Meet Trippe! A Rockstar, European Backpacker, and Farmer who retired from the U.S. Government as a Financial Analyst. With over six decades of life experience, he wishes to share seven of the most valuable financial lessons he’s learned and some regrets along the way.
The following is a letter to my Millennial aged daughter. Please utilize these financial tips to find your way to financial security.
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Best Money Advice for My Millennial
When you became a teenager, you immediately attained a level of wisdom far exceeding myself. You nevertheless tolerated your hopeless bumbling dad through high school and college and don’t seem much worse for the experience. But I might yet have something useful to teach you even in retirement.
Anyway, humor me!
Time for the MONEY talk… where I give you my best personal finance tips acquired over my lifetime! So put down the iPhone and don’t roll your eyes. I promise I won’t bore you with a bunch of numbers.
Financial advice tends toward the same subjects like budgeting, investing, saving, and retirement. But I would not put them at the top of the list. None of that even matters if you make poor life choices. So I will get to those first.
#1 Marriage and Family
Almost no amount of effort can overcome the mistake of marrying ‘the wrong person’. I occasionally told you “it is just as easy to fall in love with a rich person as it is a poor person”. But there just aren’t enough rich folks to meet the demand!
If you make a bad choice here, it can mess you up for the rest of your life. Marriage is a partnership and a contract.Divorce should be a last resort rather than an easy out. Click To Tweet
A failed marriage means two households with a lot of duplicative expenses and hassle. If children are involved then you better have a darn good reason to divorce.
I use to kid you that I wanted to see your future life partner’s last three income statements and a current balance sheet (audited of course!). But please seek someone who is serious about money and not a ‘spender’ who’s only happy ‘swiping the card’. Don’t have more children than you can properly raise and afford. They should not become society’s problem.
And don’t look for someone through mindless dating. You don’t ‘need’ someone to ‘go steady’ when you are young. Rather, invest in a good book on Courtship. Courtship is how your grandparents got together when life was harder and people did not have so much leisure time.
#2 A Healthy Lifestyle
We all know obesity, diabetes and drug and alcohol abuse are at record highs. If you fall into any of these, it is hard to get out. At the least, it will throw a huge obstacle in your way to having the best life possible.
Maintaining a healthy diet is not easy with all the food and restaurant advertising. Too many people simply give up and live on convenience food. They rationalize that they do not have time to eat properly. And exercise requires a consistent regimen, contrary to our sedentary lifestyle. Even in retirement you must strive for a healthy lifestyle.
#3 Debt, Credit and Spending
‘Debt’ is one of the ugliest four letter words. Bad debt is that which is mostly spent for unnecessary consumption above basic food, clothing and reasonable living expenses. You don’t need to go to Disney World, own the nicest clothes or have a new car at sixteen in order to ‘be happy’. If your friends believe that, then shallow they are indeed. You don’t need them.
Consumer debt can eat you alive with ever-increasing compounding of interest payments. The consumption and advertising culture is there to lead you down the broken path of destruction and doom (oops, I sound like my dad, now!)
But there is good debt too. Good debt can be money borrowed to buy a reasonably sized and priced home. As you know, I always had a disdain for the McMansions in the gated communities. When the Great Recession hit, a number of those people lost their houses but our little home was free and clear!
Another good kind of debt can be that which finances your college education or vocational school. Pick a course of study that will let you pay off the money you borrowed. Attend a local college if one is in commuting distance.
And don’t plan a silly over-the-top wedding unless you want to pay for some of it yourself. You grandparents spent little on theirs and your mom and I unbelievably spent even less (inflation-adjusted)!
Having good credit can save you when you need it, but it’s best used very sparingly. Keep the limit low and try to stay under it. Good credit is like having a good name and reputation. This is some of the best money advice I can offer!
Remember to put aside a tithe, contribution, or donation for those people who are less fortunate through no fault of their own. As you know, we never had one single garage sale; rather we gave everything to various charities.
Keep good records. Remember how much fun we had a couple days after Christmas when I ‘let’ you go through all the year’s files with me? And then I explained its disposition? Save? Shred? Keep for taxes? Wasn’t that fun? Another beautiful Hallmark moment!
Have enough insurance so you are mostly protected from major financial catastrophes since you can’t insure against everything. You’ll need insurance for your home, automobile, disability, health, and liability. You need life insurance if children or a non-working spouse are in the picture.
Consider buying long-term care insurance at a young age if it’s affordable. There is always a cost/benefit exercise trying to balance the financial risks in your life against the cost of insurance. You can’t reasonably cover everything, so protect from the big risks…health, life, and home.
#5 Emergency Fund
This is another kind of insurance, but one you control…you’re the adjuster. Your emergency savings is in case you have an unforeseen need for cash (car repair, illness, relocation, etc).
You’ll need three to six months of savings in a money market account, depending on your debts and other obligations. It will lean toward six months, if you have a mortgage or uncertain income, such as commission based employment.
While building your emergency fund, you should only invest the minimum to meet your employer’s match for your 401(k). After you build your emergency fund, you must start optimizing your savings, debt repayments, and investing.
#6 Saving, Budgeting and Investing
Savings is the cash you keep in a safe place for intermediate needs like a down payment on a home. It is money on which you can earn returns, but not tie up for long periods of time in relatively illiquid investments.
Budgeting is important, but don’t worry about tracking everything. Make a general budget at the start of the year and check it every three months. Direct at least 10-20 percent to your savings and then ‘live on the rest’. We routinely saved 30 – 40 percent during my prime working years. Even then, we were not particularly deprived and I thought we spent way too much money. (We did!)
Investing is for your long term money.If you are unsure what to invest in or just aren't interested, buy a target date fund whose asset allocation is based on age.Click To Tweet
The younger you are, the higher your equity position should be. Pay close attention to the fee structure. You should concentrate on your profession, saving money and let your investments ride. Also verify your Social Security records periodically.
I would have been better off just owning a target date or index fund when I was your age, but such funds did not exist. The first widely-known index fund did not even appear until I was in my mid-twenties. At your age, I had to deal mostly with brokers, insurance agents and too many shady advisers. Sadly, I was not too interested in money at that time.
#7 FINAL Tip
It is important to be financially secure. But I was never concerned with retiring early with a lot of money. If you enjoy your work, then it is not exactly work. And you will enjoy working longer, even when you become financially independent. Have a happy but secure life. Have good friends and a good family.
I made a lot of bad judgments and stupid mistakes over my life. But I did not live my young life trying to make a lot of money. I stayed on the farm too long, spent too much time in top 40 rock bands, went to Europe twice, and around the U.S. and Canada. So I missed some prime work time. Rather than pursue promotions, I stayed in the local area near the farm and looked after my parents’ aging and my mom’s dementia.
I cared not for being part of the ‘fast track’. I love the slower pace of life. But my greatest success was helping raise a successful, moral and happy child!
I have few regrets and hope you won’t have too many either when you look back!
Which other MAJOR personal financial tips would you give to millennials? Tell us in the comments below.
Trippe is a 67 year old married father of a Millennial daughter. He retired from the U.S. Government after serving as a financial analyst with a B.A. in European history, and an M.B.A with accounting concentration. He grew up on farm, played in top 40 rock bands, backpacked around Europe for two summers, and now finds himself blogging about retirement issues.