Real Estate Quagmire Sinks Gen X, Y Fiscal Hopes

Originally published CNBC

Throughout the course of my career, I’ve heard a lot of financial horror stories. The majority of these stories are told by baby boomers whose aggressive stock market strategies went bust, often at the behest of a transaction-oriented “advisor.”

The most pain—yes, even marginally greater than that of former Enron employees and Bernie Madoff scam victims—has been felt by a younger generation, however, in America’s suburbs, far from Wall Street.

There’s no magic to a million in retirement, but as the Baby Boomer generation begins making the transition, it’s a question oft posed. In this Nightly Business Report clip, Sharon Epperson (CNBC) and I answer the big question: Is a million enough?

Date: June 5, 2014
Appearance: Is a million dollars enough to retire?
Outlet: Nightly Business Report on PBS
Format: Television

Survey Shows Students Are Dumping Top Colleges Due To High Cost

The disproportionate rise in the cost of college relative to the cost of everything else is not news, but a new survey shows that college students are dumping their top choices for education based on price. Have we finally reached the tipping point?

Well, I’m a planner—not a prognosticator—so I’ll defer judgment to those with functioning crystal balls, but let’s address the college cost crisis and a way to avoid becoming the next student or parent squashed by education overpayment.

Is there really a crisis?

20 Lessons We Can Learn From 20-Year-Olds

20 YO Graphic-01It’s become enormously popular to publicly lecture 20-somethings.  I’m not a 20-something, but my regular interaction with the Millennial generation as a college instructor leads me to conclude that we may have more to learn from 20-somethings than we have to teach them.

Here are 20 lessons in LIFE, WORK and MONEY inspired by the Millennial generation:

In LIFE…

Nobody responds well to being lectured.   Despite the ineffectiveness of self-righteous bombast, it seems never to be in short supply.  Insisting that someone else sees how wrong they are may guarantee that we will feel more right—but it doesn’t necessarily make it so.  Even if you have good intentions, the best time to teach someone something is after they’ve asked for input.

Life needn’t be so strictly compartmentalized.  Work, family, leisure, service, worship and artistic expression are elements of life that remain segregated for most.  But this schizophrenia of roles leads to inauthentic living in one or more of these venues (and drives us crazy).

We should give ourselves permission to be more of who we are and less of who people want us to be.  There’s an externally successful business owner who shows up at my gym for his morning workout dressed to the nines in a suit and tie.  He didn’t come from a meeting—he just thinks it’s important to send a message everywhere he goes that he is successful (and he’s happy to announce it).  The Millennials’ refusal to engage in such posturing is often mistaken for aloofness or apathy, but it’s really more about a healthy yearning for authenticity.

Being miserably busy is not a good measure of self-worth.  Busyness is no virtue.  It leads to forgetfulness, distraction and tardiness.  And it’s exhausting.

We are human beings, not human doings.  We tend to explain who we are by listing what we do for work and what we have accomplished professionally.  Millennials are more comfortable in their own skin and more capable of enjoying time that can’t be measured in terms of productive output.

 “American” is not actually a language.  Millennials are the first generation in decades who don’t take American pre-eminence for granted.  They’re expanding their personal and professional horizons with international travel and picking up a second or third language.

Traditional education is overvalued.  While Millennials are known for having overpaid for higher education, their dissatisfaction with what they got in return—fueled by their angst over the loans that now burden them—are serving to ensure that they and their children will spearhead the biggest education overhaul in a couple centuries.

In WORK…

Being a slave to work is no badge of honor.  Being the first in and last to leave may send a message to the types of people who value an ascetic work regimen, but it will also send a message to your family and close friends that your work is more important than they are.  Which message do you want to send?

We’re not all productive in the same ways and at the same times.  Sure, there are advantages to being an early bird, but the best employees will figure out where, when and how they work most effectively, and the best bosses will encourage them to do so (to a mutually beneficial end).

