and, I had strong leadership in my life. As a result, I learned to handle money and possessions well: save money, live on a budget, limited use of debt and didn’t compare myself to neighbors or friends. As I look back, I had a good head start toward sound personal financial management. And I built off that foundation to develop personal financial freedom.
And still, there are so many things I would do differently if I did it all over again!
To start, I would be more receptive to the wisdom and advice of “smart old guys” who gave me advice because they loved me and wanted the best for me. Second, I would have slowed down to speed up: Slowed down my lifestyle and lifestyle inflation as a means to speed up the attainment of my financial goals and dreams. Third, I’d trust the math more and my feelings and emotions less.
What Does All This Mean?
It means that although I did pretty well in obtaining and maintaining financial freedom in my life, there are a bunch of things I want to tell everything young adult so that they could do even better. I want to scream: “Trust me in this! It may not sound fun right now, but boy are you going to appreciate it a little later.” So here it is. Here is a list of things I would do better to reach financial freedom faster, if I could do it all over again.
“Begin With The End In Mind” Stephen Covey
The first thing I would tell every young adult who is just starting out is to take a moment to define their life dreams and financial goals. Before they get their first big paycheck, think about what it is you want to accomplish. For some people, this may be very hard because they really don’t know where they want to go. But at a minimum, try to answer some general questions:
- Do they want a family? children?
- Want to retire at some time?
- Want to have a home, cars, travel, etc?
Having at least a vague idea of dreams and goals does two things: It helps PRIORITIZE our thinking and decisions, and it provides the MOTIVATION we need to keep moving forward toward financial freedom when the clutter of daily life weakens our resolve.
“Don’t Save What’s Left After Spending. Spend What’s Left After Saving.” Warren Buffett
Once we have some basic dreams and goals in place, I would encourage people to set up automatic savings directly from their paychecks towards those goals. I would suggest setting up the savings to come out of the account on the day your paid so you don’t even see, or miss, the money.
- Immediately start saving money into an Emergency Fund. Start with a goal of having $1000 available for any emergency, working to build that total up to 3-6 months of expenses. Why? Because an emergency fund is self insurance against disaster, including job loss and medical issues.
- Want ot retire someday? Immediately contribute the maximum toward your 401K/IRA and make sure you get the company match. This is one of the biggest wealth creation moves a person can make. Why? Because 1) Most companies match a portion of your savings, giving you instant return on your money. 2) Retirement accounts have tax advantages. Paying less taxes is a good thing. 3) Compound interest over time is what creates the wealth!
- Immediately set up automatic savings for vacations, future cars and any other big ticket items you know you will be needing in the future.
- Once the emergency fund is fully stocked, money can start going into investments, which will be covered later.
“A penny saved is a penny earned.” Ben Franklin
By setting up all automatic savings, you fund your goals and dreams before you even see your paycheck. Over time, you will get use to the amount that is left over and have a better chance of living within a budget based on the remaining money.
“Rather Go To Bed Without Dinner Than Raise In The Morning With Debt.” Ben Franklin
Debt; paying money to use other people’s money, is a wealth stealer. Debt eats up precious dollars fast. For most of us, buying a home cannot occur with debt, so for this discussion, by debt I am referring to consumer debt: credit cards, store loans, car loans, lines of credit, etc. Debt steals away financial freedom because it compounds, so the longer you take to repay it, the more it costs you. It also puts the borrower in a form of bondage, in that, the repayment of the debt is an obligation regardless of your ability to pay. It assumes we know and control the future when we don’t. Things like medical issues, job loss and other tragedies can prevent a person from paying their debts, yet the debt is always due. What would I tell the young adult just starting out?
- If you have credit card debt, eliminate it as your top priority, then stay out of debt. Pay off your total credit card bill every month.
- Get patience and use cash for everything. Don’t have the cash? Don’t buy the item.
- Only consider debt to purchase appreciating assets, like a house or for business. But even then, the more cash the better.
- If the temptation of using a credit card is too great, cut up the cards. Use a debit card.
