College Ain’t What It Used To Be

Posted on: Friday, August 23rd, 2013
Posted in: Spendology, Blog | Leave a comment

DSC_0054You can’t toss a diploma anymore without hitting some media story about the plight of millennials. They can’t find decent jobs. They’re up to their mortar boards in debt. They’re moving back in with their parents in record numbers—40%. That’s 21.6 million millennials (18 to 31) shacking up with Mom and/or Dad.

According to one recent story, in fact, any stigma about returning to the empty nest has now faded away like a forgotten frat party. The great recession humbled many people’s aspirations, of course. But it’s also true that this generation has been particularly cozy with their parents—and many parents welcome them back with open arms and minds.

Some staggering statistics

Living at home is only the beginning. Consider a few more stats:

  • 20% of Americans have student loans. (Countrywide Financial)
  • 55% say their education loans are affecting decisions such as getting married, buying a house, and/or saving for retirement. (Countrywide Financial)
  • 17% of millennials in their 20s with at least some college education claim to be “totally independent” now, compared to 23% in 2011. (PNC Wealth Management)
  • 58% of 20-29 year olds with some college rate themselves behind where they expected to be in terms of financial success. (PNC Wealth Management)

Beyond the numbers, though, the trend hits close to home. In my circle of friends and families, I’m hard-pressed to think of one college grad who waltzed with ease from graduation into a career-worthy job. Even unpaid internships are tough to land. Heck, most high-school students don’t have summer or other part-time jobs, either.

I don’t mean to show my age. But…back in the day, virtually everyone worked. And if you asked your parents for some money, they’d probably reply, “Get a job.”

Yet most folks would agree that “kids grow up so fast these days.” Indeed, in many ways, they do—from an early obsession with colleges, grades, and test scores to early exposure to sex, drugs, and digital living. Even LinkedIn recently announced a new target: High school and college students. “This is a way we can engage kids in their future,” states LinkedIn mouthpiece Christina Allen.

We can engage them in more screen time, I think she means. Yet the best contacts and jobs will still call for traditional social skills like taking initiative, minding your manners, and maintaining presence. As Woody Allen says, “80% of success is showing up.” (And I don’t think he meant on a LinkedIn page.)

Time for Temporary Retirement?

One can only hope for a big-picture, long-term outlook for these young’uns (and their families). Why not, for instance, take that first career break before the career kicks off? One could…

  • Take a gap year, like so many countries kids do, and travel on the cheap; is there anything more educational than travel? Won’t most worthy employers be impressed—especially if you become bilingual?
  • Join the Peace Corps, Americorp, or other worthy outreach program.
  • Look into teaching in a developing nation.
  • Check out living with a relative in a faraway city or country.
  • Get entrepreneurial and start a business.

It’s conceivable that these millennials will need to work 50 years before officially retiring—if they ever do find jobs, that is. My hope is that this group and their challenging circumstances might help usher in the paradigm shift that makes temporary retirement throughout their career a common, and celebrated, experience.

On that goal, they’re off to a good start!

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Airbnb Saves Lives!

Posted on: Tuesday, May 1st, 2012
Posted in: Spendology, Blog | Leave a comment

Attention vagabonds: Airbnb has become the hottest travel tool since the airplane—while bringing to life another trend called “collaborative consumption.”

I pity the sterile hotels that have to compete with this vivacious option.  And as these Fast Company stories confirm, the ripples from this wave reach far and deep…

  • A New York woman made enough new money to handle unexpected medical expenses—and found inspiration in the healthy lifestyles of her guests.
  • A Berkeley couple averted an empty retirement nest egg crisis, started saving for the future, and now dig into their bucket list of travel aspirations.
  • A woman from Rome was able to leave her humdrum job and start a new business from home.
  • After a divorce, a German man opened up his quiet house and makes new friends, practices his English, and happily moves on with his life.
  • A San Francisco woman was able to make the move for a dream job—thanks to the instant and affordabe housing she found through Airbnb.

This BreakAway family has lounged in a NOLA rowhouse packed with eye-popping art, provincial vibes, and all the creature comforts of home.  Soon, we’ll move into pads in Scandinavia—again offering amenities o-mega, and at affordable prices.

