My oldest child is getting ready to graduate from college and will soon embark on a new career. Given that his previous work experience consists of part-time retail and food service, his first paycheck will put more money into his bank account than he’s ever seen.
As my son gets ready to deal with his first apartment, his first round of bills and his first chance to save some serious dough, I thought I’d pen a few nuggets of wisdom I wish someone had shared with me when I was starting out.
And as a financial writer, this list is not only a labor of love, it’s my job.
What Does it Mean to Be Financially Responsible?
1. Start thinking about retirement on your first day on the job
It’s been 22 years since you were born, but those years have flown by. And so will the next 22. By then, you’ll be halfway through your working career and you need to be prepared for the day when you are no longer able to or no longer have the desire to work a 9 to 5.
Take advantage of every opportunity to save for retirement. If your company offers a 401(k) plan, make sure you contribute the minimum to receive the employer match. Then gradually work your contributions up to the maximum allowed by the IRS.
If your savings are automatic, you’ll never miss the money.
2. Your first house will not look like the house you grew up in
Your dad and I scrimped and saved to afford a nice house for our family. Our first apartment was a one room studio in which the bedroom and living room were separated by retractable blinds. Our coffee table was fashioned from pallets we found in the back of a Home Depot. We spent every Saturday at the laundromat.
It takes years of hard work and saving money to afford a four bedroom, three bath home with an attached two car garage in a nice neighborhood.
If you live in a rental for a few years (or a lot of years), that’s okay. Houses don’t always go up in value but houses always require a lot of work and money to maintain.
3. When you get married, for most people, it’s not yours and mine anymore
No matter who is the bigger breadwinner, you and your spouse share everything. This includes all of the money in your bank accounts and any debt you bring into the marriage.
Before you say, “I do,” make sure you’re both on the same page about the finances. Talk openly about your savings, your financial goals, your spending and your debt.
4. Realize that you’re already rich
The fact that you live in North America means that you are wealthier than 90% of the world’s population. Most of the world lives in poverty, in conditions that we cannot imagine. Always remember this, it will make you a better steward.
5. Give generously
For your dad and me, this means we tithe, and we support a local college ministry. For you, it will look different. Find a cause greater than your own and give generously. You will benefit from it far more than the recipient.
6. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it
Your granddad once told me that if you want to buy a new pair of shoes that costs $50, but you only have $49.75, you don’t get a new pair of shoes.
If you can’t afford it, you can do without it. No exceptions.
And never carry a balance on a credit card. The interest is a wealth killer.
7. Don’t spoil the kids, let me do it
There’s no reason that your kids need to be dressed in designer duds. They don’t need the latest and greatest gadgets, especially if you can’t afford them. Used strollers work just as well as new ones.
Don’t spoil the kids. After all, that’s what grandmothers are for.
8. Understand the magic of compound interest
Put your money to work by saving it. Build up an emergency fund, because emergencies will happen. And getting the latest iPhone is not an emergency.
Understand the magic of compounding. The sooner you start, the richer you finish. It’s actually not magic. It’s the math you learned in 5th grade.
9. Don’t sweat the money mistakes
At one time or another, everyone loses money. We all fall into the trap of buying the must-have item or think we can bypass the system with a get-rich-quick scheme.
If you make a money mistake, cut your losses, learn from it and move on.
Besides you’re young, you’ve got plenty of time to recover any losses. That won’t be true 20 years from now.
And if you’re ever too embarrassed to admit you’ve messed up, give me a call. I’ve got plenty of stories about stupid money mistakes your dad and I have made.
10. Don’t be a Big Hat, No Cattle kind of guy
Don’t get sucked into the pattern of trying to keep up with everyone else.
It doesn’t matter if you drive a 2006 Altima (my son’s actual car) or a 2019 Audi (my son’s friend’s actual car). The road doesn’t care. Your true friends don’t care. The mechanic doesn’t care. We certainly don’t care.
But you will care. One day. When you look back and are happy that you invested the money rather than spending it on a slick ride.
11. Money doesn’t buy happiness
Looking back over the past 22 years, the times we’ve most enjoyed as a family didn’t cost a lot of money. Yet, they are priceless. It’s the memories of playing in the park, picnics in the backyard, pizza and movie nights on Sundays and fishing at the local dock.
Your life shouldn’t revolve around money. In fact, if you save and invest it automatically, you won’t even need to think about it. Not worrying about money allows you to focus on other things. And that is the greatest joy money can provide.
Cindy Dye is a wife, mother of 3, blogger of personal finance and former aerospace engineer. She is currently a contributing writer for the Motley Fool, Women Who Money and other financial sites. Cindy shares her family’s quest for financial independence at Dash2Retire.com.