Tuesday, 11 June 2024

3 Staples of Boomer Money Advice You Can Safely Ignore

by BD Banks

3 Staples of Boomer Money Advice You Can Safely Ignore

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I have a great deal of love and respect for the baby boomers in my life — which includes my parents. Over the years, they’ve imparted a lot of solid wisdom and advice, and I’m grateful for it. I have never regretted arriving early for a job interview, for example. (Thanks, Mom!) But times have changed, and the world they grew up in is long gone. So take these bits of boomer money advice with a grain of salt.

1. “Renting is throwing money away!”

Buying a house has become harder for the average American over the last few years, thanks to a fine combination of higher home prices and higher mortgage rates. And yet, if you talk to older folks who had the privilege of buying houses when they were pretty young, you might hear the opinion that renting is a waste of money — you’re not building equity and you get no return on the money you spend on rent. Here’s the thing, though: You’re paying for a place to live, and giving yourself more flexibility and lower housing bills in the process.

And according to recent Realtor.com findings, if you consider the numbers, it’s cheaper to rent than to own in the 50 largest U.S. metro areas. What’s a person supposed to do if they need a place to live and can’t cover the big upfront and ongoing costs that it’ll take to buy? And what if they are in no way settled in one geographic area for the long haul? Renting is the answer.

And you can even build wealth as a renter, if you’re fortunate enough not to live paycheck to paycheck. I’m a brand-new homeowner, and buying a home in 2024 was my top goal. But if I had been comfortable continuing to rent, I could have taken my excess earnings and invested them. The stock market has returned an average of 10% annually over the last 50 years — sure, homes often appreciate in value, too, but you have to sell a house to profit from those gains.

2. “Go to college or you’ll be poor!”

Raise your hand if you are under 50 and grew up hearing this one. For me, there was really never a question that I’d be getting at least a four-year degree (and I ended up with a two-year graduate degree on top of that, too). Part of that was because I genuinely wanted to pursue higher education, but I also heard from basically all the adults in my life that college was necessary if I didn’t want a low-paying job.

While it’s true that those who’ve been to college earn more on average (typical salaries for bachelor’s degree holders are 86% higher than for those with just a high school diploma), we’re avoiding the elephant in the room here. Higher education is expensive, especially if you are like me and have no family money to send you to college and must rely on competitive grants and scholarships — or take on debt to attend school (or both). Pursuing higher education can set your finances back for years.

Meanwhile, if you want to increase your earning power and have no interest in traditional classroom schooling, you have options. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that workers in the skilled trades (such as construction, electrical work, and plumbing) earned a median salary of $55,680 in May 2023 — higher than the median wage across all occupations, which was just $48,060.

Many of these jobs require some schooling (though a lot less than your average office job), or an apprenticeship period. And many are physically demanding. But they are also in demand — there will always be a need for these jobs. AI won’t take your construction job — but it might take my writing job.

3. “Discussing your finances isn’t polite!”

You have likely heard from an older person in your life that talking about money, such as salaries, debt, and beyond, is rude and best avoided. According to an Empower survey from 2023, the older set (boomers and Generation X) are a lot more reticent when talking about money — just 38% of Gen X and 22% of boomers say they are more free about discussing financial topics. That’s compared to 56% of millennials and 49% of Gen Z.

In practice, people are taking their money talk to social media. “Loud budgeting” has been a major trend on TikTok — and it consists of talking about your financial situation and being honest and upfront when you can’t afford something or just want to pursue different financial priorities.

It’s also about proudly declaring your money goals and encouraging the people around you to achieve theirs. Surely this is a healthier and more productive approach to money management than staying quiet about your finances!

If you’re arguing with your boomer parents (or grandparents) about housing, education, or money talk in 2024, just remember that it’s a much different world now than it was when they were your age. Remember that they mean well — but make sure you do your own research and consider what works best for your life and your budget before you follow any well-intended advice.

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