What Old People Know

old fart walking sign
(Guest Post by Barbara “Babs” Wagner)

A great deal of what J$ says is right on.  Paying off debt, saving for retirement, and tracking what you spend so you can make better choices are great advice.  Don’t even get me started on Love Drop, his very personal, hands-on approach to charity.  I’m in love with Love Drop.

But Mr. BAS is dead wrong about one thing:  when he says, “I get CRAZY bored reading about finances by old white men in blah styles,” he makes me CRAZY crabby.  Truth in advertising — I’m a sorta old white woman, who prefers to dress in “classic” (okay blah) clothes.  But don’t write me off just yet.  We old farts know a few things you might want to know too:

Invest in your health, not just your 401K.

In my 20’s, I ate crap, smoked like a chimney, partied endlessly, drank to excess, never worked out, and told myself I could always lose the weight later.  (Man, some of that sounds pretty good.)  Somewhere along the line I learned that “later” wasn’t going to be much fun if I was in poor health.  Think about it, which sounds sexier—rocking a hard body in your 50’s, with plenty of energy to enjoy your modest wealth, or visiting a doctor every other week to deal with your stress, weight, diabetes, arthritis and intestinal problems and little energy to spend the millions you’ve piled up?  Have you ever listened to old people talking about their health problems?  It isn’t pretty.  Give me the hard body any day.  (Seriously, if I wasn’t happily married, I’d really want a hot guy more than money.  Not that my husband of 22 years isn’t totally hot.  That’s why we have air conditioning.)  Try to fit in just a little healthy living, on your way to being a millionaire.

Every choice you make is two choices, you just don’t know it.

When you choose to save, you are choosing not to spend.  When you choose to spend money on one thing, you are choosing not to spend it on something else.  Any choice is a good one, as long as you choose what you really want.  It’s a fabulous idea to save all your money for retirement in your 20’s, because time and compounding will make you rich.  Unless you really want to experience a little world travel while you’re young enough to do it with just a backpack and good hiking shoes.  Being rich in memories is a terrific goal.  It’s also fine to spend a third of your income leasing a beemer, unless you’d really like to have enough coin to actually date women who like guys with beemers.  Any time some “expert” recommends a particular action, ask yourself what you won’t be doing if you make that choice.  Same goes for any bright ideas you come up with on your own.  As long as you know ALL of the choices you’re making, you’ll do fine.

Do it now!

If you wait till you have “enough money” to leave home, get married, buy a house, make babies, invest, or anything else, you won’t do anything.  There’s never enough money to do things perfectly, but there’s always enough money to make a start.

I get it, the lousy economy is making things extraordinarily difficult for 20-somethings. But putting your life on hold and living with your parents in your 20’s is a special kind of hell.  When I was in my 20’s, (oh God, I’m about to give you the classic old person “back in my day” speech) unemployment was at 8%, inflation was in double digits, and wages were crap, even worse if you were a woman.  I lived in a crummy apt. in a scary part of town, wore clothes from the thrift store, and ate a lot of ramen.  Man it was fun!  I was living my own life, humble as it was.

My first attempt at investing was $50 savings bonds, because my employer would deduct $25 from my paycheck to buy them and I couldn’t easily spend them.  My friends with enough money to invest in mutual funds thought I was pathetic, but it got me started on achieving financial freedom.  (And it turns out the bonds have paid 6% every year for over 20 years and are the best investment in my portfolio.  Hah!) If you’re lucky enough to find true love, don’t wait till you can afford a wedding–get married and eat ramen together.  Money doesn’t buy happiness, but love absolutely does. If you and your soul mate love children, have them when you’re young and you’ll be young enough to enjoy your grandchildren too.

Whatever your dreams, get going now!  Don’t try to figure everything out before you take action.  You will never hear an old person say, “I just wish I’d waited longer to find my bliss.”

Babs is a former poster child for financial misadventure, who learned most of what she knows the hard way.  She has a degree in business and has studied personal finance, most of which she now ignores.  Her mission is to poke fun at conventional wisdom, keep money subservient to her values, and inspire others to learn from her mistakes.

She is currently busy trying to convince her sons to leave the nest.

(Photo by JonDissed)

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  1. Stephen August 29, 2011 at 8:30 AM

    loved the advice!! I wish my friends would do the same.

  2. Babs August 29, 2011 at 8:49 AM

    Thanks Stephen! Yours is the very first comment, about my very first blog post. We always remember our first!

