If you’re the parent of a teenager, you’ve probably thought about whether or not she should get a job.  I’m not talking about those cases where teens need to work because the financial situation dictates it.  I’m talking about when the family is doing fine financially and getting a job is more about lifestyle spending or instilling values in your teen.

 

What I often hear is some version of the following:

“She has her whole life to work so there’s no reason to make her work now when she doesn’t have to.  Let her have fun while she can.”

If you’ve ever had these thoughts you’re not alone.  At first, they seem completely reasonable. Who doesn’t want their children to have fun and enjoy life?  They do have a whole life of working ahead of them, why should you add to it if you don’t need the money?

It’s a lovely sentiment and comes from a good place, but there are a couple of significant flaws in this way of thinking.  The first one being there’s “no reason” for going to work.

If you’re only metric for measuring the value of work is “for the money,” then, sure, there isn’t a good reason for teens to work.  But, if you believe getting a job, particularly at this stage in life, offers other redeemable qualities, then there are many reasons why going to work is a good idea.

 

It is well documented that teens who work while in high school benefit from:

    • Better time management skills
    • Understand how to prioritize competing demands on their time
    • Teaches delayed gratification
    • Enhances  interpersonal and social skills
    • Less entitled
    • Able to take direction
    • More confident
    • More disciplined
    • Greater perspective
    • Better work ethic

 

 

This is no small thing.  Even if money was on this list, I’d argue it falls near the bottom.  The life skills kids learn by going to work far exceeds the value of their paycheck.

I know parents are worried about overscheduling their children, but there is no evidence children are being damaged by having a part-time job.  This is even true for kids who are heavily involved in extracurriculars (i.e. athletics, music, dance).

Turns out kids are able to have an amazing high school experience, filled with Friday night football games, dining out with friends, and just hanging out and enjoying doing nothing while also holding down a part-time job.

Who knew, right?

As is often the case with today’s parents (myself included), our fears turn out to be far worse than reality.  This modern-day phenomenon of kids not working says more about our own work neuroses than anything else.  Which is kinda strange considering how many of us parents had a job while we were teens and we’re doing just fine.

 

Good Intentions Don’t Always Lead to Good Outcomes

 

Turns out the real damage being done to kids comes more from us coddling them than letting them go.  We’ve all heard of “helicopter” parents who won’t let their kids out of their line. Or, “snowplow” parents who are clearing away every obstacle in front of their children.

Taking care of and providing for our children is noble and giving and selfless but often does more harm than good.  Kids need to fail a bit. They need to be challenged and learn from those experiences. They need to struggle and work hard and see that their efforts don’t always go rewarded.

Having a job as a teenager is fertile ground for learning how things work in the real world.  Everyone should know what it’s like to have a bad boss, to “feel” the pain of having to go to work when you don’t want to, and to know they’re not special just because they were the star athlete or the smartest kid in class.

Better to struggle while the stakes are low than on their first real job out of college.  Better to deal with not feeling appreciated for their hard work while mom and dad are around to help them cope with such “indignities.”  Better to understand how it’s not possible to do everything you want at an equally high level, that you need to prioritize your time based on what you value and where your responsibilities lie.

Some things are best learned through experience and exactly because we spend much of our lives working, our children need to understand the basics of what that means as early in life as possible.

Plus, kids need to understand the direct connection between work and money.  No work, no money. No money, no fun. You want to raise kids who aren’t entitled?  Make them go to work and pay for some of their own stuff. See how quickly they learn the value of a buck when they have to work for it.

 

Teens should get a job because:

 

    • It teaches them discipline.  You go to work because you have to, not because you want to.  And you need to be there on time, all of the time. With a job, there are real consequences for not doing what you’re supposed to do.  The sooner they learn this lesson, the better off they will be.
    • They start to connect the dots between work, time, and money.  Money comes from work and work takes time. Seeing how long it takes to put a $100 in your pocket from working is an “aha” moment for most teens.
    • The most surefire antidote to prevent raising entitled children is to have them work for their money.  Entitled children are entitled because they are given too much, too often. By definition, when one works for her money, she’s not “entitled” to it, she’s “earned” it.

 

 

Why you shouldn’t worry about the negative effects of working while still in high school (or college):

 

    • There is no evidence kids are damaged by having a part-time job.  We try to prevent our kids from being too stressed out from juggling too many things but it’s usually the parents who are stressed out.  What was good for us is good for our babies. We shouldn’t let our work neuroses get in the way of our children’s development.
    • Kids need to be challenged in order to grow.  Muscles and bones don’t get stronger when they’re not being used and neither does a kid’s ability to deal with real-world issues.  Having a bad boss or feeling underappreciated is a rite of passage all of us must go through. Better to do so under the watchful eyes of supportive parents than when on their own and fully immersed in the real world.

 

As with most things, this isn’t a “right” or “wrong” issue.  However, I do believe in putting the odds on our side and teens working does just that.

So, what do you think?  Are you still on the fence with the merits of teens working?  Wholeheartedly convinced one way or the other? Please leave a comment and share why or why not you feel that way!

 

 

 

Last week, I wrote about the importance of talking to our kids about money and making it a normal part of our everyday lives.  Today I want to share a story that captures some of the power and nuance money can bring to your family if deployed properly.

I am the father of five daughters between the ages of 14 and 21.  Three are in high school and two are in college. My wife doesn’t work outside the home and I have been a financial professional for the last 20+ years.  Needless to say, I’ve had my hands full juggling a career and a house full of lovely women.

Like most people, I was making less money in my early working years and, with five kids 6-years-old and under, I had to get clear with my money.  In fact, clarity often finds you. Buy a big house? Nope. Buy a fancy new car? Not a chance. Bespoke suits? I didn’t even know what bespoke meant.  So, when I say “clarity finds you,” it does. Because so many decisions are already made for you, it’s “clear” as to what you can or cannot do.

As the kids got older and we started to make more money, the waters got a little cloudier.  It wasn’t obvious we couldn’t afford a bigger house, a fancy car, or take beachfront vacations.  We couldn’t do all of these things but, perhaps, some. This lead to some in-depth discussions about what my wife and I valued and what kind of environment we wanted our girls to grow up in.

Digging deep into your soul to find what is truly important to you isn’t an easy thing.  Living in accordance with those values is even harder. And at the heart of all this is … money.

