- Police Beat
- The Forecaster
Two of my nieces are graduating from college this month, and I couldn’t be more proud.
Born a week apart in 1997, Georgia and Kate are bright, hard-working, conscientious and have big plans for their futures. It’ll be fun watching their lives bloom.
As an uncle who wants them to lead a happy and productive life, my graduation gift to each will be future-focused. My gift is two-fold: I’m urging them to open a Roth IRA, and, if they do, I’ll make the first contribution.
Knowing what I know now, I would have welcomed someone emphatically and seriously urging me to start saving and investing at their age. Sure, I realize they don’t have much money as recent college grads, but they will be earning salaries soon and, as such, I’m imploring them to start adult life with a saver’s mindset, rather than indulging that all-too-common American desire for conspicuous consumption. (In other words, ladies, no more grande caffe lattes.)
So, for Kate and Georgia (and all recent college grads out there), my graduation gift is some simple financial advice. Finance is a huge and complicated topic with many pathways and pitfalls, but these 10 simple tips should get all nieces (and nephews) started in the right direction:
1 — Avoid credit card debt. That way lies perpetual poverty.
2 — Adjust your lifestyle expectations. Get in the mindset that you are poor and can’t afford anything fancy.
3 — Pay off your student loans. Your goal should be this: Be beholden to no one, especially the usurious government.
4 — Develop a monthly budget. List all necessary expenditures, right down to haircuts, laundry and toll expenses. You must know your spending needs before you can determine how much you’re able to save.
5 — Build an emergency fund. In my view, this amount should be half of your yearly budget needs. If you lose your job, you can take comfort knowing you have six months to find another one.
6 — Remember that compound interest is the young investor’s friend; get started early so your money has time to grow exponentially. The best investment strategy is a Roth IRA with a reputable firm. Invest in low-cost, diversified index funds. A Roth IRA is ideal because you don’t pay tax on the money you earn. This will be huge when you start withdrawing the money in your 60s or 70s. Nearly all other investments require you to pay tax on capital gains (money you earn on your investments), which gobbles up your earnings.
7 — Open a fee-free checking account at a local bank or credit union. Never use an institution that charges you fees for giving them money.
8 — Choose an employer that offers a 401K plan. More importantly, contribute enough to earn the company match. Non-taxable Roth IRAs are better than taxable 401Ks as investment vehicles, but if the company match is decent, take advantage of the free money.
9 — The stock market is not a casino, as some say. It’s capitalism in action. Don’t worry about the up-and-down swings. Also, develop a diversified portfolio and check it rarely, since you’re locked in for the long haul. Only start worrying when you’re nearing retirement. You can then place most of your money in less risky bonds or CDs.
10 — Finally, when you’re retired and rich because you stopped drinking lattes and started investing early, remember Uncle John. He didn’t start saving early like you and might need a loan.
John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.