My parents were great savers. They were both frugal and only purchased what we needed. We kept cars forever, didn’t go on vacations, and never bought name-brand clothes. In the summertime though, my sister and I would get a treat. Mom would let us pick out 1 box of sugared cereal each. Mine was Trix, hers was Lucky Charms. It really was a treat since we never got the “extras”. Growing up in this lifestyle taught me to live the same way. We do spend a little more than my folks did but we also save, save, and save some more. Where my parents struggled was with investing. Being very fiscally conservative, my folks socked it away in a bank getting a minimal return. Both parents were born just over a decade after the Great Depression when the facts of what can happen to investments were still painfully evident. This made them both more than a little gun-shy of the markets. When I went off to college in the late 80’s, my dad took me aside and gave me the best investment advice ever. He said, “Get smart about money because we never did.” He mentioned that they could have been doing a whole lot better but never invested anything. Even the discount stock purchase plan from my dad’s work seemed too risky since mathematically, even though the stock was purchased at a 15% discount, timing and market downturns could result in losses. Dad’s advice stuck with me and even though I didn’t do anything with it in college, I tucked it away for when I had more time and money.
When I got my first job, I wanted to start my 401k right away but company policy demanded a one year period before I would be eligible to join. I knew about compounding and was mad that the company was costing me over $100,000 of retirement income ($10k contributed with an 8% return over 30 years). Since I couldn’t speed up the vesting period, I used the time to become more familiar with 401k plans, investing, and mutual funds. When I became eligible, I enrolled at the contribution percentage that would allow for the full company match. It was a stretch and all I could afford at the time but it got me started. I made a goal to retire at 45 and have been trying to learn more about money ever since.
Different periods of life afford more learning and busier periods less so but the best advice I could ever give is the same advice I received 30 years ago…. “Get smart about money.” I still don’t think I’m smart about money but I’m always looking to get smarter. In the coming days, I’ll add some of the resources I used to get smarter.