Really?  Money? Sounds a bit superficial.

Yes, money and it’s far from superficial.  Here’s why:

How we spend our money is a manifestation of what we value.  

If we value taking care of others, we will be generous with our money and provide for them.  If we value personal development, we will invest in ourselves. If we value living for today, we will spend on the things that make us happy right now and let tomorrow fend for itself.

For my wife and I, this was a turning point in our lives.  We had real choices to make.

 

 

How were we going to deploy one of our most valuable and limited resources – our money – to make a better life for us and our girls?  What values were we teaching our girls by how we talked about money, how we spent money, how we let money affect our lives? When they looked at us, what did they see?  Spending behaviors that were in alignment with our values? Or, something less?

After many, many discussions we came up with a few guiding principles for us and our girls to follow.  Not “rules” because life is too uncertain and the waters too murky to live in a black and white rules-based world.  Guidelines provide the right balance between guidance and flexibility.

Here are our guiding principles:

    • People before money
    • Experiences versus things*
    • Quality versus quantity
    • Spend unabashedly on the things you love, spend nothing on things you don’t
    • Protect things that are too important to lose
    • Prevention is the best medicine
    • You can always get more money
    • Time is more valuable than money
    • No birthday gifts
    • Just say no to the latest and greatest trends
    • Work hard enough in my job to pay others to do the work
    • Invest in yourself

There’s a lot to unpack here and I can’t go through all of them so I’ve picked one to dig deeper on.

 

Experiences Versus Things

A new family tradition began when my oldest daughter graduated from high school in 2017.  Upon graduation, each girl gets to go on a trip with just her and dear old dad to a location of her choosing (within reason, of course).

Yep, just the two of us off gallivanting together and getting into adventures and stuff.

The experiences are designed to serve as a right of passage of sorts for my girls and a special way for me to connect with them in a unique and meaningful way.

In 2017, Maddy and I went to Iceland.  Last August, Mia and I went on a jaunt through Switzerland and Northern Italy.

 

 

 

Both trips were beyond amazing and I couldn’t be happier with the memories we created and will share for the rest of our lives.

Which all sounds great. But, these experiences come with a cost.

In my case, it cost me a new car.

 

A Decision Years in the Making

As a subset of the “experience versus things mindset,” we decided fairly early on that we wouldn’t let big-ticket items control our lives.  These are things like homes, cars, boats, college, or weddings.

Big-ticket items like homes and cars can be particularly damaging to your lifestyle choices as they are extremely difficult to unwind them once you’re under their thumb.  Their impact is so great because you make a decision one time and have to live with the consequences years or even decades later.

 

Don’t overspend on big-ticket items such as a home or cars

Currently, I drive a 2007 Jeep Commander with 191,000 miles on it.  I bought it used (approx 24k miles) and haven’t had a car payment for many years.  My plan is to hold on to until it hits 200,000 miles, or it craps out, and re-evaluate from there.

The average new car payment is $530/month and the average used car payment is $381/month. If you average the two, it equates to $450/month or $5,400 a year. If you have $5,400 per year wrapped up in a car payment, that means you can’t spend that money on other things in your life.

For me, not having a car payment means I have an extra $5,400 per year I can put toward things I truly value – like a father-daughter trip to Iceland or Switzerland.

This is what I meant when I said these experiences come with a “cost.”  In my case, they cost me a new car.

For someone else, it may cost them season tickets to their favorite sports team.  Or, it may mean delaying retirement for a year.  Or, not taking a big family vacation and doing a less expensive staycation.

The point is ONE significant financial decision can directly affect many other decisions in your life. If you decide to take on a new car payment or buy a more expensive home, you are concurrently deciding to limit your ability to spend on other things.

The two things to take away from this piece are:

  • Be clear about who you are and what you value and spend your money in accordance with those values
  • Be extra careful when spending on big-ticket items particularly so if you are financing them. You don’t want one decision to control how you live your life years or even decades into the future.

Stay connected with me and get these messages delivered directly to your inbox every week by signing up for my email newsletter here.

 

 

 

Am I screwing up my kids?

As a financial professional, I hear that a lot.  There are a lot of parents wondering if their good intentions are ruining their children.  They fear their children will grow up to be entitled adults who won’t have the resilience and coping skills to handle the “real world.”

Their concerns are not unwarranted given the spate of issues young adults face in the Millenials vs Boomers culture clash.

But what about our kids, the kids of GenXer’s, the iGen (internet generation)?  iGen is the first generation to grow up with an iPhone in their pocket and social media as an everyday way of life.

Children of GenXers have grown up in the richest time ever

The concern about “screwing up our kids” isn’t a new one.  I think every generation of first-time parents started with a “we’re not going to do what our parents did” mindset.

Despite our vows to be different, we often turn out to be just like our parents even using the same words they did.  “Don’t make me come back there!” “Money doesn’t grow on trees.”  “When I was your age, we never had blah-blah-blah!”

Sometimes, we find a way to raise our children differently only to mess them up in a different way.

Turns out this parenting stuff is hard!


What are we teaching our kids at home?

Not only do kids have greater access to the world via social media and the internet but they have greater access to more of … well, more of everything.

Today’s high standard of living has ushered in a life many of us GenXer’s could never have imagined.

Going out to eat or ordering in isn’t a special treat, it’s a way of life.  How many times per week do we ask “where do we want to eat tonight?”

Vacation used to mean hopping in the car, driving to a state park, and pitching a tent for the week.  Today, it’s “where are we flying to this year” or “what beach resort are we staying at this time?” Heck, “where are you going for Spring Break” is an expectant question.

They get all of the latest and greatest tech.  And lots of it.

 

 

For many parents, the internal conflict is unsettling.  They want to give their children the advantages that come with a comfortable life but prevent them from losing respect for why they have those advantages in the first place (i.e. hard work).

Which brings me back to the question that concerns so many parents:  are we screwing up our kids?

The short answer is … probably.

Actually, it’s more like definitely.  But, that’s true of every generation of parent.  It’s a timeless cycle. Brought forth by parental guilt and unrealistic expectations of ourselves.  Mom guilt is even worse.

The good news is we can limit how much we screw up our kids if we help them get their money right.  Because money is a common thread that runs through every aspect of our children’s lives, it has the unique ability to influence their entire existence.

