Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Do Something You Love, Before You Have To Do Something For Money

This was my recent advice to a family member who still has his entire adult life ahead of him. Thankfully, he’s still debt free, which means he has plenty of options. He can choose to spend his income, pile up debts, and eliminate these options, or remain free. It really is that simple.

It felt a little strange giving this advice since from the time I was his age I have largely done what I had to, or whatever I could do, to earn money. That included staying at a particularly lousy job for over six years in my early twenties while working my way through the rest of school. As bad as that job was, I couldn’t afford to quit. After all, I had a wife, a baby, and student loans to feed!

Yes, I jumped onto the debt bandwagon in college, accumulating debt for schooling itself and credit card debt for the little “perks” that came with college life (college textbooks, late-night pizzas, and a few Sony Playstation games I just HAD to have). I spent the next decade working to pay off my years as a spendthrift.

But my cousin has the chance to take a different path. I’ve joked with him before that if I knew what I know now at his age, I’d be approaching early retirement. He laughed, until I told him he wouldn’t be laughing when he’s my age with very little savings, and a list of monthly obligations for which he trades in his free time to be in an office 40-50 hours a week. I told him to simply do something he loved, before he had to something for money.

Do Something You Love

I’ve never liked the “Do Something You Love” mantra, probably because I feel a little like I missed my chance to take that advice. I suspect there are plenty of 30-somethings out there who share this same feeling. But there is still time to reinvent ourselves. There is still time to chase our own dreams of what we want to be when we grow up.

The first step is to free ourselves from the financial shackles we voluntarily placed around our own legs years ago. So many people think a framed diploma and a job offer entitle them to a new car, a big house and new toys. Not so. It is far more important to build emergency savings, begin to invest for retirement, and save cash to pay for large purchases. But try telling that to your average 23 year-old.

We’ve all heard this before from parents and grandparents, but life really does have a way of sneaking up on you. After college there’s some single life to be enjoyed, but soon a spouse and child come along with a whole new set of financial worries.

You get your wills done (the first real wake up call that yes, you are mortal), buy some life insurance, look for a home, scan the safety ratings of a potential car purchases, and open a college savings account. And that’s just in the first few months of being a parent!

Over the years, you’ll celebrate certain milestones, which have a way of coming quicker and quicker the older your kids get. Before long you’ll be worrying about them driving (and worrying about what they will drive), wondering if you’ve saved enough for college, and then hoping they land on their feet, financially, instead of landing back in their old bedroom.

All that to say, if you are young, please choose to live frugal and do something you love. It’s a decision much easier made at 25 than 35.