Generation X is the first generation in American history that earned less than their parents. Generation Y is the most in-debt generation in American history (and the early American colonies were built on indentured servitude, so that’s saying a lot.) We are in an era of financial ruin. Generation Z will face this with a sense of inevitability. They will feel it is their job to stabilize the failing economy and acclimate to a much lower standard of living.
In the meantime, you are not Generation Z. And you are probably wondering how to adjust to the idea that you do not have the level of financial security you had imagined you would at this time in your life. I have done my own adjusting to this harsh reality, and here are some ways that I’ve shifted my thinking.
1. Your social clout is your credit score.
Do you know the site Klout? It measures how well you’re stacking up in social media land. It’s petty, yes, but its also a measure of how well you’ve established a brand for yourself. Does your reputation precede you? Because you can get people to cut you a lot of slack if you look accountable in a Google search. (Note: My Klout score is so high that I get into the Cathay Pacific elite airport lounge for free.)
2. Your ability to make money fast is your emergency fund.
I don’t have an emergency fund, which is surprising since I’ve had so many emergencies over the past few years. But each time I’ve needed money fast, I’ve been able to earn it. I’m scrappy and I have a really wide network of solid connections that come through in a crunch.
3. Your ability to stay engaged is your retirement account.
You are not going to retire in the traditional way because you won’t have the money, and Marci Alboher shows in her new book, The Encore Career Handbook, that the traditional idea of retirement is outdated. Is there something you’d really like to do during retirement? Do it now. The best life is an engaged life, and people who are engaged in something they’re good at can usually make money at it. So maybe you won’t have a huge retirement fund, but as long as you keep working at what you enjoy, you’ll make enough money so that it won’t matter that you didn’t save.
4. Your kid’s level of determination is his college savings.
Your kids have a choice: they can work really hard to get into a top school, in which case the bill for college will be relatively low and it’s worth it for your kid to take out loans to have Harvard on her resume. But if your kid can’t show an ability to get into a highly selective school (there are ten of those, not 50) then your kid should get a cheap degree from online school so as not to be saddled with senseless debt. But I’d recommend your kid skip college entirely. Even if you have the cash for college – spend it on a franchise. Now that’s an education that will make a difference.
5. Your career is your investment portfolio.
It’s absurd that people spend time worrying about what stocks to invest in. The majority of this country does not have enough money to be investing in single stocks – it’s not diversified enough. And, anyway, you are much better off learning how to build a solid career than how to build a solid portfolio. You’d have to have an incredible amount of money to be able to increase your stock investments faster than you are able to increase your salary if you’re a rock star at work. So spend your time studying career management strategies instead of stock picking strategies. It’ll pay off.
6. Your high learning curve is unemployment insurance.
Unemployment insurance is scary. Because it’s not enough to live on, and also, it’s vulnerable to Congressional politics, so you never know when it will be terminated or suspended. Fortunately, you control your life in the unemployment lane by getting good at job hunting so you can get back to work. A high learning curve wherever you are ensures that you’re testing new tactics and new ideas in new arenas that continue to make you attractive to hiring managers.
7. Your patience for the nontraditional is your revolving credit.
I started building an addition onto our house. It’s not an addition, really, so much as an elongation of our front porch. It was coming apart so why not make it bigger as we fix it? But then I got distracted by a new tree house. And then I got distracted by planting 20, 000 bulbs. Yes, it’s gone from 15,000 to 20,000 because, did you know, you can plant straight through the whole winter as long as the ground doesn’t freeze?
So I keep buying them instead of finishing the addition, which most people would probably have put on credit by now, but I can’t because I blew my credit launching three start-ups.
My son said, “Mom, doesn’t our house look weird with the porch sort of blowing in the wind?”
“Yeah,” I said. “It does.”
And then I bought more bulbs. Because my ability to live in a house with an unfinished room is my credit card.
8. Your friends are your health insurance.
As health care costs keep increasing, you will have to get a higher and higher deductible. This is where friends come in: people who have friends are more likely to be mentally healthy, and mental health brings physical health. And the Framingham Heart Study has shown that if you pick healthy friends, you’ll be healthy, too. And if they’re really good friends, you can use their health insurance policy instead of getting your own.
So you should probably go make some friends, instead of worrying about your money. Friends mean you have a better network for staying employed, a better network for understanding yourself, which is really what financial security is all about anyway. Because creating financial security is a mental exercise, not a money exercise.