A few weeks ago, there was a New York Times article, The Money Letter Every Parent Should Write, suggesting all parents should write a letter passing along financial wisdom and lessons learned. I love this idea and asked the YNAB team to write (and share) their own money letters. Jannelle, a new customer service rep, wrote to her young daughters, and today we have words of wisdom from, Sherri, a YNAB teacher from New Hampshire. Although she is writing to her three grown children, her truth is applicable across the board. We should all be so lucky to have a mom like Sherri:
Dear Kate, Cameron, and Garrett,
I’m writing you a “Money Letter,” because Lindsey, our marketing director, asked the YNAB staff to think about writing such a thing to their children, and I always try to do what she says because she’s super smart and wears enviable shoes.
You all are in your 20s and already light-years ahead of where I was at your age. Your parents and stepparents can take some small credit for that—put it on my tombstone: “She nagged us mercilessly until we started our retirement accounts.”
So, what is left to say about money? Well, I have four things. And my job is making me share them publicly, so you’ll probably listen. Another win for working at YNAB!
#1: From Now On, It’s Either Time Or Money
Every obligation you agree to and every possession you add will demand some of your time or your money. Or both. (Except for having children, which will demand copious amounts of both.)
You will never achieve a perfect balance of how you spend your time and money. But developing your awareness of how you are choosing to spend them is all that’s required.
Because you only have so much time/money and the people who barrel unthinkingly into these next two decades often end up in a situation that feels like a dead end.
Most mornings, we have to get up and work, bills have to be paid, children (if you have them) have to be raised. But creating a life with enough time and money to meet these obligations—without crippling stress—brings a satisfaction that is its own kind of happiness. Figure out what really makes you happy.
Then be brave enough to ask yourself: is what I’m doing with my money bringing me closer to or farther away from those things? And then be even braver and start making daily money decisions that move you in the direction you want to go.
#2: Do No Try To Do This Alone
It took numerous teachers a total of 17 years to teach you how to write a good paragraph. So I don’t know why anyone thinks they can figure out money on their own.
Here’s what can help:
- Choose a life partner who sees a connection between how we spend our time/money and our values.
- Continue your education about money–but only read things you can understand. If the author can’t make it clear to the average person, then he or she doesn’t “get” real life.
- Use tools to manage your time and your money efficiently–that will build awareness. You all know how I feel about Google Calendar and YNAB. If you had to choose just one of them, choose YNAB.
#3: Give Yourself The Flexibility To Learn/Screw Up/Change Direction
You’re going to make mistakes with your money. Even big ones. You can comfort yourself by knowing that you won’t make as many money mistakes as I did. And look, I am still alive and thriving! So don’t be scared.
Life will also arrange itself to teach you many valuable lessons. Ask Garrett how much eight weeks of traveling in Southeast Asia taught him about the reality that everything costs more than you think it will.
But constructing a life where you live on less than you earn will make learning those lessons much easier. And allow for changes in the direction of your life, when it feels like the right thing to do.
Never forget the difference it has made in your 20s not to have crippling student debt–keep hold of that feeling for the rest of your life.
#4: Accept And Ignore The “Power Ranger” Factor
When you were small, some moms who were at home full-time made it clear that, despite regular Sunday School attendance, hours of reading aloud, and endless reminders about chewing with your mouths closed, you three were going to hell in a handbasket because I let you watch Power Rangers.
There’s no way to win this one. No one will come to your house and tell you they hate the couch you just bought. But many people feel perfectly comfortable criticizing your most intimate choices about time and money. (Although the Power Rangers thing was pretty much about getting through the day with three children between ages 3 and 8.)
Always follow your best sense of what to do with both commodities, because you’re going to get criticized no matter what you do and it might as well be for something you feel right about inside.
Haters gonna hate. Don’t let it stop you. And never forget how much your mother loves you. You knew I was going to work that in somewhere, right?
Sherri Mancusi retired early to build a house with her husband in the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire. When she isn’t enjoying the outdoors, or teaching people about YNAB, she is hoarding credit card miles to visit her grown children in California, Massachusetts, and Michigan.