Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Financial Advice to My Children

My parents, who were of the World War II generation, were not wise with money. I inherited much of their lack of insight and foresight, but have tried as I grow older to be wiser about how I spend the money I earn. I hope that my children will be even smarter than me. Here's what I think they should do.

1. Don't accept any credit card offers, ever. As I write this in 2008 it seems unlikely that you'll ever receive one, because the credit industry has foolishly extended credit to people it knew it could never pay it back, to the extent that it threatens the economy of the entire United States, if not the world. But if that could change, and you receive offers in the mail of low interest rates or huge rewards for using this or that credit card -- be smart, and throw them away.

2. Save money from every dollar you earn, and live on the rest. If your paycheck is 300 dollars, save 30 for the future in a secure place (at the moment, in 2008, banks don't seem terribly secure to me, but do some research and use your best judgment). Live on the remaining 270 dollars, which means pay the bills you must pay (groceries, rent, phone and other utilities if they still exist), and try to save whatever else is left after that.

3. Spend as little on entertainment as you can. Get books, movies and CDs from the library and use the internet (if it still exists) for other entertainment, communication and research.

4. Don't eat out more than once a month. It will be tempting to save time by spending more money on restaurants and fast food, but that is money you will never see again and could use for far better things. As I write this, you could buy enough groceries to last you a week for the same price as a night out for two at even a decent, never mind fancy, restaurant. Save such expenses for truly special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations. Learn to cook, it's not as difficult as you might think, and there are few pleasures in life as rewarding as sharing a meal you created with your own hands with people you care about. Try to grow your own food if you can, and eat whole foods largely based on fruits and vegetables. It's cheaper and far better for you than the meat and fat-based "diet" that corporations convinced everyone were "tasty" and "convenient." They were neither.

5. Use mass transit, walk or bike everywhere. The world sent itself to hell largely because of the selfish overuse of the combustion engine. We'd have had oil enough to last for centuries longer if the automobile had been outlawed or better regulated, and the use of buses, trains and streetcars was mandated by law. I expect by the time you are adults driving a car for a trip to the grocery store or a day trip to a city 50 or 100 miles away will be a dimly-remembered dream, but if the average citizen still has access to gas-powered transport, save it for emergencies and learn to walk, bike or take the bus everywhere you go. If you must use a car, try never to use it for single tasks or by yourself -- carpool and do your errands in batches to save on fuel expenses. All this will save you money and help the planet recover from the damage mankind did to it in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

6. Do something you love. You might not get rich doing it, but in the long run, if you truly enjoy your job you will excel at it and hopefully will be rewarded for it. In my professional life I have been in radio since I was a teenager, and I've always enjoyed being on the radio, even if at times I haven't enjoyed being "in radio" per se. I haven't done it for over two decades because of the huge financial rewards (well, except for that brief stint in Public Radio), but because it's something I love and seem to be somewhat good at. And even my most time-consuming hobby, blogging and other writing, mostly about comics, has been done because it's something that I greatly enjoy and that is very important to me. I've been very lucky to pick up some extra cash doing that from time to time, and if you can manage to do that, earn money from doing something you love so much you would have done it without financial reward anyway, well, it's a lot like finding free money.

7. Do spend some money on yourself. Most of my disposable income -- money I can afford to spend any way I want -- has been spent over the years on comics and graphic novels. Now, a majority of that money was probably wasted, because I wasn't paying attention to what books I truly found rewarding versus what books I could just be distracted by for a few minutes. But you can't take it with you, as they say, and you will need to spend some money on something to make you happy from time to time in order not to go insane. Just try to be conscious of how you spend that money, and aim to spend it on things you'll enjoy time and again in the future. Whether it's a much-loved video game, or a book that you can lose yourself in again and again, the more times you can use and enjoy something you spend your money on, the better an investment it is. My generation and the one just before mine wasted huge amounts of money, time and energy on temporary, empty distractions, and again, this is largely how the world found itself in the dire straits it currently faces. Be good to yourself, but be aware of what things cost and whether they are truly worth it to you. Your values will ultimately have to be created and monitored by you, and if you're lucky, anyone you choose to share your life with. Know what is important to you, and never forget to live the way you feel is important, and right, and whenever you can, teach others to do the same.