 

Teach Your Children Well

There are many tactics for teaching your children about money. The two most important elements of instilling a money mastery mindset in your children are to:

 

Show kids money talk isn’t taboo.

Talk openly about money in front of them.

Let them see you managing money (i.e. paying bills, reading statements). 

Don’t shy away from their questions when they ask (and they will ask). 

 

Be the example you want your children to follow. 

Your kids are watching you. Always. And they’re formulating many of their world views based on what they see from you. Parents who model good financial behavior have children who often exhibit the same good financial behavior. 

 

 

 

One of the mistakes parents often make is not introducing “money” into their children’s lives early enough.

 

Here’s a brief guide for introducing money concepts to your children and at the appropriate ages.

 

7 and under

    • Pay them for doing small tasks around the house.  Yes, even your four year old will get this.

For example:  Pay them $.50 for helping you clean your office. Praise them and their behavior. Tell them you’re proud of them for “working so hard for their money.” And pay them immediately. You need to immediately link the action with the reward.  Don’t worry about how “good” of a job they do. Just get them to participate.

    • Let them spend their money. This is about reinforcing the idea that money comes from work and, when you have money of your own, you can choose how to spend it.

When you tell your child “no, I’m not buying that candy for you, but you know what? You can pay for it yourself.” And then they actually do! Now that’s something. It’s priceless.

    • Tell them how proud of them you are for “working so hard” and they’ll beam with pride.  The key is to link your praise back to the work they did not the money. Work is the antidote to entitlement.  It’s all about reinforcing the importance of work.

Okay, I know there are some of you who are thinking “there’s no way I’m paying my kid to do something she should do for free. I get it. Don’t worry, this isn’t an all-or-nothing stand you’re taking. If our children don’t experience the work-pay relationship – which is at the heart of good money management – they’re far more likely to become that entitled child we’re so worried about. Plus, there are plenty of jobs that kids should do without pay and we’ll emphasize those too.

 

7 to 13 year olds

    • Make them aware money is a limited resource by teaching these two things:
      • The difference between a want and a need
      • Every time they spend money, they’re making two choices, that there is an inherent trade-off with each purchase.  Namely, when you buy one thing, you are also choosing to not buy something else. Choose wisely.
    • Just say “no.” Really. It’s okay to say no to our children when they want something. Also, you shouldn’t feel guilty or embarrassed to say “we can’t afford it” if that’s the case.  In fact, kids need to hear those words – “we can’t afford it.” It impresses upon them that money is a limited and, therefore scarce, resource.  It also helps establish boundaries as kids will keep asking for as long as you keep giving.
    • Get them used to handling money. I love the idea of paying for chores that don’t benefit the entire household (i.e. cleaning my office or car) or having them use their birthday or “Christmas” money for fun/entertainment purposes. There’s nothing like having kids pay their own way to impress upon them the value of a dollar.

 

High School

    • Time to start moving toward adulthood. This means opening a checking and savings account and helping them understand how to manage their money.
    • Introduce the concept of money buckets and not budgets [see Budgets are Bullshit Part 1 and Part 2] to really “feel” the difference between a want and a need.
    • This is also a great time to nudge your children to get their first real job*. There are tremendous benefits for kids who work while in high school. Not only will they have the opportunity to grow their hands-on money experience but they’ll also learn important life skills such as time management, patience, and being the low person on the totem pole. It’s a lot harder to feel “special,” when you’re the one doing all of the dirty work.

*Being involved in varsity athletics, music, band, or likewise are often good reasons for not taking on a part-time job. They provide many of the same personal growth opportunities as a job but can’t provide the money management experience that is so valuable.

    • For kids who don’t work, parents need to find other ways for their children to gain money management experience. One strategy is to deposit a lump sum of money into their checking account at the beginning of the money, enough to cover all of their monthly expenses (i.e. gas for the car, lunch money, spending money), and see how they do. Chances are they’ll be pretty bad at first but then find their financial footing. All under the watchful eyes of mom and dad to ensure they don’t get into too much trouble.

There’s a lot more that goes into ensuring you don’t raise entitled children but this is a good start.

If you teach your kids money is a limited resource, that someone must go to work to earn money to pay for the things they have, and important choices must be made because you can’t afford everything, you can say without guilt you’ve done your part to put your children on the path to financial success.

Most importantly, make money-talk a regular part of your daily lives while being the example you want them to follow.

I think “tonight” sounds like a great time to ask your children what they know about money and if they are concerned about it. You may be surprised at the depth of their answers.

If you want to hear some real life mother-daughter conversations surrounding money, check out this video that captures pinnacle moments at a mom-daughter financial interview session we held.

 

 

Would you like to learn more about engaging in healthy financial discussions with your teen?   Workshop sign up coming soon!

 

In my early adult years, I made some REALLY bad money decisions.  I imagine many of us can relate to that on some level. I think back to those days and wonder “why I was so dumb with my money?”

The easy answer is to go with the “young and dumb” trope.  It took me some time to realize it was deeper than that, more fundamental.  A lot of my money issues as a young adult were borne out of my childhood experiences with money, borne out of my “money memories” from those formative days.

My parents divorced when I was young and my father had to raise four young children on his own.  Raising a large family with two parents is tough enough, doing so as a single parent is exceedingly tough.  In fact, single parenthood is one of the primary factors for those living in poverty. We were no different.

We grew up dirt poor in a rough and tumble inner-city neighborhood (oh, the stories!) surrounded by chaos and people looking to get by.  Money problems played a key role in the struggle.

Given those circumstances, even the most financially savvy among us would have a difficult time making ends meet.  Unfortunately, my father was far from financially savvy. Money was always a struggle, always a topic of conversation.  Actually, “conversation” is overstating it. Money was always talked about but it was never discussed.

My father would constantly bitch and complain about money.  About how we never had enough, how the fat cats at the company were getting rich while keeping everyone else poor, how the government wasn’t doing enough for workers like him and on and on.

He always spoke about money in a negative way.  He put down people who bought “fancy houses” and “foreign cars” (he was a steelworker in the 80’s so, you know).  He was convinced that everyone around him was fixated on and worshiped money. He was never able to see the self-deception, he was never able to see how fixated on money he was.