It’s hard to imagine travel without this terrific tool—or life before it came along.

Next time you want to travel, jump on the Airbnb bandwagon!


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Hate to Bust the Boomers’ Bubble…

Posted on: Friday, March 16th, 2012
Posted in: Spendology, Blog | Leave a comment

A group of guy pals celebrated a friend’s retirement last week. He’s earned it; he’s ready. So what’s next?

I have no idea!”

he answered with a cunning grin.

He does still have a kid at home and more in college—plus cars and yards and chores.  So with or without plans of grandeur, he’ll be busy.  But for his sake, I hope not too!

  • Will the “golden years” be golden?

My friend will be fine, congratulations.  But for millions of other boomers, the golden handcuffs that have kept them working appear to be turning to copper.  Research and surveys with tainted news fall upon us like pennies from purgatory.

  • Surveys sez:

In a nationwide survey of workers age 60 and over,

11% of respondents said they don’t think they’ll ever be able to retire*

45% of baby boomers are at risk of running short in retirement**

20% have already received an inheritance***  (median value:  $64,000***)

15% still expect to receive one***

Baby boomers—that loud, proud crowd born between 1946 and 1964—have lived through an unprecedented standard of living boom.  They’ve helped swell American values like individuality, innovation, and entitlement.

  • The $64,000 question

But will the boomers be able to take care of themselves as the years go by?  (There are still 77 million to worry about.)  Inheritance doesn’t look like the golden ticket.  And of course, Social Security and pensions ain’t what they used to be.  And let’s not even talk about healthcare costs.

For me, my friend’s stepping away from the paycheck is simultaneously celebratory and sobering.  What will our society look like in 2030 when 20% are senior-citizen boomers?  How many will be feeble and flat broke?  Is anyone earnestly addressing this stuff?

  • Time for Temporary Retirement

Nobody knows the solutions.  But one thing’s for sure:  Many folks will be working later in life, and many may enjoy a shorter (or perhaps no) retirement.  As the old Hoyt Axton song goes,

Work your fingers to the bone, what’ya get?  Bony fingers!”

Moral of the story:  If you can, when you can, take your time—off.  The case for retiring now and then throughout your career keeps growing stronger.  Even if the justification includes potential boomer doom and gloom.

*CareerBuilder.com and Harris Interactive


***USA Today, 5-25-11


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Loyalty Programs: Bogus!

Posted on: Sunday, December 11th, 2011
Posted in: Spendology, Blog | Leave a comment

Everybody’s looking for a way to save money these days.  And nobody’s got more brilliant ideas than Corporate America.  You can’t buy a cup o’ jo or a paperclip without some store-clerk puppet mouthing that smarmy question:

Are you a Bogus Bonus member?”

  • Trick question

This stressed-out consumer dodged those programs like telemarketing calls until, dang it, the cash flow was turning pink and some stores were bleeding my wallet.  Take my hardware store (please): When procuring $1,000 worth of lawn equipment, the sales woman got me all aroused at my potential payback.

  • How could I say no?

So I signed up.  There, and most everywhere.  So now and then, a $5 (or whatever) discount diploma comes in the mail.  One must take them when going to the store. And not forget to use it.  Before the expiration date.  And when shopping, they’ll probably have an irresistible snow blower on the counter, and you’ll spend another $1,000.

  • Worth the hassle?

Are they worth it?  In a word, no.  The issuers send junk mail and spam.  They profile your purchases and probably sell or trade your data.  They pay back a fraction of what you spent to get the “discount.”  And usually, they make you carry around little cards and fobs that make your jeans bulge in strange ways.

  • Take care of your millions…

Back in the day, I worked at a small ad agency with Audrey the Accountant.  She would preach,

If we take care of our pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.”

Well, yes, BUT.  In the case of loyalty marketing programs, it’s too easy to start thinking like “them,” instead of thinking for yourself.  You get tempted to take extra airline flights to “get the miles.”  You get nowhere.

Audrey, may I respectfully suggest that if you take care of your millions, your dollars will take care of themselves.  Oh, you don’t have millions?  Well then, start saving.  Because spending is rarely the route to wealth.