Work and life aren’t something to be balanced, but instead something to be integrated.  That we must balance work and life implies that they are seemingly opposed forces incapable of being effectively blended, but the most effective leaders and satisfied employees find ways to bring work to life by inviting more life to work.

Success is overrated.  Boomers have made an art form of becoming successful, or at least appearing so.  Success certainly isn’t a bad thing, but when the visible representation of success (more impressive titles, bigger houses, nicer cars, granite everything) takes precedence over those for whom we supposedly became successful to serve, we have a problem.  This isn’t even a generational thing.  It’s never really been true that reaching the pinnacle of success is what ultimately makes our lives fulfilling—it’s really significance and meaning for which we hunger.  Millennials seem to have a better handle on that.

In MONEY…

You don’t have to “get settled down” right away.  Financial planner, Roger Whitney, told me “[Millennials] are getting married later in life [than Baby Boomers] which gives them time to mature and be more financially secure when entering marriage.”

Money shouldn’t be a taboo topic of discussion.  30-something personal finance writer, Arielle O’Shea, finds Millennials to be more open about money.  Even if it’s because they’re more cynical about financial security, having seen a couple bubbles burst and many of their parents split over financial issues, Millennials seem to be more open to discussing their personal finances (to good effect) with each other and in public.

We don’t have to own everything—sharing is ok too.  Having to own everything we touch in this lifetime may be good for auto and home improvement companies, but it’s certainly not the most efficient or inexpensive way to do things.  Airbnb allows users to swap living spaces, Lyft offers a network of drivers when you need a ride, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg in the growing sharing economy.  Millennials are making and saving money with services like these, according to Forbes writer, Maggie McGrath.

The acquisition of real estate is overrated.  Creating stability, building equity and getting tax deductions are all good things—but losing money and depriving yourself of the freedom and flexibility to be mobile are not.  Millennials haven’t abandoned home ownership, but we all need reminding that it does have its drawbacks and shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion for everyone all the time.

We can and should embrace the role of technology in our financial lives.  The financial services industry is known more for hindering progress and clinging to antiquated, high-margin practices and procedures.  Millennials, however, are creating and “using websites such as Mint, You Need a Budget or Manilla, which not only help to track spending, but serve as accountability partners with e-mail alerts when spending limits are exceeded,” according to Mary Beth Storjohann, founder of Workable Wealth.

Youth isn’t a license to embrace reckless investing.  Carmen Wong Ulrich, host of Marketplace Money on APM says “[Millennials are] less likely to want to risk investing their money in the markets, but that also means they’re more likely to stay away from the financial products (and marketing) that burned their parents.”  Indeed, losing money isn’t a good strategy, regardless of your age.

Experiences are more valuable than things.  David Burstein, Millennial author of Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World, acknowledges that 20-somethings are spending more than any past generation on travel and eating out, but it’s because they place a higher value in deepening interpersonal relationships and creating lasting memories.

The “traditional” notion of retirement isn’t necessarily an ideal.  Millennials tell me that they expect to be working a long, long time.  They don’t expect pensions and don’t trust Social Security, leaving them with little choice, but they also don’t idolize the notion of full-time feet-in-the-sand retirement.  They plan to work longer and enjoy themselves more along the way, many of them hunting more for a calling than a job.

You can do well and do good at the same time.  Profit or charity—take your pick?  The Millennials have invited us to consider that we don’t have to choose between Robber Barron or do-gooder.  In addition to Google’s unofficial motto—“Don’t do evil”—companies like Toms and Warby Parker give one pair of shoes and eyeglasses (respectively) for every pair sold.

Every generation finds comfort in the norms it helped establish and relishes in the norms it helped deconstruct—but the outgoing generation tends to not-so-quietly mourn when the incoming generation does the same.  Pew Research calls the Millennials confident, connected and open to change.  Yes, it’s a little scary that 20-somethings are changing the way we live, work, play, invest and worship—all without even asking our permission!  But it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

If you enjoyed this post, please let me know on Twitter at @TimMaurer, and if you’d like to receive my weekly post via email, click HERE.