He always spoke about our money situation as if it was beyond his control, as if he wasn’t an active participant.  The multiple bankruptcies? Not his fault. Never having any savings to fall back on? Not his fault. No retirement savings?  Not his fault. Always having to “borrow” money from his mother and not be able to pay it back? Not his fault.

 

 

My father never formally sat me down to teach me about how money works but he taught me many of the money lessons I would take with me into young adulthood.  And with my father, most of my learnings were of the what not to do variety.

One of my later learnings was many of my “life” decisions were really “money” decisions masquerading as life.

For example, I’ll always remember the time when I cut the top knuckle of my middle finger trying to retrieve a baseball from a broken window. It was a really bad cut, bad enough to where I could literally see the bone.

If that happened to one of my girls, we would’ve whisked her off to the hospital post-haste to get proper medical care.  Stitches, physical therapy, plastic surgery – whatever she needed, she would get.

But, that’s not what happened to me.  I ran home, into the bathroom with blood dripping all over me, and provided my own medical care. The first step was to stop the bleeding and clean the wound. Then, I “butterflied” the wound with tape in lieu of stitches. Finally, I created a makeshift splint out of a popsicle stick and taped it to my the palm of my hand and my middle finger so I couldn’t bend my it and break the cut back open.

I was lucky.  No ligaments were affected and the cut eventually healed although it was tender for a number of years thereafter. I even have a nice scar to serve as a reminder.

What I didn’t do was approach my father about going to the hospital.  We didn’t do that, go to the hospital. It was too expensive, we “couldn’t afford it.”  If I was stupid enough to cut my hand, I had to be tough enough to deal with the consequences.  Didn’t matter if I was 13 years old at the time.

It wasn’t until many, many years later did I realize the connection between money and that life experience (and others like it).  If my father was a better steward of his money, I would have received proper medical care instead of serving as my own doctor. It was obvious how his poor money habits affected my health and wellness.  What wasn’t so obvious was how they affected my views towards money.

While my father was fixated on money, I grew up with an indifferent almost cavalier attitude toward it.  A part of me understood the importance of it. After all, I was buying most of my own clothes since I was 12 years old using birthday and Christmas money.

But, a larger part of me didn’t know anything about money, didn’t respect it.  My money troubles started when I went off to college and had access to a broader (and more dangerous) financial world.  They continued and compounded once I graduated and got into the workforce.

I made soooo many money mistakes in my early years.  I want to say I’ve made them all and learned them the hard way.

I borrowed my way through college without having a clue as to what that meant.  When I didn’t have money in college, I took out a bunch of credit cards and maxed them all out.

When I started working I didn’t save into my 401k plan for a number of years and then only at minimal levels.

tried to buy a fancy car but the bank was smarter than I was and denied me the loan.

 

 

 

I quit my job as a manager at a regional bank to work as an assistant golf pro at a country club making next to no money.  Why? I don’t exactly remember. Maybe I was trying to “find myself?”

During the dot.com boom (and subsequent bust), I mistook speculating for investing.

I didn’t start saving for my girls’ college education early enough.

And the list goes on and on.

Growing up poor and then mismanaging your money as a young adult teaches you valuable lessons.  Some are obvious – credit card debt is bad, investing as early as possible is good. Others are less obvious – investing and speculating aren’t the same thing, college debt isn’t always “good debt.”

Despite the challenges, I’m grateful for my upbringing as it’s provided me with amazing perspective and a well-rounded view of the world. If you’ve never been under the pressures of figuring out how you’re going to pay your gas bill, put food on the table and make your car payment while refusing to answer the phone because “it’s probably a debt collector” … it’s hard to know just how much money can debilitate you.

My experience with money has been a tale of two lives.  In one life, I was uneducated, undisciplined, and out of control.  In the other life, I’m the complete opposite. Educated at the highest levels, structured and well-thought-out, forward-thinking, and in control.

These experiences have been incredibly beneficial for this reason: it’s taught me how emotional money is and how those emotions often hold sway as we make our day-to-day financial decisions.

The first half of my financial life has been filled with all of the “what not to do’s.”  The second half has been filled with the “what to do’s.”

Both are important as I teach my girls the importance of money.

 

 

 

How do you learn without a teacher?

Ultimately, we don’t want our children to make the same mistakes we did.  We know how difficult it is to walk that walk. But, what are we doing to ensure our children walk down a more enlightened path?

Kids learn in a lot of ways.  In the classroom. From their peers.  From their coaches. Most importantly, they learn from their parents – both by listening and watching.  In fact, most early learning comes from observation.

Have you ever thought about what your kids might be learning as they observe your financial choices? 

 

 

 

Without saying a word, you are teaching your kids about money.  The house you live in, the car you drive, the clothes you wear, the foods you eat, where you vacation, if you vacation – they all teach your children about money.

Do you buy name brand clothing?  Cereal from a bag or a box? Aldi’s or Whole Foods?

New cars vs used cars?  Do you cook your own food or order in religiously?  Clean your own house or hire it out?

These everyday financial decisions create the field of vision for your kids’ world.  If you scoff at buying cereal from a bag, your kids will likely do the same. If you celebrate buying eggs for 29 cents a dozen at Aldi’s versus $1.50 a dozen at Whole Foods, that teaches your kids something.

What you do is a powerful way to lead your children, to give them permission.

We give permission in two ways:

    1. Explicitly – by verbally saying “yes, you can …”
    2. Implicitly – by not saying anything at all thereby implying it’s “okay” because you didn’t say no or stop them

Learning from observing is implicit but it’s powerful.  Being a good example means more than any lecture will ever be.

I can attest to that.  My father never sat me down to talk about money but I’ve learned a great many things from the man.  Sure, they were mostly what “not to do” but they were learnings nonetheless. Hopefully, you can teach your kids what “to do” by being a good example for them to follow.

If you are a good financial example for your kids to follow and can bolster that by facilitating conversations about money, it’s an amazingly effective combination for raising financially savvy children and young adults.

I could write an entire white paper about raising financially saving children but will limit my comments to three foundational elements:

    • Money is a scarce resource and should be treated as such.  Our money, our parents’ money, the government’s money. We should never be flippant when it comes to money or take it for granted.
    • Money, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad.  What we do with it and how we conduct ourselves in pursuit of it is a reflection on us not money.
    • Money is emotional and most of our bad decisions with money stem from some emotional element money is used to fill.  We buy the big house to show others how successful we are, we buy a bunch of new clothes in response to a difficult break-up, we go on amazing trips so we can post photos on FB and IG so everyone can see how free-spirited we are.  It’s amazing how much farther our money goes when we’re not spending it emotionally.