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Freedom from Financial Angst

Posted on: Monday, July 4th, 2011
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What does freedom mean to you?  Americans continue to feud about that question like the Hatfields and McCoys.  But to this Yankee, personal freedom means, above all, freedom from financial angst.  Life is too short to spend it fretting about debt, regret, and lost dreams.

  • Money Maven Kara McGuire Suggests 5 Tips

It’s not that hard to get out of the red.  Just yesterday, the Star Tribune’s “Your Money” column offered 5 tips that may be easier read than done, but can help achieve financial indpendence.  The author suggests spending some holiday weekend time (on the hammock) pondering these sensible ideas.


  1. Revisit your retirement-saving regimen.
  2. Teach your children well—including common sense about dollars and cents.
  3. Free yourself from debt.  ‘Nuff said.
  4. Just say no, thank you, to pricey splurges.
  5. Seek financial independence by brushing up on your estate and retirement planning.
  • America has a spending problem

Thanks to Ms. McGuire for keeping the holiday speech upbeat.  That’s not easy. Consider:  A TIME magazine poll recently found that 19% of Americans think they are in the top 1% of income earners.  With such widespread delusional living, it’s no surprise we have an epidemic of economic dysfuncionality.

  • Set yourself free

The good news, of course, is that here in the USA, we remain mostly free to determine our own destiny.  Our money habits will determine much of that fate, as well as whether one can afford that career break, or even a simple, sweet vacation at the lake.

So take Kara’s advice.  And if you want 11 (super-short) more ideas, speed-read my “11 Commandments of Fiscal Fitness.” Then, enjoy a day off.  Watch the clouds and the fireworks.  And envision a life free from financial fear.

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American (Money) Idiots

Posted on: Thursday, December 2nd, 2010
Posted in: Spendology, Blog | Leave a comment

P1000896We Merr’kuns may still be learning our money math. But if a downturn is good for anything, it’s for ruthless fiscal forehead-gripping—for economists and Joe 6-Packs alike. 

The good news:  Americans are reducing their credit card usage.  In fact, more than 8 million people stopped actively using their cards in the past year.  Now a big part of that is because many folks have gotten their swiper taken away.  But maybe we’re also wising up, and those 20-something interest rates just don’t interest us any more. Still, the sad fact remains that the average credit card balance hovers around $5,000.  Ugh.

The bad news: Our college students admit to overall cluelessness about managing their own money, and (of course) blame their parents.  (Duh!)  

The latest digits…

  • 77% of students said they didn’t feel fully prepared to manage their own money when they went to college, according to a BookRenter College Experience survey.
  • 85% believed that it was a parent’s responsibility to actively teach them about money.
  • 5% felt that the onus of learning about money is on them. 

The best news:  Only 5% think (I mean “feel”) the onus (what’s an “onus,” anyway?) is “on them.”  Self-esteem must be thriving, even when the fiscal fitness is getting way flabby. 

In The Graduate, Mr. Mcguire says,

I want to say just one word to you.  Just one word, Benjamin…

Yes, sir, Mr. McGuire?


Could we finally have Graduated from Plastics?

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Excess & the Stuff of Life

Posted on: Friday, April 16th, 2010
Posted in: Spendology, Blog | One comment

DSC_0384_2When schlepping more stuff into the house the other day, a brilliant idea hit me: 

How about a family project in which we try to acquire nothing new for one month. (Okay, except for food and wine.) 

I ran it by a few family members; the idea elicited eye-rolling, if that. 

Fine, I figured.  Simplicity is not so simple.  We can keep crowding ourselves in our cluttered habitat.  And such challenges will only help me with my Zen training, right?  Anyway, spring has sprung, so a guy can finally ditch the house and dig the outdoors. 

  • Self-imposed scarcity gets trendy

Little did I know that bloggers and books are rampant about the relentless pursuit of living with less.  Some of it is recession and spend/save related, though the political and spiritual motivations may carry more weight.

One couple subsisted with a food budget of a dollar a day, blogged about it, and made many dollars on the book deal they landed fast after the near-fast ended. 

A San Fran artist has given up autos—even riding in anyone else’s—and has 15 months under his belt.  Of course he, too, has a blog to share his saga

And up in Seattle, a diehard fashionista has sworn off buying new duds (other than underwear) for a year.  And has lived to tell the tale.