  3. Kim August 29, 2011 at 8:52 AM

    I love your advice. Every last piece of it. My personal favourite is “Do it now” – this is something that it takes courage to do, but like starting the journey to smart personal finances, we can start small here too. Sitting in front of the TV and wish you were doing something else? Turn it off and DO something else. Wishing you had a different career? Start researching what it will take to get you there. It doesn’t have to be a huge leap every time.

  4. Nicole August 29, 2011 at 9:25 AM

    Great post, great advice. My mom told me the same thing when I kept saying, when the credit card is paid off I will have a baby, or when the house repairs are made I will have a baby, etc etc. She said, if you wait until the perfect time to have a baby, you never will. Thank God I listened to her, since I now have the light of my life in the form of a 5 year old boy!

  5. 20's Finances August 29, 2011 at 11:22 AM

    Great post. I liked the part about considering investing in your health. Too many times this is overlooked in personal finance blogs.

  6. Stephanie August 29, 2011 at 12:34 PM

    Loved this post so much! I am definitely all about investing in my health – I’d rather eat right and get lots of exercise now than be stuck with a ton of medication and surgery later. And every time I get stuck thinking about how much more money I’d have if my husband and I had just waited a bit to get married (we were only 23) and continued living at home for a bit, but it would NOT have been worth the lack of independence. Plus, we’re still in a much better position financially than a lot of people our age (we’re 28 now) despite (or maybe because of?) the fact that we moved out of our parents’ houses and into our own place so soon after college.

  7. Joe August 29, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    Great article! Straight and to the point!

  8. Ginger August 29, 2011 at 12:47 PM

    I am a planner and want everything to be perfect, financially, before I take a step. My husband is more of a go with the flow kinda guy. He has shown me that you are right, some times you just have to make the jump and hope it works. I still try to have a safety net, but I am less afraid to jump now. And you are right on the health front, I need to work on it though.

  9. Babs August 29, 2011 at 1:36 PM

    You are so lucky ginger! You have two points of view in one marriage. Diversity makes us stronger!

  10. Jenna August 29, 2011 at 1:42 PM

    Babs, great article! I particularly related to the “Do it now!” section. Like @Ginger, I can see myself wanting to hit specific financial milestones before hitting major life milestones. They’re good goals to have, but I’ll definitely remember that it should never be set in stone. If the time is right for something in my life, I’m sure I can make it work financially!

  11. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager August 29, 2011 at 2:12 PM

    Thanks for the reminder. Couldn’t agree with you more about the investing in your health more. Get started early and keep it up!

  12. Christine August 29, 2011 at 6:23 PM

    Love the advice! I’ve been working on my health a lot more and working out helps my immune system. I used to get sick a lot more and for longer periods of time. My boy and I are saving up money for marriage but waiting until we feel ready. Then take the plunge! Thanks Babs!

  13. Kevin@RothIRA August 29, 2011 at 8:45 PM

    Maybe I’m biased here, but I think most older folks would also advise saving money early. A savings bond is a good start, but it’s also kind of static. Small regular investments in a retirement plan not only builds up, but it also helps you to get you’re feet wet with investing. That’ll be even more important as you get older and the amount of money you’re investing gets larger–along with the stakes!

  14. Babs August 29, 2011 at 9:28 PM

    You’re right Kevin, saving early and well is the best course of action if you can. And yes, there are lots of investments at any given time that are smarter choices, and I have just many of them now. (But a steady 6% for 20+ years is nothing to sneeze at.) But you don’t need an old person to tell you these things–J$ and his readers already have a pretty good handle on these ideas, and you prove my point. But there are some things we don’t know at the start of our financial journey, that we may end up learning the hard way. I’ve turned learning the hard way into an art form, but managed to end up pretty well off financially. I like to share what I’ve learned so others can get right to the “well-off” stage and skip the learning. :)

  15. 20 and Engaged August 30, 2011 at 3:16 AM

    I want to wait until the right time to have kids but everyone says there is no right time. I don’t know if that means just have them now or what, but I think I’ll wait a little longer lol

  16. Jessie August 30, 2011 at 9:44 AM

    This is a great column. A few years ago I took a cruise, using the first proceeds I had inherited from my parents’ estate. So many of the people on board were old people who seemed to be on the lower economic rung where they had finally saved enough money for the trip of a lifetime. There they were mincing slowly and painfully around the seaside ports where we stopped, some dragging oxygen tanks, many of them obviously unable to enjoy their vacation as they could have 30 years earlier. That was the best lesson I could have had in saving for the future but also enjoying some things NOW, while I still have my health.

  17. Kathy August 30, 2011 at 12:04 PM

    Thanks so much for the wonderful inspirational reminder : “Whatever your dreams, get going now! Don’t try to figure everything out before you take action. You will never hear an old person say, “I just wish I’d waited longer to find my bliss”.”