It’s easy to dismiss these three as philosophical and psychological ramblings.  I disagree. Understanding the psychology of money is THE missing ingredient to good money management.

It is important to stop and reflect on how your past can influence the way you feel about finances.  Have you talked to your family about your good and bad financial decisions and how it affects your emotions about money?  What are some financial decisions you made that were more emotionally driven than anything else?

Go ahead. Ask. It is a great place to start the conversation.

 

A NEW WAY OF THINKING

Budgets don’t work for a simple reason – human nature.  Seriously.

I expounded on that in Budgets are Bullshit Part 1, but let me summarize:

They don’t work because few of us will take the time to gain the knowledge and build the data gathering, tracking, and monitoring systems required by a legitimate budget.  The time commitment alone is too much for most people.  Add the psychological weight of always telling yourself “no, you can’t buy this, you can’t do that” and – well, you know how that goes.

As long as humans are involved, budgets will continue to fail us.

Or, said more simply:  Budgets are bullshit.

 

 

 

The sooner we accept and move beyond this way of thinking the better off we’ll be.

So, what’s the alternative?  Beats me. That’s for you to figure out.

Okay, okay – joking of course.


There is a 
better way.

Yes, there is a better way than the traditional budget, but it’s not perfect.  It still requires some work on your part. You didn’t think you could get away with no work, did you?


The BETTER WAY

Don’t start with the hardest, most complicated thing.  Start with something simple and easy. Then grow into it.

Budgets sound simple and easy.  And, if your definition of a budget is filling in predetermined categories on a piece of paper that has no ties to reality then, yes, it’s quite easy.  Carry on if that’s your objective.

But, if your objective is to use a budget as a meaningful financial tool to help you accomplish the important things in your life, then creating a budget is decidedly not simple and not easy.  Read Part 1 of Budgets are Bullshit here for more.

The constructive part of traditional budgeting requires us to be aware of where our money goes.  Knowing how/where we spend our money is a critical component to smart money management. However, we don’t need to know where all of our money goes.

 

Your Budget Solution

I don’t believe in budgets but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad.  We want to harness the good parts of classic budgeting and eliminate the rest.

This system does just that.

It’s best explained via an example.

Think of your income and spending in terms of buckets.  We only need to concern ourselves with 4-5 buckets, not the dozens of spending categories you see in traditional budgets.

 

Bucket A – Take-home pay.  The first and most important part of the system is knowing how much your monthly take-home pay is.  In this example, your take-home pay is $4,000.

    • Take-home pay – $4,000

 

Bucket B – Regular monthly expenses.  These are expenses you have to pay every month with most of them being the same amount each month.

    •  Regular monthly expenses – $2,000
      • Mortgage/rent/2nd mortgage/Home equity line of credit
      • Auto loans/leases
      • Credit card payments if carrying a balance.  Do NOT include if you pay the balance in full.
      • Insurances – all non-work-related
      • Utilities (it’s okay to use an average)
      • Other regular monthly expenses – daycare, alimony, gym membership

 

Bucket C – Monthly savings.  While not an actual “expense,” it’s still a cash flow item.  The most effective savings plans are monthly and automated. Note: workplace savings, such as 401k’s, are NOT included here.

    • Regular monthly savings/investing – $300
      • College savings
      • Retirement savings (outside of work)
      • Emergency fund

 

Bucket D – Regular non-monthly expenses.   These expenses occur regularly but not monthly such as travel or “Christmas.”  Best tactic is to turn these variable expenses into a recurring monthly expense.  In this example, you spend $4,800 per year or $400 per month.

    • Regular non-monthly expenses – $400
      • Travel
      • Holidays (i.e. Christmas)
      • Insurances (if paid annually, semiannually, etc.)
      • Gift giving

 

Bucket E – Lifestyle expenses.  The last bucket is for all remaining monthly expenses.  To get to this number you subtract buckets B, C, and D from bucket A.  $4,000 (A) – $2,000 (B) – $300 (C) – $400 (D) = $1,300 (E)

After paying your regular monthly expenses (B), saving for future goals (C), and setting aside money for regular non-monthly expenses (D) you have $1,300 for lifestyle spending (E).

    • Lifestyle Spending or “Everything Else” – $1,300
      • Groceries
      • Auto: gas, oil changes
      • Entertainment
      • Dining out
      • Health and fitness
      • Personal care

 

WAIT A MINUTE, THIS LOOKS AN AWFUL LOT LIKE A BUDGET

True, there are elements of traditional budgeting in this system.  We kept the parts that work and got rid of the parts that don’t.

 

 

 

Knowing where some of your money is going is important to both systems.  You need to know how much money you make, what your regular financial obligations are, and if you want to save for future financial needs.

However, this system does NOT require you to make future projections or track your everyday spending.  It doesn’t put restrictions on how you spend your money or live your life either. It doesn’t wage psychological warfare on you by reminding you at every turn how little you get to spend.

Let’s dig into this a bit further to illustrate the differences.

 

Buckets A, B, and C are super easy to calculate.

    1. To get your take-home pay you just need to look at your pay stubs
    2. You get monthly bills/invoices for your mortgage, car payments, credit cards, and other regular monthly expenses or they are readily available online
    3. Savings is a voluntary process which means you know exactly how much you’re saving

Getting accurate data quickly is incredibly important and this system does just that.

Doing so for bucket D is a little harder to come by.  This is the first real “budget” item and it’s subject to the same flaws as traditional budgeting.  Namely, you have to guess how much you want to spend in each category.

There’s no way around this so don’t overthink it.  Estimate how much you spend in these categories each year and divide that number by 12 to turn it into a monthly number.  Then, save this amount into a separate account until needed.

Once you get buckets B, C, and D out of the way ($2,700 in our example), you’re left with bucket E ($4,000 – $2,700 = $1,300).  This $1,300 is the maximum amount you can spend on all other items (assuming you don’t go into credit card debt – which you shouldn’t).

Traditional budgets would have you line item this $1,300 and track how much you’re spending in each category.  But, do you really need a line item budget for this $1,300? Is it realistic?

