“On the surface, plenty of Boston millennials are earning, spending, and having a blast. But beneath the veneer of $17 margaritas and shopping trips around the Seaport, many are living with debt – and lots of it. Is buying the good life on loan the new normal? Or is it plunging a generation into an early midlife crisis?”
A friend recently sent me over this clip from Boston Magazine, which obviously resonated with me!
Here are my takeaways:
There’s no question many young professionals are living beyond their means. To act like this is something new, however, would be extremely hypocritical since most of our older generations are ALSO woefully unprepared for financial independence (retirement). Young people living for today and not worrying about the future (shocker).
There’s also no question that Instagram culture is influencing our ‘keeping up with the Joneses mentality’. It’s HARD to forgo indulging when you are constantly bombarded with pictures and videos of your peers ‘having the time of their lives’. But, like most things in life and personal finance – there is a balance!
Should a young person not be allowed to go out to dinner with friends because they have student loans? Should every last dollar of disposable income be put towards debt repayment or growing your net worth? If you have that level of discipline and want to sacrifice to get ahead, I applaud you. I’m more in the camp of living for today while still planning for tomorrow. As long as you have an adequate savings rate (which includes debt repayment) and are not leaving free money on the table via lucrative employer benefits (such as equity compensation, employer matches, etc.), I see nothing wrong with ALSO enjoying yourself in the present.
One thing I will suggest and strongly advocate for is making tradeoffs when it comes to location and where you live. You don’t have to live in the Seaport to experience the Seaport. What’s the point of living in the Seaport to pay $2,500 for a studio apartment when that leaves you no disposable income for the experiences you REALLY enjoy ( going out to dinner with friends, etc.).
I always advocate friends, family, clients, etc. to think hard where their money is used to derive happiness. I’ve found for most, it’s the ability to have the flexibility to share experiences with others. Think about what tradeoffs you can make to give yourself that flexibility.
Lastly, let’s all agree to not let flexing on the gram influence OUR spending decisions. Personal finance decisions are PERSONAL, we don’t know someone else’s balance sheet and cash flow, so it’s best to focus on our own.
Organizing your finances is hard enough. When you’re a small business owner it can be even more complicated since you also have to account for the cash flows of your business.
Simplifying, organizing, and tracking your business cash flow is essential so you can pay yourself for your hard work. Assuming you don’t need to reinvest in your business, you should be paying yourself to supplement your lifestyle, and invest for financial freedom outside of your business.
Separating Personal and Business Expenses
Do you have an established business entity such as an LLC, Partnership, or S-Corp? If so, you should at a minimum have a separate business checking and business credit card. This will make it easy for keeping personal and business transactions separate and will also help to build business credit.
If you don’t have an established business entity for liability purposes, it’s still important to have a way of tracking business expenses. Using something like QuickBooks Self-Employed can allow you to easily build out rules for classifying business versus personal transactions, even if they’re both on a personal credit card or checking account.
Why You Need to Track Business Cash Flow
Assuming your business is your primary source of income, you need to be able to pay yourself so you can live the way you want to AND invest for YOUR financial freedom. Your business may or may not have a market value if you were to sell. Either way, relying on potential equity from the sale of your business should not be the foundation of your financial plan.
As important as paying yourself is paying the IRS. Again, using something like QuickBooks Self-Employed makes it easy for projecting quarterly estimated tax payments. You want to make sure you’re on top of this as you could face potential penalties for underpayment.
Your Business and Personal Financial Health are Connected
The financial health of your business will ultimately determine the health of your finances. Make sure you’re extracting your fair share from your business and paying yourself enough to build something outside of your business.
No wait, let me rephrase that. Everyone wants to get rich quickly!
Unfortunately, this is not how investing in financial markets work, especially for main street investors like me and you.
So what is the best investment strategy? The truth is MANY strategies can provide success. However, what is the one constant across every strategy?
The best investment strategy is the one you stick with. As soon as you start deviating from your chosen strategy you lower your odds of success.
This is because investing is HARD. Once you start to deviate from the strategy, you’re opening the door for human emotion to dictate money decisions.
Human emotions do not mix well with logic and reason, especially during inevitable times of panic of euphoria. Determining an investment strategy EARLY on that you can stick with is powerful as your wealth grows.
Even for the young investor, practicing some level of diversification can help create the mindset required to hold onto wealth. Being comfortable with “investing FOMO” — blocking out the noise of what your peers are claiming “their returns” are is essential to maintaining discipline.
At the end of the day, what are we trying to accomplish as investors? We are trying to provide ourselves the flexibility to live our lives the way we want and take care of the people we care about.
With the right planning, practicing an investment strategy that we can stick with will put the odds in our favor.
“The longer you stay disciplined and in the game — the higher your probability of success.”
For the majority of us, the wealth building process does not happen overnight! Here are five starting points for the modern wealth builder:
1. Understand where your money goes
What are your fixed monthly expenses? How much wiggle room do you have for discretionary spending? In order to grow your net worth, you must first understand how much money you can afford to put towards your savings and investments on a consistent basis. Even if you’re not sticking to your budget on a monthly basis, being able to review what you actually spent is important for projecting out savings goals.
2. Have a dedicated cash cushion
Responsible wealth builders have a dedicated cash reserve at all times. This is so they are not dependent on their investments to pay for life’s unexpected expenses. Having a cash cushion also allows the modern wealth builder to invest with confidence and stay disciplined to their investment strategy.
3. Take advantage of employer benefits
Modern wealth builders take advantage of employer benefits and don’t leave free money on the table. This includes taking advantage of an employer match through a workplace retirement plan and making the most of other pre-tax benefits.
4. Have a hierarchy for investing accounts
Modern wealth builders have a hierarchy for investing in the different types of tax-deferred retirement accounts. Making sure to utilize tax advantageous accounts first will help improve a wealth builder’s bottom line net worth.
5. Invest based on goals and controllable factors
Modern wealth builders are concerned with investing based on the goals they are trying to accomplish. They focus on the factors that are within their control and tune out the noise of financial media.
It’s not uncommon for a young professional’s first interaction with a financial advisor to be through their parent’s advisor. However, just because that advisor was a good fit for your parents, does not necessarily mean they are a good fit for you.
So, when should you break up with your parent’s financial advisor?
You’re not receiving personalized advice
The relationship is investment centric
You feel like an afterthought
They don’t understand the challenges you face
They’re not easily accessible
Since most advisors are compensated based on the size of a person’s investment assets, a young professional who is early in a career most likely won’t have the assets to incentivize that advisor to spend the time needed to help them make smart decisions with their money. The reality, however, is that an advisor can add a tremendous amount of value to the future financial health of a young professional before they’ve accumulated an investment portfolio large enough to be “profitable” for a traditional financial advisor.
Luckily, hundreds of advisors specialize in working with young professionals. A great place to start your search is the XY Planning Network. The XY Planning Network is a network of independent advisors who are required to put your interests before their own and strictly operate on a fee-only basis, meaning they never sell products with commissions.
Also, many advisors in the network (including myself) utilize a subscription fee for their services — meaning regardless of your age or asset size, you can work with someone who is going to provide you the attention you deserve.