    This is so true! It took me a while to figure this out, and, I’m still having to remind myself of it all the time. However, I have noticed that my life is, indeed, much more satisfying and pleasurable.

  18. Heather August 30, 2011 at 12:39 PM

    Thank you for this post. Sometimes we need a reminder that we only live once. My husband and I are 26 and we’d like to have a baby within a few years, but I keep saying that we need to wait until our “financial ducks are in a row”. Everyone else keeps telling me that if I wait until we have money, we’ll never have a baby. I hate hearing that, but it’s true.

    My brother-in-law is moving to England in October for a few years and my husband and I would LOVE to travel abroad for two weeks to visit him and other countries, but of course money is an issue. How can we justify a trip to Europe when we have credit card debt and we can’t even plan to start our family? I don’t want to travel the world when I’m 70 and work myself to death in my 20s and 30s and have zero fun. I definitely want to enjoy my life.

  19. Kody @ Financial Money Tips August 30, 2011 at 2:53 PM

    i like this article, i really do. The part about investing into your health was awesome!

    However, i don’t totally agree with you on some other stuff. Like for example, why get married and move into an ghetto apartment, when you can get married and live together in your parents awesome basement and save money at the same time? This way, the married couple would have more cash-flow to invest. Maybe the married couple can buy a home and rent it out to another family. Doing this will help you get a head start on paying off your mortgage until you decide to move out. In this struggling economy you can easily find a family to rent and pay your mortgage. It is the perfect time to invest.

    Living with you parents can create opportunities that would be a lot harder to achieve while paying for rent, food, and the such. Babies are a whole another story.. Don’t have babies if you feel not financially ready. What if something comes up and you can’t pay for the medical bills?

    I understand that you need to take action in life, but taking action doesn’t necessarily mean to go live out on your own and eat macaroni and cheese. First, that is unhealthy. And second, if your eating macaroni then you probably can’t pay for a gym membership, or maybe even buy diapers for your newborn..

    I am not living in fear, I am just planning for the future.

  20. Donna Freedman September 2, 2011 at 8:38 PM

    “…why get married and move into an ghetto apartment, when you can get married and live together in your parents awesome basement and save money at the same time?”
    Um, because you’re ADULTS now? And maybe because your parents would like a little privacy?
    It’s one thing if your parents are dying for you to move in. If they’re pleading with you to do it because they want what’s best for you, then perhaps you should consider it.
    However, why do so many people assume that their parents want them living at home? Maybe your parents would like to have lives of their own without their kids underfoot (literally, in the case of a basement apartment).
    Just sayin’.

  21. kody @ financial money tips September 3, 2011 at 12:31 AM

    @ Donna Ya i do understand what you are saying. Some parents want their privacy and i realize that. However, i don’t know too many parents that are like that. Most parents that i know would beg to have their kids live with them again. Mine in particular.. Why? Because its financially smart and we love each other like a family should.

    Like you said i am an adult. Which means that i have grown up in full size and strength. No longer underage and able to make my own decisions. And when i decide on these decision i try to be as financially smart as possible. This one was common sense for me.


  22. J. Money September 3, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    Thanks again Babs!! Your 1st post – I loved it. Much better than MY first, and with a LOT more eyeballs than mine too, haha… 1 person would have been more than mine back then :)

    Strongly considering having you as a weekly poster here. If you’d like it, of course ;)

    @Kim – “Sitting in front of the TV and wish you were doing something else? Turn it off and DO something else.” YES!!! My friends ramble on about that a lot, but don’t DO anything about it! Drives me bonkers.
    @Nicole – Awww that is so cool! Congrats! :) (didn’t think you’d hear that after 5 years, eh?)
    @Ginger – Yeah :) Our situation here is a lot like yours actually – I’m the “go with the flow” kinda guy, and the wifey is more conservative and needs the safety net. Makes for a good pairing though, eh? You each learn a little from the other :)
    @20 and Engaged – Haha… you can be like me and just “see what happens” ;) If you take away the certain items that def. stop it from happening! Haha…
    @Jessie – Wow. You’d certainly remember that one! I might have to take a cruise like that just so I can remember it! haha… good one. I like that.
    @Kody @ Financial Money Tips – Got some good points there too ;) Esp if the parents don’t WANT you in their home, haha… they’re free now!
    @Jen @ Master the Art of Saving – Awesome! It’s honestly one of my fave too – thinking of giving Babs her own column ;)
    @Donna Freedman – True true, all parents are different. I’d LOVE to move back to mine, but my wife wouldn’t have it ;) I’m pretty sure my parents would be cool with it though, at least for a year.