Of course, TIME magazine recently brought all these projects into the old-school media mainstream with a feature.

  • Back home, the stuff-fungus grows on

Wish we had a bigger house, but then we’d just fill that one with more stuff too.  Meantime, the last week alone brought (bought?) a ton of new baseball equipment for The Boy.  Dance uniforms (3) and American Girl gear for The Girl.  And several springy garments (albeit secondhand) for the wife.  (NOTHING left the house, save trash.) 

As for me?  Nothing new!  That’s some level of success, right?  After all, we learn over and over that we can only control our own actions.  And when it comes to stuff-coveting, self-control isn’t easy. 

Much of America is blessed with so, so much.  The question is:  When do blessings become burdens?

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The Time/Belt-Tightening Continues…

Posted on: Friday, March 5th, 2010
Posted in: Spendology, Blog | Leave a comment

frfruitWhich is more important:  How you spend your money…or your time?

Over the past decade and around the world, people are increasingly eating out, ordering in, and picking up their edibles.  Such habits may save time, but they typically cost much more than making your own meals.

One upside of this relentless recession is that folks may be getting more finicky about how they spend both time and money–including regarding food.  Even the French are changing their ways!  To wit:

  • 66% of Americans say they have changed their food consumption patterns as a result of the economy.
  • 72% of Americans now pack lunch for themselves or their children.
  • The French now spend an average of 31 minutes eating lunch, down from an hour and 38 minutes in 1975.  (Which likely saves time AND money.)

As usual, such symbolic stats suggest both good news and bad news.

Bad: What’s Paris without leisurely lunches?  What happens to all those restaurant artisans and traditions?  What are the French doing with that extra hour—working?  Zut alors!

Good: If Americans are changing their eating ways, maybe (just maybe) we’ll save on both money AND calories, since packing lunch may whisper “apple” instead of bellowing “Big Mac.”  Bottom line: Growing (or at least cooking) your own is good soul food–time well spent that typically costs less.

The balance battle of money versus time wages on for each of us.  But for most folks, it’s the shortage of jingle that keeps them from dancing away on a Sabbatical dream.  Perhaps simply taking charge of your own food–rather than constantly saying “charge it”–will help people create money-saving habits that someday, someday, will lead them to a BreakAway.

And then they can go out for a long, classy lunch in Paris!    :  )

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$ome $aving Tips from W$J

Posted on: Saturday, December 5th, 2009
Posted in: Spendology, Blog | Leave a comment

DSC_0674_2Saving money can be hard work. Worse: Many strategies have no obvious, immediate payoff. I mean, who can figure the savings for, like, not leaving all the lights on?  WSJ—that’s who.

This article has tips that are good for saving (for your BreakAways), good for the earth, and in some cases even good for your health. 

To encourage you to read more, here are a few pecuniary teasers:

  • Cool down:  Turning down the thermostat can save hundreds yearly.
  • Slow down:  Drive 55 and save 70 cents per gallon.
  • Use your legs:  Biking or walking to work could easily save a thou or more annually. 
  • Brown-bag it:  Save another thou (or more—and that may include daily calories!) by taking a lunch to work. 
  • Don’t grocery-shop on an empty stomach.  
  • Get a better credit card. 
  • Get your DVDs from the library. 

Check it out!

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Survey Sez: Home & Retirement Values Look Bleak

Posted on: Saturday, September 26th, 2009
Posted in: Spendology, Blog | Leave a comment

photo by Kirk Horsted

This darn recession shows little sign of mellowing. Oh sure, the economic indicators and trading markets look better. But without the infusion of massive (borrowed) cash courtesy of Uncle Sam, we’d still be sinking. Just ask the Average American—who volunteered this depressing assessment of their major holdings…

  • 25 percentage of Americans who owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth
  • 70 percentage of Americans who aren’t sure they’ll save enough for retirement
Is there a silver lining here? Possibly, but remember that silver isn’t worth much compared to America’s gold-standard lifestyle. Perhaps the best hope is that the cycle has to end someday. And then home prices will again start rising, mortgages will seem more worthwhile, and retirement accounts will be both higher in value and priority.
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