You’ll love this–a discussion with a prolific, syndicated Canadian talk show host about the lesson that EVERYONE can learn from the U.S. debt ceiling debacle.  This article spurred our discussion.

Listen to the show snippet here: Finances and Fault

Date: October 28, 2013
Appearance: Finances and Fault
Outlet: AM 680 CJOB
Location: Winnipeg, MB (Canada)
Format: Radio

Education Savings Plan App

This is the 12th exercise in a series designed to walk you through an entire financial plan.  The exercise is embedded in an Excel spreadsheet you can download and save for personal use.  You can read the backdrop for the exercise HERE, or just jump right in with the instructions given below:

If you’re starting from scratch, the following application steps will provide a great starting point; if you’re re-evaluating, this will be a great opportunity to hone your approach.

Create your family education policy.  If you are one of two parents, put your minds together.  If you’re a single parent or one of many students without a benefactor in your educational quest, your policy is just as important.  It may be helpful to pull out your Personal Money Story exercise, which likely includes some good or bad experiences you’ve had surrounding the cost of your own education.  Then, review your Personal Principles and Goals before articulating your educational savings goals.  Utilize the Family Education Policy worksheet to concrete your family’s plan, and then, at the appropriate time, share it with your children.

From that policy should spring your Education Savings Plan.  Use the calculator we provide to help you determine what your monthly savings should be and how much of that should be going into a 529.

Click HERE to access the Education Savings Plan app!

Welth: Is It Wurth It?

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of conducting a 40-minute radio interview with one of the great business leaders of our time.  (I’ve split the interview into four ten-minute podcasts, the links for which follow this post.)  Truett Cathy is the founder of Chick-fil-A and the author of several books, most recently, Wealth: Is It Worth It?  He’s well suited to ask and answer that question, because after beginning his restaurant career over 60 years ago with a single eatery, he’s built one of the nation’s most successful and well-loved restaurant chains. But interestingly, an adjective he’s not entirely comfortable putting before his name is “rich.”  He says, “One of the worst things I can imagine someone saying about me is, ‘He’s a rich old man.’”

But it would be hard to argue either of those.  After all, Mr. Cathy is 90 years old and falls at number 375 on the Forbes 400 list, with an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion.  However, he defies his age by going to work nearly every day and carries himself with the humility and grace of a line cook, not the founder and chairman.

Wordplay

Wealth is a hot word these days; especially in the financial services business, everyone wants to be about wealth.  So now, instead of being financial advisors or financial planners, stock brokers, insurance salespeople or bankers, everyone is a wealth manager or wealth consultant.  If you work with them, their commercials suggest you’ll be one of the people golfing all day or travelling around the world on a $1 million sailboat or sitting on the beach (with your wealth manager, of course) toasting the purchase of your new 5000 square foot beach home.  Don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with golf (except that it’s a miserable sport, chasing that little white ball around); and sailing, for those who know how to do it, is sublime; and if you have the money, right now is a great time to be buying a beautiful beach property—but dangling this utopian envy in front of everyone is what I don’t like about the financial industry’s co-opting of the word wealth.

We tend to believe today that the three words “money,” “riches” and “wealth” are generally synonymous, and I do believe that in the contemporary vernacular, they are.  But that wasn’t the initial intent.  Money and riches, if you follow them back to their original root words in ancient languages, always meant something similar to what they mean today.  Wealth, on the other hand, had a much deeper meaning.  It meant enough.  Contentment.

In Wealth: Is It Worth It? Cathy cautions us of the trappings of financial accumulation, giving us insight into how living through the Great Depression and seeing his own father left emotionally destitute by his inability to provide for his family in that incredibly difficult time informed his own belief system around money.  Far from demonizing dollars, he gives us a framework for virtuous money dealings grounded in Solomonic wisdom.  (Cathy is unabashed in sharing that his money philosophy is grounded in his Christian faith, but he also draws on wisdom from sources neither canonized nor ordained and never seems to get preachy.)

Is it worth it?

