Dear Readers, This holiday season, a time when we often reflect on our experiences and life lessons, I thought I’d ask my team to share some financial lessons they’ve learned along the way. I asked them particularly what insights they would want to share with today’s 20-year-olds.
We’re a diverse group of people, ranging in age from the mid-30s to late 60s, and are at different points in our lives and our careers. We’re single and married, parents and grandparents, from different ethnic backgrounds and with different professional expertise. But what we do have in common is a shared understanding of how important it is to be on top of your finances from an early age.
We’d like to share that understanding with you. Some of it’s based on what we did; some based on what we wished we’d done. Obviously, we don’t have all the answers. But in a world filled with uncertainty and questions about everything, here are some heartfelt recommendations based on real-life experiences that we would want our young friends, children, grandchildren–anyone–to consider as they begin their financial journey.
–“When you’re first starting out, get some reliable roommates who you can trust to share household expenses. You’ll not only save on rent, but also on utilities and food, which can leave you with more money to start building a savings cushion. I lived with roommates up until I got married, and saved a lot of money as a result.” –Kristine
“Be relentless about learning to live within your means. It will pay off big time for the rest of your life.” –Tessa
“At 20, I lived for the day and spent every last dollar on fun. I just wish I had saved some too. There are a lot of years ahead of you. You’ll want to be able to afford these experiences throughout your life.” –Jen
“When I migrated to the U.S. at 19, I quickly realized that credit is a critical part of one’s financial life in the U.S. As a result, I worked diligently to establish a good credit rating, which allowed me to purchase my first car and home at lower interest rates in my 20s and 30s. Where I grew up, cash is king and use of credit is foreign, so I definitely had a steep learning curve.” –Elinore
“Don’t rely on credit cards to finance a lifestyle you really can’t afford. Never, ever charge more than you can pay off in full when the bill comes due!” –Judith
“Over the years, I adjusted my career and sometimes my salary to try something new. Keeping overhead well below your income will allow flexibility in career decisions if you want to do something different one day. That perfect career at 22 might not be so appealing at 32.” –Doug
“Establish a $1,000 emergency fund and plan to add to it as your monthly income and obligations grow. Once I figured that out in my mid-20s, more things started snapping into place, and soon after that, I started investing! That was an important thing to get me out of trouble when I was making very little money back then.” –Christina
“Start saving as soon as you have a job! A friend of mine put away 10 percent of her earnings every year from the get-go. When it came time for a down payment on a house, she had it. I wish I’d done the same. Also, contribute as much as you can to a 401(k) or IRA. I didn’t start until my 40s. Another lesson learned the hard way!” –Terry
“Early on I set up an automatic investment account and had monthly deductions transferred directly from my bank account. It became “automatic” so I got used to my budget and got motivated after seeing the investment account grow without much effort.” –Melissa
“Be thoughtful about what you spend. Today–with credit cards, online shopping and expectations that, of course, you can go to a restaurant whenever you want– it’s so easy to spend unconsciously. In my 20s, when I had very little money, I was aware of every expense. Once I started making more money, I lost track of my spending a bit. I’m trying to recapture that idea of mindful spending now, but my advice is not to lose it in the first place!” –Joanne
Now I’ll add my own: Educate yourself about money. There are lots of financial resources–from your parents to your local banker or financial advisor to a financial website. And never be afraid to ask questions. The financial world is complicated and you shouldn’t be embarrassed that you don’t have all the answers. In fact, the first step in learning something may simply be forming the question.
And lastly, invest early–even if it’s just a small amount. That was great advice my dad gave me.
Of course, all the “advice” in the world means very little unless you actually do something with it. And that’s the hardest part. We all tend to learn first and foremost from our own experiences. But my hope is that by sharing some of ours, others may get at least a small head start on a more secure financial future.
Happy holidays from my Schwab family to yours. –Carrie
Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER ™ is president of the Charles Schwab Foundation and author of “It Pays to Talk.” You can e-mail Carrie at askcarrie@schwab. com.