One more thing about debt. Excessive use of consumer debt is a sign of even bigger things in your life that may steal wealth from you and prevent you from living in financial peace. Using cash requires you to earn it before you spend it. Debt is instant gratification, but at a very high cost. Cash requires you to be disciplined, requires you to prioritize and allocate scarce resources (cash). Debt doesn’t have to wait, requires no discipline nor patience, and since the bill usually comes later, the absence of immediate payment promotes overspending. Develop patience when spending your money to prevent impulse purchases and overspending.
“How Many Millionaires Do You Know That Become Wealthy By Investing In Savings Accounts? I Rest My Case.” Robert Allen
Investing money to realize a gain is risky, but it is the best source of creating wealth. If we are working toward financial freedom, we must let our money work for us and that requires investing our money. The only money I would keep in a savings account would be a portion of the emergency fund. All the rest of the money should be invested in an income producing investment, and there are many types: stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETF’s, real estate, CD’s, annuities, and the list goes on. What would I tell a young adult?
- Invest, invest, invest and let compound interest generate wealth
- The investment must produce income greater than the rate of inflation for you to generate wealth
- The younger you are, the more aggressive I would suggest. Stocks have provided the greatest return over time. Don’t know what to do? A safe long term investment is a low cost equity index fund from a reputable company. Think Vanguard or Fidelity to name two. Still need help, engage a trusted investment professional.
- Invest in timeframe appropriate investments: Need the money in less than 5 years, think conservatively. Have a longer timeframe? You can be more aggressive
- Pick quality investments, always
- Slow and steady wins the race. It is better to produce consistent slow gains than deal with investments with wild profit gyrations up and down and hope the timing is right when you need to take the money out of the investment. It never seems to be good timing.
- “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world.” Albert Einstein
“Money Never Made A Man Happy Yet Nor Will It. The More A Man Has, The More He Wants. Instead Of Filling A Vacuum, It Makes One.” Ben Franklin
Most adults, young and old, know that money brings options and choices. But too many adults view having more money as the only answer to financial freedom and solving financial issues. The fact is, having more money CAN be a solution for financial freedom but without discipline, contentment and gratitude, more money will never be enough. What would I tell a young adult?
- Money is only a tool, that if used correctly, can help you obtain and maintain financial freedom. But keep money in proper context. It is not to be worshiped nor the sole object of our desire.
- Learn to be content and happy in any and every circumstance. Building wealth is a journey. Sometimes a very long one. Enjoy every minute because life is short.
- Be grateful for what you have, never letting envy of what others have steal your joy.
- Use discipline in the use of every dollar. Later on we talk about following a budget, but here I would say this: Be diligent with what you have because seemingly small wasteful spending can lead to large regrets later.
“It’s Not How Much Money You Make, But How Much Money You Keep.” Robert Kiyosaki
A spending budget is the single best way to allocate your money according to your goals and objectives. A budget simply tells our money where to go each month instead of wondering where it went when its all gone. Yet less than 25% of adult actually budget. So what is the result? How about the fact that 88% of adults live paycheck to paycheck or worse! So what would I tell a young adult?
- Make a budget to guide your spending to support your goals and dreams!
- The budget can be as brief or detailed as you like, but follow it, and check actual spending regularly to make sure you are following it.
- Marry a budget with a good cash management process. Some go old school and use an envelope system. But most use technology to automatically pay bills and transfer money to savings. This is the easiest way to make sure your money goes where you want it.
Financial Freedom Is The Goal, Starting Early Is The Key
Financial freedom is having the attitude and resources to live abundantly in each stage of life, free of worry, to completely live out the full purpose of one’s life. Financial freedom goes far beyond having a few bucks. Sustainable financial freedom enables us to reach our potential as people.
Everyone can obtain and maintain financial freedom. Maybe not everyone can be rich, but everyone can have financial freedom. Start now! The key is to start toward financial freedom as early as possible to let compound interest and time build your wealth. Starting early also helps us prevent bad spending habits from forming in the first place. Key, too, is understanding money, and the amount you make, is only half of the financial freedom equation. The other half is spending and investing wisely. I hope this personal finance wisdom listed above encourages all young people to start early, save aggressively, spend wisely and view debt with contempt…to allow each and every person obtain and maintain financial freedom!