My great Aunt Margaret was a bank teller. When I was a little kid, she’d always say, “If you see a penny, pick it up and save it for a rainy day.” Well, Aunt Margaret, I’ve been saving ever since and I’m glad to say my financial situation has always been pretty damn good.
Pennies might be meaningless today, but the sentiment is truer than ever. Smart, and often simple, financial principles will stand you in good stead your entire life.
OK, you may be thinking, “What is this old guy talking about?” If you’re young and in your first or second job, having any money in your pocket might seem a reason to spend it. If you’re a little older, with a family, a mortgage and other obligations, the idea of putting money away might seem very far away indeed. But trust me, no matter what stage of life or career you’re in, it’s never too early to start saving and planning for your future. No one knows better than you the value of meticulous planning: That’s what you do for a living, carefully organizing and strategizing to ensure your course’s agronomic health or the success of a special event. Apply it to your personal finances, too.
These simple truths should help you along the way:
1. Spend less than you make. This may sound obvious but remember the road to financial success is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s what you can save, not spend, that helps you build for your future. Set aside a small percentage of your earnings and vow to not spend it, especially not on things you really don’t need.
2. The 10 percent rule. Building on the above, vow to save a set percentage of your paycheck every week. Figure out how much you can comfortably put aside and then add a little more. My yearly goal was to save 5 percent of my annual income. Then, when you’ve accumulated a decent amount, look for ways to make it work for you, such as putting it into a retirement account.
2A. IRA is your friend. Speaking of retirement accounts, if the club or company you work for offers any sort of retirement fund, and especially if they kick in to it, too, do it! Not only are IRAs and 401(k)s great ways to force you to save, but if someone is going to add a bit to help you out, you’d be foolish not to take advantage. Do some online research and you’ll see how these accounts can build over the years.
3. Invest for the long run. I’m more than 50 years past being a little kid, but I learned early that building your finances takes time. Here’s another Old Fart thing to say, but trust me, you twenty- or thirtysomethings will be looking at 60 before you know it. Your goal now should be to make it so you can retire comfortably. Any financial sacrifice made today will provide dividends for your future. Thirty-five years ago, my first broker trained me that the secret to building assets is making quality investments and sticking with them. Finding a financial advisor you trust is another good idea. Now.
4. Buy, don’t rent. Yes, this is easier said than done, especially since becoming a successful superintendent requires moving about the country and learning as much as you can along the way. This type of career progression makes renting simpler than buying. But over the long run, renters stay poor while owners build wealth. Owners have 40 times the net worth of renters. Over the long term, renting can cost up to a million dollars, and when all is said and done, you’ll have no equity to show for it.
5. Never stop saving. Life will occasionally kick you in the teeth. But as Rocky Balboa said, “It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward!” Even if things get tight, keep saving. Yes, I realize you might not make all that much. Doesn’t matter. Do the math: If at age 25 you start saving $10 a day or $300 a month and invest it to earn 3 to 8 percent annual growth, by age 65 you could have a potential nest egg of close to $2 million. Start saving at age 35, and it’s closer to $600,000.
Aunt Margaret would be proud!