Forget Old-School Money Rules. What I’m Teaching My Kid About Finances Instead

Clutching a handful of receipts from his last several purchases, my 20-year-old son, Gavin, sat down at the table with me.

“I just want to set up a strategy now, while I’m in school,” he said. “I know money’s tight, but I’ve got some saved and almost no debt.”

Though we’d discussed finances regularly since his junior-high days, this was the first time that he actively wanted to put together a plan for his savings. After reviewing his income and expenses, we did something my parents never would have done with me at that age.

We set him up with an investment account.

Growing up, I never talked with my family about investing. I always assumed it was something that came later, when I had more money to put aside. The idea of ​​investing just a few dollars every week to get started on building compound interest wasn’t on the radar back then.

It’s not entirely their fault. Investing apps didn’t exist, and it was much harder to open an account. These days, my son was able to open a Roth IRA, invest his first $10 and set up a recurring transfer in just 10 minutes, without leaving his room. We also constructed a plan to achieve multiple goals: beefing up his emergency fund until the amount doubled, and then focusing on increasing his weekly investment.

In addition to investing tools, my son has access to money management apps that connect to his bank account and show him where his money is going. That way he can evaluate if his spending matches his goals and can tweak his habits accordingly. It’s a visual and interactive method I didn’t have access to at his age — and my parents couldn’t even imagine.

The old rules no longer apply

Digital tools aren’t the only things that have changed since I was a child. In teaching Gavin about finances, I’ve not only had to adapt to new technologies — I’ve also had to adopt commonsense approaches and advice that actually translate to the current world.

Many of the lessons and rules regarding finances, investing and building a career that my parents taught me are simply obsolete today. For example, I was given a list of tasks I was “supposed” to achieve to be successful: Earn a four-year degree. Find stable employment. Mary and have kids. Get a mortgage. Work for a couple of decades and retire.

Even though I started on the “right” path, things still fell apart, and I had to set up new personalized goals for myself.

I’ve learned that for his generation, the emphasis is on creating a good life now, rather than waiting for retirement to start living. And instead of following a clearly defined script, young people today are more inclined to take a path that makes sense based on their lifestyle, their priorities and their current prospects in a changing economic landscape.

Here are three old-school financial rules that we shouldn’t teach our kids anymore — and what we should teach them instead.

An expensive degree no longer equals financial success

My older family members expressed strong disapproval when my son decided to go to community college. For my parents, the most important element in choosing a school and career path was income calculation.

But my approach was different. I began by asking Gavin about his values ​​and what he wants his life to look like. His needs were fairly straightforward. He wanted simple, inexpensive things. He wanted to continue prioritizing time with friends and family, and to keep living in his comfortable apartment. He wasn’t in a rush to get married, either, despite pressure from his grandparents.

After considering various options, we decided that an associate of applied science degree would provide him with a clear job path and sufficient income to meet his lifestyle and goals, while still allowing him to invest for the future. No expensive four-year degree required. And that also meant no student loan debt.

As higher education costs continue to soar, opting to enroll in a lower-cost college or shifting to a two-year college is one way to avoid getting saddled with debt — and that includes for students as well as their parents. in the US, nearly three in four parents who took out student loans for their children end up having to put their own financial goals on hold, including postponing retirement or buying a home. And 43% regret taking out student loans to fund their child’s college education.

Getting a bachelor’s degree still proves advantageous for landing a job and getting higher wages in most industries. But wage stagnation over the last several decades affects one-third of American workers who have earned a four-year college degree, according to the Economic Policy Institute. “Student loan debt has grown faster than earnings,” said financial aid expert and college planning author Mark Kantrowitz.

I knew that if my son’s debt at graduation was more than his starting salary, it could take well more than a decade to pay off his loans. And that just wasn’t something he or I wanted to sacrifice.

2. Buying a home won’t fit on everyone’s checklist

Purchasing a home used to be an essential part of the American dream, according to Kevin Matthews II. A former investment advisor and founder of Building Breadan investing education company, Matthews is teaching his children that renting can be beneficial — and that there’s no need to rush getting a mortgage.

“Homeownership has its perks, but it’s not always the best financial move,” Matthews said. “When you factor in maintenance and other costs, on top of the mortgage interest you pay, sometimes you’re better off renting and investing.”

And that’s especially true today, as the unpredictable housing market remains in flux. Though home prices are finally starting to tick down slightly from their recent record highs, mortgage rates are greater than they’ve been in more than a decade.

Instead of promoting homebuying as the primary way to build wealth, Matthews plans to take his children through different buy versus rent scenarios and teach them to make decisions based on their lifestyle goals and investment priorities.

“Whether you buy or rent has more to do with your personal desires than with money,” said Jon Reedwho covers the housing market for NextAdvisor, which is owned by the same parent company as CNET.

Reed also underlined how buying a home is particularly tough when the economy is so uncertain. “Renting can allow you to keep more of your cash in savings rather than sinking it into a down payment, which might come in handy if you lose work during an economic downturn,” Reed said. Renting offers benefits that homeownership lacks, such as not having to shell out money when your water heater breaks or worrying about property taxes. It also offers more flexibility to move or downsize.

The most important thing, Reed pointed out, is that you shouldn’t buy a home unless you want to and can afford it.

3. A traditional job doesn’t have the same appeal as self-employment

Katie Brewer, a certified financial planner and founder of Your Richest Lifeis teaching her daughter about the benefits of an entrepreneurship lifestyle — even if it isn’t the steady full-time job many of our parents prized.

“My parents both worked for the state of Texas for their entire careers,” Brewer said. “They valued stability over everything else.”

But gone are the days of a decades-long career with the same company and a pension. While a majority of private-sector employees had a defined benefit pension plan in the early 1980s, now only a small percentage of workers have access to one. Guaranteed pensions have been phased out and replaced by investment accounts, and workers are expected to take care of the bulk of their retirement savings, no matter how they’re employed. Plus, many people at or near the traditional retirement age continue working on a part-time basis after leaving their careers.

Brewer pointed to the increasing instability of the job market in recent decades. Especially given the nature of “at-will” employment, employers can let you go at any time, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get a promotion. “I want my daughter to look at the pros and cons of ‘stable’ employment versus self-employment. These days, a ‘real’ job isn’t as safe as it used to be,” she said.

Moreover, finding both meaningful and flexible work is becoming more important to younger workers today in negotiating career-life balance. One study found that over half of working Americans prioritize having flexibility more than career progression. and the Deloitte Global 2022 survey of millennials and Generation Z found that nearly half of them experienced severe burnout from the intensity and demands of their workload and job environment, leading many to reassess how they want to work.

Sometimes that means finding part-time work and multiple income streams, which can also be beneficial in case you lose one source of employment.

Even though Brewer recognizes some of the risks with entrepreneurship, she feels it gives you more control. “I love the flexibility it allows and the higher income it brings to my family,” she said. “It’s as much a lifestyle choice as a financial choice.”