Last week, The Oxford Club held its Private Wealth Seminar in Charleston, South Carolina.
Our hotel was located on King Street, a popular part of town near the College of Charleston. The area was teeming with a mix of college kids, other folks spending their disposable income at crowded upscale bars and restaurants, and, like any big city, homeless people.
It was an interesting trichotomy of young adults hoping to “make it,” people who had already “made it,” and individuals who through either their own bad decisions or bad circumstances (or both) did not.
When seeing those who are destitute, I often have a “There but for the grace of God go I” moment. I was lucky to be born into a stable family that nurtured me.
But I also know for certain that I made the right choices along the way that led to my financial success.
I grew up middle class, the son of an assistant principal and stay-at-home mom. I had everything I ever needed and even some things I wanted. I was very fortunate and know it.
But when I went out into the world as a young adult, I was broke. New York City is an expensive place to live, and I wasn’t making much money in my very non-Wall Street entry-level job. There were a lot of spaghetti with butter dinners in my hovel, which was called an “apartment” by New York realtors and, apparently, housing officials.
My parents were good role models in that they never had any debt besides a mortgage. When it was time for me to go to college, they said they would pay for me to go to a state school. They couldn’t afford a private school and weren’t going to go into debt to pay for one.
Neither was I.
And I didn’t take on any debt after college either.
Because I had no money, I had a strong desire to make some and taught myself about investing. Buying stocks for the long term didn’t relieve me of my plain pasta dinners in the near term. But it did set me up for the future.
Here are the lessons I’ve learned about handling money that have served me very well in my life and that I teach my kids…
Avoid debt like it’s a communicable disease.
Generally speaking, I see two reasons to take on debt – to buy real estate or to start a business. Otherwise, buy the beaten-up car until you can afford a better one. Don’t go out to eat, and instead make do with what you have.
I know none of that is fun, but if you want a better, sustainable future, you may need to take on some short-term discomfort. If you already have debt, make sacrifices to pay it down as fast as possible. The sooner you’re not paying interest to a bank, the sooner you’re investing for your future.
Invest in your retirement account.
This is a must. Investing in your retirement account not only helps you secure your future but also gets you tax breaks so your taxes will be lower today. And if your company has a 401(k) plan where it matches your contributions and you are not participating, you are literally saying “no thanks” to free money from your employer.
You’re not going to get rich quick, but you can get rich slow.
Most of us can relate to Freddie Mercury when he sang the lyrics “I want it all, and I want it now.” Being lured in by cryptocurrencies and other get-rich-quick schemes are good ways to not get rich. In fact, they’re often good ways to get poorer. But the truth is, it’s not terribly difficult to get rich slow if you invest in quality stocks or index funds for the long term. But most people don’t have the patience to do that.
The market goes up over the long term, and if you’re able to put some money away each month/quarter/year and invest it, you will be way better off than if you hadn’t. It’s an easy and proven recipe for success that most people are too shortsighted to understand.
Once in a blue moon, I will still make myself a bowl of pasta with butter for dinner, to remind myself and appreciate how far I’ve come. I’ve certainly been lucky in life, but I also stuck to a plan that has worked for generations of investors.
Make the right choices for your financial future today. Furthermore, teach the steady path to riches to your kids and grandkids so that they have a brighter tomorrow.