No.  It’s not needed nor is it realistic.

Look, no one spends the same amount of money each month on groceries, gas, dining out, entertainment, etc.  No one. So, why are we tracking it as if it matters?

 

Here’s what actually works.

First, per our example, fughettabout the first $2,700 of your take-home pay because it’s already accounted for.  You only need to concern yourself with the remaining $1,300 which is where all of the action is.

Now, how do we handle the $1,300?

Truth is, who knows; it’s different every month.  You figure it out as you go along. You figure it out every month in real-time because that’s how we live our lives.

 

 

 

You don’t need a budget to tell you you have to buy groceries or put gas in your car.  And you’re not going to give up your morning Starbucks, and the delicious dessert that occasionally accompanies it, just because you’ve hit your “dining out” number.

The beauty of this system is that you don’t need to have a plan for every one of your $1,300 lifestyle dollars.  You start the month knowing you have $1,300 to spend on living your life and you will automatically choose how best to spend that $1,300 without a budget getting in the way.  And if it’s the 20th of the month and you’ve already gone through your $1,300, you’re done spending for the month.

“Yeah right, Ed.  If it’s the 20th of the month and I’ve already gone through my $1,300, I’m gonna spend more money.  Who are you kidding?”

True, you probably would spend more money.  At least at the start. In the early stages of implementing this system, you’re likely to mess things up as you work through the learning curve.  This is perfectly normal as most of us don’t really know where we spend our money.

But, if you give this method a little time to run, you’ll naturally settle into a spending pattern that works for you.  You’ll quickly cut out spending on things that aren’t important and focus your spending on the important things in your life.

And you know what you won’t do?  You won’t waste a bunch of time putting together an unrealistic budget and obsessing over every dollar you spend.  You won’t get frustrated at how suffocated you feel because you can’t spend more money on dining out this month just because your damn budget said so.

 

 

 

The point is you will organically make different spending decisions because you have the freedom to do so.  

Some months you’ll spend more money on entertainment because your favorite band is coming to town.  Another month you’ll drop more money than usual on gifts or dining out or whatever. It’s a dynamic, fluid process because THAT’S LIFE.

Budgets are static, confining, require a lot of time and attention to detail and a commitment almost no one is willing to make.  Do yourself a favor, test out the new system, and free yourself from the classic budget bullshit.

 

 

 

It’s a fair question.  Why does this “finance guy” feel so strongly about financial empowerment for women?

The short answer:  My mother. My 5 daughters.  My almost 20 years of working with women clients.

I’ve dedicated my professional life to helping women take control of their financial lives and, in doing so, helped them approach their life goals with confidence and anticipation. Unfortunately, far too many women don’t know such a life is possible and that they are deserving of such a life.

That’s the short story.  For the full story, of enlightenHer, continue reading.

May it change the way women view money and its place in our world.

 

Why This Story Starts With My Momma

My first “why” and the topic of this blog centers on the first woman I’ve ever met – my momma.

 

 

My mother and father met in South Korea during the Vietnam War. My father, born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, was drafted into the Army and sent to South Korea where he served as a Staff Sergeant and Military Policeman.

It is there that my future parents met, fell in love, and were married. My older brother was born there and shortly thereafter they set forth for America and a new life together.

I’d like you to pause for a moment and put yourself in the shoes of my momma.

You’re 22 years old. Have just married an American GI and you have a young son. You’re about to leave your family behind and move halfway across the world to a place you’ve never set eyes on before.

You arrive and the only person you know is your husband and young son. You barely speak the language. You can’t read. You can’t write. You don’t drive. You don’t work.

Three more kids follow – a son (that’s me), a daughter, and another son.

This is your new life and it’s supposed to be a partnership for life.

My Father

US Army, Vietnam Vet.

Staff Sergeant.

Military Policeman.

Steelworker.

Doesn’t take much more than that to paint a picture of the type of man my father was. A stern, tough, imposing man with strict rules and little patience for painting outside the lines. He was also a generous man when he could be, had a good heart, and was full of good intentions.

But, like many of his time, he fell victim to alcoholism and there were many dark days for our family, particularly my mother. The occasional fight between my mom and dad grew in frequency until it became a way of life. One long shouting match broken up with moments of quiet.

To be fair, this isn’t me saying my father was bad and my mother was good. As we all know, relationships, especially marriage, can be hard. Sure, sometimes there are truly evil people, people who are black and white “bad”. But most relationships aren’t black and white, they’re far more nuanced.

That is the case with my parents. Unfortunately, my father’s alcoholism, and the corresponding verbal abuse that ensued from it, made it an unhealthy relationship for my mother to continue to be in.

And this is where the real damage was done, and “why” I am drawn to help women become financially savvy/empowered/strong.

My mom wanted to leave far earlier than she did. She remained in an abusive relationship for far longer than she should have. For far longer than was healthy for her. And it wasn’t by choice.

She couldn’t leave because she didn’t have any money and no way to earn a living. It was fifteen years later and she still couldn’t read. Still couldn’t write. Still couldn’t drive.

I’ve never been able to get a straight answer as to whether or not this was imposed upon her by my father or not but I have my suspicions. People do crazy things when they’re in love. Crazier still when you’re used to being in charge and in control (remember: Sergeant, Military Policeman).

The simple truth is for a long time my mom had no way out.

How do you leave your husband when you have no money, no job, no family, and few friends?

Oh, and you have four young children you have to care for. How do you get out?

Memories That Shaped Me

I don’t exactly remember when or how it happened, but I remember my dad saying “your mom is going to be staying at a friend’s house for a little while” and not really knowing what that meant. Turns out “a little while” was more like two years.

It’s strange because I don’t ever remember seeing her during those two years but I have to think I did. Isn’t that a strange thing? To not be able to remember if you saw your mother at all when you were 9 and 10 years old? In fact, I’m not even sure if that’s how old I was.

Truth is, there is only one thing I remember clearly from that time in my life. I remember it the same way every time and it’s emotional every time I allow myself to go there.

The funny thing about memories is they can feel more like dreams than something that actually happened. 

You ever get that feeling? Well, that’s how this memory feels for me. I don’t experience it as if it’s happening to me, but as if I am a spectator witnessing it from afar.

