by Tom Graneau, author of “Pennies to Power: How to Use Your 20’s to Gain Financial Independence for Life“
The oldest members of Generation Z have recently left college and entered the workforce. For some, learning how to handle their new money and expenses will be an education unto itself.
They can start by learning from the money-managing mistakes of previous generations. Most millennials, for example, aren’t doing a great job of saving money. About two-thirds of them, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security, have nothing saved toward retirement.
As a Baby Boomer who once went bust, my past financial challenges are a reason why I want to help educate young people now on the pitfalls of over-extending financially. The worst financial mistake a young adult can make – and one I made – is buying a home.
The last thing you want to do is get into home ownership; I see home ownership as the No. 1 factor leading to financial negatives in our country. You have a country where the banking system, real estate system and government tells us to buy homes, yet most can’t really afford the mortgage long-term.
Most of your mortgage payment goes only to interest the first few years. What they will pay in interest over the long run is mind-boggling, and it often dwarfs any equity they have in the home.
Many millennials, however, buried in student loan debt – another thing younger folks and families should avoid “at all costs” – are finding they can’t afford to be home owners. Forty-five percent of millennials’ income is spent on rent before they reach the age of 30, according to a study by Rent Cafe.
That’s fine; they should rent as long as possible. You will never spend as much in rent as you will buying a house.
In the early 2000s, I found himself in significant debt at the same time I was living stylishly and counseling families on how to overcome their financial issues.
The outside world thought I was doing fine, but I was as broke as those individuals I worked with. I was about 40 and I had to look at my situation deeply. My salary was stagnating, I was in a multi-million-dollar home and I realized I couldn’t pay that mortgage the rest of my life.
I lost my job and lost my house. I started recovering by shedding as much debt as possible and saving as much money as possible.
It was then I started investigating what’s wrong with America’s financial picture. Why are older folks so mired in the debt problem and depending mostly on Social Security? Why does each generation overextend on credit and so many live paycheck to paycheck. The problem is largely traceable to a lack of financial education and discipline.
Our society has done a poor job at teaching people how to save as well as construct a real budget and stick to it. It doesn’t emphasize limiting debt and saving money, and you see people with all this trouble.
To me, money problems most often can be traced to an inability or unwillingness to save. A lack of discipline is to blame more than a lack of funds. I recommend putting away 15 to 20 percent per paycheck, or whatever a person can afford, then increasing when they can.
It’s a hard lesson to portray to younger people, but we should never spend all of our paycheck. Always put some of it away.
Tom Graneau (www.tomgraneau.com) is the author of “Pennies to Power“. A 14-year U.S. Navy veteran, Graneau is a long-time financial management specialist and coach as well as a crisis manager. He came to the US at age 17 from Dominica, a small island in the Caribbean. Although the normal educational structure was inaccessible to him in Dominica due to family complications, he went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business at the University of Phoenix.