But Mr. Cathy isn’t convinced wealth is worth it even after you “earn wealth honestly,” “spend wealth wisely and save it reasonably.”  Even then, we still have the capacity to let wealth accumulation overtake us.  He concludes that the only way wealth is really worth it is “…if you give it generously.”

While this resonates as truth, I admit my skeptical self wants to conclude it’s easy for those blessed with abundance, like Cathy, to admonish the rest of us on the value of charity.  Even he acknowledges it’s unlikely that his children or grandchildren will ever suffer from want.  But having now read his personal and financial story and talked with him, I find not an ounce of inconsistency or inauthenticity.  He applied the same approach to money when living through the Great Depression and standing over the grill in his first restaurant as he does today encouraging us to deconstruct and rebuild our view of affluence.  I also cannot think of a time personally, or with hundreds of clients over the years, in which this particular proverb did not hold true: “If I give water to others, I will never be thirsty.”

One of the highlights of Wealth: Is It Worth It? is an interview Cathy conducted with a friend he has forged in pursuit of his campaign for generosity, the venerable Warren Buffett.  He asks, “Warren, how do you define wealth?”  Buffett answers, “Wealth is having enough.”  Interesting, isn’t it, how wisdom changes so little even over thousands of years.  There is plenty of money out there and a lot of riches, but whether among the rich or the poor, we could all use more enough.

There are many more life-giving tidbits you’ll find throughout my radio interview with Truett Cathy.  The show is organized into some bite-size portions below:

1)     Introduction: A blessing to some and a curse to others 
2)     Friendship w/ Warren Buffett; money and children
3)     Truett’s father; living through Depression; discomfort w/ being rich
4)     “Retirement is misery!”; Chick-fil-A’s secret; when to start giving

Check out comedian, Tim Hawkins, hysterical ode to his favorite restaurant, Chick-fil-A!

Financial Planning for Fathers

Tm1  I’ve learned more about life in the last 6 years than in the previous 28 combined.  It was 6 years ago when I became a father, and I now have two incredible boys—Kieran and Connor—who’ve likely taught me more than I them.  Parenting is a glorious challenge that tests every area of our lives—our marriage, family, and friendships, as well as our productivity, creativity and often times our mental stability!  Financially, being a father is… expensive.  And for those dads who have a tendency to evaluate financial expenditures as a “return on investment,” the return on investment in our children presents a confounding dilemma.  After all, the expense is cold hard cash and the return is nebulous and may not be realized for decades.  

In the end, we dads must relinquish our desire for tangible benefits of parenting and pour our life (and often
Tm2   times, our money) into these little ones, unconditionally.  It is through this sacrifice that we begin to realize that the real benefits of parenting have nothing to do with dollars and cents, but instead intangible blessings and unexplainable joy.  And who wouldn’t trade that—dollars for lasting joy?  Fathering, then, turns out to be an incredible investment after all!

Practically, here are four financial planning areas that every dad needs to address:

Will – Most of us dads think that we’re generally indestructible, but the truth is that the one thing we can be sure of in life is that we will eventually… die.  That inevitability requires us to have a will.  And especially for fathers of young children, the most important financial planning recommendation in your world is to acquire or update a will—most importantly, to stipulate who your children’s legal guardian will be in the case of your untimely demise. 

Life Insurance – The one thing that many dislike almost as much as the thought of their own death is the notion of talking to a life insurance agent.  But the truth remains that if we would be leaving behind a spouse and children who are at least partly reliant on our very existence for our portion of the household, we need some life insurance.  The vast majority of us will ably fulfill our life insurance needs with TERM life insurance.

Education Planning – As dads, we’re not legally or ethically bound to pay for our children’s college education, but if that is something that we’ve pledged to do, we should save for it so that it doesn’t wipe us out once our kids start graduating from high school.  Consider saving 50% of your expected college expenses in a 529 college investment savings plan.