I see myself in my parents’ bedroom. I’m hiding behind soft, thin, almost see-through yellow curtains as I peek out of the big picture window and look on at the scene playing out before me. There in the driveway is everyone. Everyone but me.

My dad is there. My older and younger brothers are there too as is my younger sister. They are there to say goodbye to momma. This is the day where my mom leaves for real. Things have progressed from “just staying at a friends for a little while”, to she’s leaving and never coming back.

To my young mind, she’s not just leaving. She’s leaving “us” and I just can’t bear to be a part of it. So, there I hide. All by myself, gripping the faded yellow curtains and full of resentment towards my momma for leaving us.

I’ll carry that resentment with me and refuse to speak to her for the next three years.

A Long Road to Enlightenment

When I look back at that time in my life, I do so without regret or judgment. Generally speaking, I’m not one to question the past and certainly not one to judge it. Examine to learn from it, absolutely. But to judge it, well, that’s a road to nowhere.

Over the years I started to understand who my mother was and what she went through.

The learnings come in different forms:

  • I realized how intelligent my mother is. Not being able to read or write made it difficult to understand how smart she was. Plus, she left when I was pretty young – 9 years old – so I was incapable of seeing how smart she was in other ways. It wasn’t until much later in life – college and beyond that I started to truly appreciate how smart she truly is. Imagine being a really intelligent person but never having the ability to truly express that to others?
  • I realized how caring my mother is. One of the more surprising pieces of my story is my dad being the one who raised us. The father as the single parent. As difficult as it was, my mother knew my father was in the best position to raise us given her challenges with the language and employment. In those days, the mother almost always won custody of the children. The selfish thing to do would be to take custody of the kids and figure it out later. The harder path meant giving us up. The resentful, eleven year old kid hiding behind curtains had no idea of a mother’s pain at having to make such a decision.
  • I realized my mother was held hostage by not having financial/economic mobility. If my mother had her own money or the ability to earn a living of her own, she would have had a very different life. Perhaps, a life where she didn’t have to choose between living for herself without her children or living for children without living for herself.

I don’t ever want a woman to have to go through what my mom went through.

I can’t address interpersonal relationships, alcoholism, verbal abuse, or the like but I can address financial abuse. I can address using money as a weapon. I can address using money to control the actions and behaviors of others.

There’s no reason women should be subjected to the lack of economic/financial mobility my mom faced and the hardships and life choices that accompany it.

 

 

 

I have a saying I frequently bandy about – if you’re in a position to help, you should help. This is me doing something about it.

I’m in a unique position to help due to the shortcomings of my chosen profession – financial services. Quite frankly, there aren’t enough financial advisors out there who are willing to meet women where they are and build their businesses in ways that support women.

Aside from all that, I know I can help and I know firsthand the negative impact it can have on the lives of women and their children.

  • My first “why” is all about the consequences of getting it wrong
  • My second “why” is all about the promise of getting it right
  • My third “why” focuses on my five daughters and my passion to raise strong, independent, formidable women

You cannot be a strong, independent, formidable woman if you’re out of control/power financially.

So, knowing what I know today and what I’ve personally experienced as the child of a woman who was financially handicapped by another, I don’t take offense at the sneers or whispers or outright hostility I sometimes get from women who don’t know my story. I know my “why” and I am comfortable in my skin as a man operating in a woman’s world. And, no, the irony isn’t lost on me.

Continue reading the next chapter of this journey….. Raising Strong, Independent, Formidable Women 

 

 

I was recently talking to my oldest daughter, Madison – she’s a sophomore in college – about what it means to be a Money Mentor. She looked up from her phone long enough to say “that’s pretty cool” and got back to it. I then said “did you know, right now, you know enough to be a Money Mentor?” “Um, seriously, dad?” she responded. “I, like, know next to nothing about money.”

“Exactly,” I said. Next to nothing which means you know something. Her skepticism was apparent but not unexpected.

Being a Money Mentor Isn’t About Knowing Everything, It’s About Knowing Something

Maddy, like so many of us, fell into the “all or nothing” trap. You know, that line of thinking that seems logical but routinely ends in failure. We do this all the time in our lives. We don’t modify our eating habits, we go on crash diets. We don’t ease into an exercise program and build up our strength and stamina slowly. We jump in with both feet and cry when we’re sore and can’t move the next day. And then …

You know what comes next, right? That’s right. We. Do. Nothing. “All” very quickly goes to “nothing” and we’re right back where we started. Or, worse yet, we admonish ourselves for failing and fall further behind.

The same principles apply when it comes to being a Money Mentor. You don’t need to be a finance expert, you just need to know a little more than those you are mentoring. Take my daughter for example. She wasn’t a finance expert (still isn’t) by any stretch but there was one thing about money I know she understood: the power of compound interest. (see BLOG)

I know what you’re thinking, “well, of course she does, she has a financial expert as her father.” Yes, I’ll admit, her knowing about the power of compound interest is a bit advanced for someone so young but what she knows isn’t the point. The fact that she knows something is. And the same is true for you.

Be Careful Not to Fall for the Following Money Myths

Myth:     I need to be an expert in finance to be a Money Mentor

Truth:    Becoming a Money Mentor isn’t about knowing everything. It’s about knowing something and having the desire to share that something with others. You start by learning one something and then another something followed by another. As you master each “something,” your confidence grows and your willingness and ability to help others grows along with it.

 

Myth:     I’ll just mess them up, I’ll steer them down the wrong path

Truth:    Money Mentors don’t tell people what to do, they educate and inform. Money Mentors stay in their lanes, only speaking on topics where they have been trained or have a greater level of knowledge than the mentee.

 

Myth:     I’ll never be able to learn enough to teach it

Truth:    Nothing could be further from the truth. Self-limiting thoughts like these all too often become self-fulfilling prophesies. Don’t sell yourself short! You can do this and we can show you how. You just have to bring the pain … oh, wait – you just have to bring the right attitude!!

  

Maddy, the Money Mentor

Are you convinced? It’s okay if you are skeptical like Maddy was. It’s natural. For so long women have been pushed away from the world of finance that it’s become routine to think it’s “not for me.” And, the truth is, it will continue to be that way if you allow it to be.

But, we’re trying to fix that – one Money Mentor at a time.

I am proud to say Maddy now considers herself a Money Mentor (and so do her four younger sisters!). She is no longer a skeptic and is building her confidence as she learns new things. And the best part? She is control of the process, she is in control of how quickly (or slowly) she moves through the learning curve. And she knows where to turn for help when she’s ready.

