Give the Gift of Financial Literacy

In this season of giving, it’s easy to get caught up in the shiny and the bright. Wouldn’t we all like the newest tech, or the trendiest outfit? But as we all know, those that are new and innovative today will be outdated and old news tomorrow. Parents, as your kids get older it becomes more and more difficult to find that perfect gift and those desired items gradually grow more and more expensive. For those kids leaving college or at the beginning of their adult lives, those needs may even include more practical items for the first time. How about this year, while showering them with gifts that may only last a season, you pass on some financial knowledge about savings and debt that will last their whole lives?

A healthy savings habit is the gift that keeps on giving. All of life’s major money milestones – whether it’s for a down payment, starting a new business, or a long period of unemployment- require having cash in the bank. For your children, the feeling of being able to tackle challenges like these without parental support is both extremely liberating and a memory they will pass onto future generations. Although everyone’s situation is different, a good rule of thumb for those starting out is to put 10% of total income toward long-term goals (like retirement) and 10% toward short-term goals (like the emergency fund or a house down payment.) To help ensure success, we recommend having these savings deductions automatically withdrawn from a paycheck into separate accounts each month. We find that it’s much easier to not spend if you don’t see the money. And for those who’re receiving holiday bonuses for the first time, save at least 50% for the future. We promise that this practice will have you remembering the holidays in a positive light for years down the road.

Every year on TV we see the Grinch who tries to ruin Christmas. But for twenty-somethings, he’s going by a different name this year – debt. As a parent you’ve known for a while that there’s no such things as free money, but this is a new concept for young adults. Tour guides don’t discuss loan repayment strategies on the campus tour and credit card companies don’t emphasize their high interest rates while they tempt kids with free t-shirts on the Quad. Credit cards are one of the best ways to help establish good credit. They can also come with great perks, travel benefits and discounts. But, all of these “benefits” are only helpful if these cards are used responsibly. If you’re comfortable, help your child open their first credit card, but discuss with them the importance of paying it off in full each month. Show them how incredibly high the interest rates are on these cards – higher than the return any investment or savings account will ever earn them. We recommend starting with a low credit limit ($500 or less) for the first year or so while they grow accustomed to paying off the card each month. If your student was one of those kids that picked up one of those free t-shirt/credit card combos, but doesn’t remember what happened to either, it also would be a good idea to check out their credit report. This report will give you the details on the card, as well as help you monitor for fraud or identity theft. Although there are many online sites that will show you your credit report, there’s only one site,, that’s authorized by the federal government to show your credit reports from all three reporting agencies each year.

Why Retirement Financial Planning Is Critical

Despite the desire to stop working one day, many Americans do not begin retirement financial planning until they have been working for a number of years. With the high cost of living, it is important for people to begin setting aside money as soon as possible for their lives after they are finished working. A recent study shows that about four out of five full-time employees have access to a company-sponsored 401k or similar investment strategy. On the other hand, more than four out of ten Americans have no pension or long-term savings. No matter your method of saving, there are numerous reasons why you should start today.

You Are Going To Live Longer

In 1950, around when many of the baby-boomer generation was born, the average life expectancy for an American was just over 68 years. As of 2010, that number has increased to 78.7 years. So what does life expectancy have to do with retirement financial planning? The longer you live, the more money you will need to survive. In 1950, if you retired at 50, on average you would need enough savings to live for about 20 more years. Today you need enough savings for approximately three more decades.

Social Security Is Not Enough

The average American receiving social security gets about $16,000 per year or around $1,250 a month. For the vast majority of Americans, this is nowhere near enough money to comfortably live on. Furthermore, you cannot begin to receive social security benefits until you are at least 62 years of age. That means if you retire earlier than that, you will have to rely entirely upon your own personal savings, 401k, or pension.

Retirees Face Higher Health Care Costs

Along with regular expenses such as a mortgage payment, groceries, insurance, and entertainment, retirees are also faced with the ever increasing cost of health care. On top of health insurance premiums, an American couple of retiring age, say 65, can expect to pay nearly $600 per month on average for routine medical procedures, check-ups, and medications. At age 75 that cost will be over $700 per month.

Retiring Should Be Enjoyable

So far we have discussed all of the negatives associated with not having proper retirement financial planning. Now let’s look at what you can do with a secure plan. As mentioned above, people are living longer lives than ever before. This, coupled with no work, means enormous amounts of time for leisure activities. If you are financially secure, this can mean visiting out of town relatives on a regular basis, taking vacations across the country and globe, and even indulging in high-end restaurants on a regular basis.

In short, retirement financial planning is a necessity for a healthy, stress-free, and timely retirement. The earlier and more you save, the less you will have to worry in your later years.