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Age is an Opportunity

The Missing Semester - Gene Natali Jr.

Tis’ the season (well almost anyway). And as Dr. Seuss’s Grinch reminds us,  “That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? That’s what it’s always been about. Gifts, gifts…gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts!”

A publicist who recently emailed Matt and me about the book sounded eerily similar: “Neither audiences nor the media are going to be particularly inclined to listen [to advice] about the virtues of frugality and financial prudence. From now until Christmas, the mantras are going to be buy, buy, buy and buy, now . . . pay later.”

This holiday season, yes, “buy, buy, buy” will prevail, but maybe there’s time between gifts for a brief lesson in “frugality,” and “financial prudence.” Why? A recent article on CNBC, Six Feet Under as a Retirement Plan? suggested that death is the new de facto retirement because almost no one is saving enough. When I hear the footsteps and giggles that so often come from my children’s bedroom, I think, “This isn’t the dream I have for them!”

In talking with adults about money during the past 12 months, Matt and I have heard one resounding theme, “I wish I knew, when I was younger, what I know now.” Well, that suggests an opportunity, doesn’t it? It’s not too late to help today’s young avoid the money mistakes that many of us have made – Matt and I included. As parents ourselves, we recognize the importance of “this” subject, and we tried to write a book that our kids would one day enjoy reading, one that would inspire them to take control of their financial future.

We have spoken before about the admirable work Junior Achievement and Jump$tart are doing in the schools. We follow personal-finance and money bloggers from across the country, have gotten to know folks at credit unions who have a deep passion for financial literacy, and we have worked with groups such as "W!se" out of NYC and the "Young Americans Center for Financial Education" out of Denver. The point is, there are armies of knowledgeable people ready to help teach money basics and financial literacy. Matt and I have repeatedly addressed high school students, college students, and young adults during the past year. The questions they ask clearly indicate that this generation wants to be financially independent. We all need to help them get there.

In October I spoke at the Pennsylvania Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (PASFAA) annual conference. These are folks on the front line in the battle to teach money basics to ‘millenials’ across the country, and to help prepare them for the choices ahead. Where to go to college is often the first big “money” choice that many young people make. At the conference we discussed why we as a nation continue to send our graduates into the “real” world, the world of financial responsibilities, so ill-prepared for the money decisions that await. A member of the audience asked, “If you could deliver your message in one sentence, what would it be?”

Age is an opportunity.

It’s an opportunity—an opportunity to teach and guide— so powerful that it could transform the lives of a generation. A lesson in the power of compound interest, or how to avoid costly mistakes with credit cards, car-buying, debt payment (mistakes that can continue to affect us for, literally, decades), is a gift that in fact keeps giving.

In America we have control over our choices, whether the clothes we wear, the bike we ride, the trips we take, the college we choose, or the career we pursue. And choices have consequences. This holiday season might be the time to buy (or give) a book such as "The Missing Semester" (yes, there are other good ones) –to read it with kids or grandkids, and to talk about some part of it—over a slice of apple pie, or maybe pumpkin.

A friend and client of mine, who is in his mid-20’s, has a sister still in high school. He and she have a lunch reservation for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. They are going to talk about the money mistakes he made, and the choices she would soon face. How’s that for a good start?