Maddy, the Money Mentor – one down and a generation to go!

 

As the father of five teenage daughters and a personal finance professional who primarily works with women, I have a unique perspective on what it takes to raise daughters who are good with money. This perspective is borne out of 20 years of immersing myself in the financial lives of the women I work with and how their money decisions have shaped their lives.

Not surprisingly, a woman’s money scripts – her thoughts and behaviors around money – are strongly shaped by her childhood experiences. This usually means learning by seeing and overhearing as conversations about money are few and far between

Mistake #1 – Parents aren’t teaching their daughters about money.

A few years ago, I conducted a study on “women and money.” I was surprised to learn how rare it was for women to be taught about money as children. Almost to a person, real discussions about money did not happen.

Whether it was deemed uncouth or rude or whatever, talking about money was verboten. Even in today’s society where the wage gap has dramatically decreased (still lots more work to be done) and the economic power of women has never been higher, there is still this undercurrent of women are not good with money and we shouldn’t be talking to our daughters about such things.

Solution: Don’t be afraid to teach your daughters about how money works. You don’t need to be an expert to know that running up credit card debt is bad and saving money regularly is good. Don’t assume your daughters knows this!!

Mistake #2 – Being afraid to say “we can’t afford it” (even if you can)

Despite mistake #1, our daughters are learning about money from us even if we aren’t talking directly to them about it. Kids are sponges, always soaking up information, always formulating what is appropriate based on the behaviors of those around them. #1 on the list? You got it – us, parents. We are their primary role models not only in terms of the things they say, the foods they eat, the manners they adopt, but also the way they view money.

If they never hear these words – “we can’t afford it” – they are predisposed to grow up thinking that everything is affordable. Do you think “entitled” children became entitled without being taught? Entitlement is learned behavior – no one is born with the “entitlement” gene.

Some parents are afraid to tell their daughters the truth. They fear that they will not be deemed “successful” if they don’t give their daughters the same things the other kids are getting. This is not only dangerous for children but for the parents. Spending money to keep up with the Jones’s is a cliché but

Being successful isn’t creating impression of your life. Be true to yourself and be honest with your children. Life is life. Sometimes we can’t afford the things we want the most. The sooner they learn this lesson, the better they will be for it.

Ah, but what if you can afford it? Be pragmatic. Don’t be afraid to say “no, we can’t afford it” even if you can. Teaching your children important life lessons is more important than being 100% truthful all of the time. Besides, “afford” is a completely subjective term so who is anyone to say whether or not you can afford something? Sidebar: any parent who says they are 100% honest with their children 100% of the time is 100% fooling themselves!

Why is this so important? Unless you plan on bank-rolling your girls for the rest of their lives, they need to learn how to discern what they can afford and what they can’t. Rampant credit card debt often arises early in a woman’s life as she continues living the lifestyle that was created under the shadow of mom and dad’s financial resources and was never taught the consequences of doing so.

Mistake #3 – Bailing Them Out When They Make Mistakes

One surefire way to mess someone up financially is to bail them out whenever they make a mistake. Look, I get it, you don’t want to see your daughters suffer. One of the most difficult, gut-wrenching moments of being a parent is watching your children fail. It’s natural to want to rush in and fix it, to make the pain go away.

Unfortunately, you just can’t kiss the money boo-boo and make the problem go away. All you’re doing is creating a monster. Cute, little monsters in pigtails who grow up into not so cute monsters with agendas of their own. I can give you oodles of real-world examples where adult children are still suckling at the parents’ financial teats because the parents have allowed it to happen, some even using the grandkids as leverage! Note: this is not a “daughter” issue.

Solution: Stop Creating Monsters and Cut. Them. Off.

I know, the kids of today don’t feel like they’re adults until age 30. Whatever. That doesn’t mean you need to support them financially until age 30. This also doesn’t mean you turn your back on them, either. This isn’t “all or nothing” parenting, teaching.

CONCLUSION

Did you pick up on the fact that these “money” mistakes have less to do with “money” and far more to do with human behaviors? Do you fault the tool (money) or the wielder of the tool (you)? If you want to create financially savvy women, you need to instill in them the proper money mindset. The issue isn’t all that credit card debt they have; it’s how it got there in the first place. Treat

Ever get paid on a Friday and realize by Monday morning you have no money left??

Yeah, we have all heard that much of the world lives this way. But, does that make it okay for you to live this way??

Not taking control of your money, not understanding what your obligations are and what is left over after your bills are paid, and worse yet, not paying your bills on time, are mistakes that will continue to haunt you and hold you back in all aspects of your life.

We have worked with so many women who would rather stare at the sun for an hour than review their bank statements. They have no idea what is going on in their financial lives and the thought of finding out scares the shit out of them. And guess what else– few, if any, of them are on track for their goals either!

Knowing exactly how much money you make (your income) and how much money your lifestyle demands (your spending) is a critical first step to getting on track.

So, how do you get started?

1) Calculate your monthly income

  1. If you’re paid every two weeks – take your take home pay (the amount that is deposited into your checking account) and multiply by 26
  2. if you are paid twice per month – take your take home pay and multiple by 24
  3. Did you know you were making that much/little??

2) Pull last month’s bank statement and review it.

  1. This may sound horrible but how will you know where your money is going if you never look at it? Make it a part of your weekly routine to check in on your spending.
  2. Using a credit card? Pick one card to use for spending and review your charges online at least weekly.

3) List all of your bills for the month, when they are due and how much is due. Include everything! Your rent/mortgage, car payment, credit card payments, student loans, cable/internet, cell phone, Roth IRA savings, cash savings, etc. (I hope you are saving something! More about this at a later time…)

 4) Subtract number #3 from #2 – this is how much you have left over each month to live your life. If you aren’t saving, perhaps you can peel off some of this excess and put into a Roth IRA. Not much left over? Stay tuned for tips on how to cut the fat.

 

I sincerely hope you take the time to complete these steps. Most likely you will have some questions about what to do with this information now that you have it – I will be sharing more thoughts on that soon! But in the meantime grab a girlfriend and start talking with her about this stuff! You likely aren’t alone with your questions and perhaps you can pick up some good tips from your pals!