By now we’ve all heard that being a twentysomething today is no financial picnic. Higher tuition costs (and higher debt loads), higher housing prices, and poorer job prospects – as Rob Carrick wrote recently, young people really do have it harder than he did.
But lately I’ve been wondering if these difficult financial times might create some sort of “new frugality” movement within the younger generations. Instead of heading into their 30s saddled with debt, throwing everything on credit and taking out mortgages on houses they can’t afford, perhaps people in their 20s will rebel by embracing previously uncool concepts like budgeting, penny-pinching and saving for a rainy day.
Meet Jaime Woo, the 29-year-old co-founder of Gamercamp, a videogame conference in Toronto that is entering its fourth year. He’s fulfilling his dream of owning his own business - and he hasn’t gone into the hole to do so.
Mr. Woo self-funded his business, due in large part to the financial literacy and discipline he’s been exercising since he was a teenager. Mr. Woo got his first credit card at 14 and his first part-time job at 15. His mother and aunt worked for banks and taught him about money very young.
After graduating from university (his parents paid his tuition and he lived at home during that time), Mr. Woo spent three years working as a molecular biologist. But instead of spending his new-found money on a car or other luxuries he’d been craving, Mr. Woo decided to continue living with his parents in Markham. For three years, he saved almost every penny of the money he made. And he kept his entertainment budget low, doing things like renting movies.
“I didn’t understand going out in the evenings and spending $60 or $70 dollars a night on drinks the way some of my friends were. I didn’t feel like that was a good use for what money could do for me.”
Mr. Woo’s careful saving allowed him to start his business with a friend, while still leaving him enough of a nest-egg to live on while he builds it. He puts everything on his credit card “for the points” and to keep track of his spending, but never fails to pay all of it off each month. He’s got his own apartment now, but says he is still “very, very meticulous” about his spending.
Surrounding himself with a group of fellow entrepreneurs who are also committed to their fledgling businesses has also helped, says Mr. Woo.
“I’ve learned that our spending is so based on our social circle,” he says. “If your friends are always going to Marben and Canoe and that’s what’s expected, of course you’re going to have this drain on your expenses, but my friends are happy to play a board game and have a bottle of wine at someone’s house because we all know we need to put our money into our businesses.”
What stands out about Mr. Woo is that he remains undaunted about spending a good deal of his 20s in tough economic times. “You have to make the best of what you’ve got, there’s no point in feeling hard done by because I think that feeds more into the idea of entitlement by Generation Y."
Penny-pinching might not seem like a very sexy way to spend your 20s, but it’s a heck of a lot sexier than getting snowed under by debt.
If you’re a twentysomething looking to reach your financial goals, here are some tips from Melissa Jarman, director of student banking at RBC:
1. Know what’s coming in and what’s going out. “You always want to have that view, whether you do it quarterly or even once a year, this is how much I’m making this month, this is how much is going out. And where is my wiggle room there?” says Ms. Jarman. Whether you’re doing it manually or using software or an online budgeting tool, this will give you a realistic snapshot of your financial situation.
2. Start saving. To grow your savings, Ms. Jarman suggests saving between three and 10 per cent of what you earn. To help make that happen, have that money come right out of your bank account as soon as you get paid. “Whether you have it go into high-interest savings, whether it’s for your retirement or paying down debt, have those things happen when the money comes in your account, and then you don’t notice it.”
3. Have an emergency fund. “A lot of us are buy first, save later,” says Ms. Jarman. “We have a recommendation that says [you should save]three months expenses if you’re single, six months if you have a family, but any amount to cover an emergency is a good amount to have.”
4. Tackle your debt. Put together a debt repayment strategy. Organize your debt in order of interest rates and pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first. Or consider consolidating your debts into one payment. “With consolidating, there’s an opportunity to get a lower interest rate, and you’re down to one payment and for some people that makes things easier,” she says.
5. Rethink your spending. Ms. Jarman advocates making a list of your expenses, from the necessities (like phone, transit, etc.) to the luxuries (like coffee, lunches out, entertainment, etc). Then figure out where you can trim. “You can look and say this is a priority for me, I like to have that coffee in the morning, that’s the one thing I live for, but maybe I’m going to bring my lunch a few days a week.”
Is this young business owner part of a new frugality movement? Is this something you think is happening now in Canada? Tell us what you think in the comment section below.