Work/Life Balance – Dads tend to put a lot of weight into our role to “provide and protect” in our households, but if we’re to be honest, we’d acknowledge that we occasionally abdicate ourselves from other roles and duties in the household.  Simply put, our kids grow up fast, and if we make them feel like our work is the most important thing in the world, they’ll quite naturally conclude that they aren’t.  Adults understand the difference between the quality of time and the quantity—but for kids, it’s often just about the quantity!

I had an opportunity to share these same thoughts with viewers of WBAL-TV (NBC) in Baltimore yesterday – Father's Day.  If you want to view the video simply click HERE or click the image!

TM - WBAL - June 20, 2010 

 

Guest blogger, Jim Stovall, on “Spending and Saving”

One of the most important things I've learned in educating and advising in the arena of personal finance is that no one person has the market cornered on wisdom… and I'm certainly no exception!  Therefore, in order to make the information in this blog as comprehensive and beneficial as it can be, I will be inviting guest bloggers of varying specialties on a semi-regular basis to share their wisdom with us. 
 
It could be no more appropriate, then, that my first guest blogger is Jim Stovall.  Jim has more illustrious titles than I have letters in my name, but my personal favorite is co-author.  Indeed I'm humbled that in addition to selling over 5 million copies of The Ultimate Gift, Jim saw fit to put his name beside mine in our recently released collaboration, The Financial Crossroads: The Intersection of Money and Life.  This week, Jim shares with us from his weekly column, Winners Wisdom.   
 
Enjoy!
 
************************************************
 

Spending and Saving

by Jim Stovall

Whether you make millions of dollars a year or earn minimum wage, there are only three things you can do with your money: You can spend it, save it, or give it away.
 
Your spending may range from absolute necessities to outrageous luxuries. Your savings may be prudent investments or coins in your piggy bank. And your giving may be coins you drop in a donation jar or launching your own foundation. But there are still only three things you can do with every dollar.
 
Financially successful people make sure that each dollar is divided between spending, saving, and giving. Traditionally, Americans have been a very giving and generous group of people. This generosity fluctuates some but remains strong, even during difficult economic times. If you’re not giving away part of every dollar you earn, you’re missing a great opportunity and one of the true joys in life. While, as a society, our giving can always improve, we seem to be doing fairly well overall.
 
The problem arises when we make the decision between spending and saving. Savings rates in America are dangerously low and, in some sectors of the population, the savings rate statistically actually drops below zero. You may wonder, as I did, how it is possible to save less than zero.
When I researched the statistics, I found that many people today are spending significantly more than they earn, and the disparity is showing up in their credit card balance, line of credit, or other debt instrument. This is a dangerous practice as without long-term retirement investments, your golden years may seem more like aluminum foil than gold. Without some emergency savings, you are like that pilot flying his plane 50 feet off the ground. While it might work for a little while, sooner or later, you will crash and burn if you don’t leave some margin of error in the form of a cash reserve.
When we look at global savings rates, we find that Europeans save 20%, Japanese save 25%, and the Chinese save over 50% of their income. This is fascinating when we consider that economic growth is thought to be fueled by spending, but China has one of the fastest-growing economies while their people are saving half of their income.
Global statistics are interesting for study or theoretical discussions but really don’t matter to you and me. The economic conditions on Wall Street or The White House should not concern us nearly as much as the financial picture on our street at our house. There are many ways to calculate the best way to spend, save, and give our money.
In my newest book, The Financial Crossroads, my co-author Tim Maurer and I explore a number of ways you and your family can win with money. We offer many calculators and other tools you can use to get the information you need so you will know what to do; however, it’s important to realize that financial information abounds. As in most things, with money we don’t fail because we don’t know what to do. We fail because we don’t do what we know.
As you go through your day today, commit to get the information you need to make quality financial decisions and then act.
Today’s the day!
Jim Stovall is the president of Narrative Television Network, as well as a published author of many books including The Ultimate Gift. He is also a columnist and motivational speaker. He may be reached at 5840 South Memorial Drive, Suite 312, Tulsa, OK 74145-9082, or by e-mail at Jim@JimStovall.com.