In this eye-opening column, Michelle Singletary of the Washington Post provides sage advice for parents of those within the millennial generation. While we as parents may think that we “punch out” once our child turns 18, the reality is that when it comes to financial education, those lessons are never-ending. Read Michelle’s column in full below, and take notes on the best ways to speak to your children about healthy financial habits.
Perhaps you’re a good money manager and you taught your children well.
Or maybe you struggle royally with your finances and haven’t passed on good habits.
Either way, we parents of young adults tend to think that when our children turn 18, our job is nearly done. They hit 21, and we’re like, “It’s party time.”
After that point, you might think that if they make a money mistake, it’s on them, right?
They will enter a complicated world and face financial challenges harder to solve than a Rubik’s Cube.
There are so many ways they can get this money thing wrong. So be prepared to stay on parenting duty. You’ll still be needed.
With this in mind — and with graduation season upon us — many parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles often ask me for a recommendation on a financial book for their newly minted young adult.
This year, I have a new suggestion, which will double as this month’s Color of Money Book Club pick. It’s “Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties” (Touchstone, $16.99) by Beth Kobliner.
The author is a financial journalist who first published this book 20 years ago. She has just released an updated version that is an all-in-one guide for millennials.
In 2016, there were about 80 million millennials, according to the Pew Research Center. I wonder how many are truly prepared to tackle today’s financial issues.
If we go by the many surveys about this generation’s money habits, a lot aren’t ready. Millennials want what most Americans want — a home, debt-free living and, eventually, a comfortable retirement. Yet, when asked, only 49 percent said they have a plan to live out that dream, according to Bank of the West. The survey also found that, in practice, millennials prioritize saving for travel over putting away money for retirement or a home.
This makes sense. They aren’t being irresponsible. They’re acting their age. They want new experiences and, in their minds, they have plenty of time to save.
Kobliner knows her audience. She starts with a crib-note chapter for readers who may be intimidated by a whole book about financial stuff.
If you do give this as a graduation gift, tuck a card and some cash in the first chapter. In it, your millennial will find eight financial strategies that Kobliner says will put him or her on a solid path. They are:
Get health insurance. “It’ll help protect you if you have an accident or illness, and guarantee that you don’t bankrupt yourself,” she writes.
Pay off debt sooner rather than later. “You can usually ‘earn’ more by paying off a loan than you can by saving and investing.”
Ignore the feeling that you’re too young to start saving for retirement. “Saving money in a retirement plan is one of the smartest (and easiest) things you can do when you’re young.”
Maintain an emergency fund. “Have money automatically withdrawn from each paycheck and funneled into an old-school savings account.”
Invest in low-cost stock and bond index funds outside a workplace retirement plan. Don’t know what these are? Chapter 5 explains investing fundamentals.
Manage your credit score. “Think of your credit score as the GPA of your financial abilities, a numerical representation of how appealing you are to lenders. Unlike your GPA, however, your credit score is being recalculated all the time.”
Don’t rush to buy a home. “The decision about whether to switch from renter to owner involves more than simply comparing your monthly rent to the mortgage payment.”
Pay attention to your taxes. There are things you can do during the year to optimize your tax situation.
Also encourage your child to read the chapter on taking financial stock of their life. As we know, many young adults are starting off with record amounts of student loan debt.
“The good news is that if you start paying attention to your finances today, you can set in motion habits that will pay off for the rest of your life,” Kobliner coaches.
This is the kind of book that needs an advocate. It’s got all the right information and tools, but without some encouragement, it might just be set aside.
“Get a Financial Life” helps take the burden off you. Kobliner provides the need-to-know stuff. And if your millennial follows even some of the advice, you can worry less about his or her financial success.
This post originally appeared in the Washington Post on May 6, 2017