After my interview with Forbes.com, I received a rush of new readers visiting MDJ along with a slew of questions. One email in particular stood out as it was from a 17 year old, David, who is already starting to save and get interested in investing.
Here is the email:
I’m 17 years old and work 3-4 days a week and I’m able to save about $400-$500 a month easily ($800/month net salary). I read on a yahoo article (syndicated from Forbes) that you started investing in mutual funds at only 16.
Are there any tips you would give me right now? And if you could do it all over again is there anything you would do differently?
I really don’t want my money to just sit in the bank, I want to put it to work!
Before I get started, I must commend David on starting early on his savings habits, if he keeps it up throughout his working years, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes very wealthy. I remember the days where I was just learning about the saving, investing, and especially, the power of compounding interest. The fuel or secret sauce behind the power of compound interest is time.
As a 17 year old, time is on David’s side. Say that David saves $6,000 per year ($500/month) for retirement in 45 years, and invests in a balanced portfolio of low cost index ETFs averaging 5% return after inflation. What size portfolio will he have? $1M in today’s dollars! And that’s assuming that he saves $6,000 per year, with his current savings habits, it’s likely that he will save much more than that throughout his life.
What advice would I give him right now? While David didn’t give me any specific goals, I’m going to assume that he wants to build as much wealth as possible and perhaps even retire a bit earlier than normal.
Watch Lifestyle Inflation
David, now that you have a regular savings habit, try to maintain your savings habit as a lifestyle choice. The key to keeping your savings rate high is to to continue growing your means while keeping your lifestyle within reason.
Over the coming years, you will see some of your peers start making “real” money, then immediately inflate their lifestyle with debt – big mortgages, luxury car loans and perhaps even credit card debt to buy more “stuff” (The Joneses). While “stuff” can be fun at first, it grows old, and can eventually become a burden. A lot of people buy a lot of “stuff” so that they appear wealthy without being wealthy. It’s up to you who you want to be.
Having cash in the bank will give you options throughout life. Whether it’s for a larger down payment on a future house, paying cash for a car, or simply putting more money into investments.
Follow your Interests
Making the right career choice is important for your future earnings. This may sound funny coming from a money guy, but do not make a lifelong career choice simply based on the salary that it will pay. While salary is an important factor, don’t let it become the only factor. At the end of the day, you should enjoy what you are doing since you’ll be spending most of your day in that field of work.
If you haven’t already, think about your current interests, then think about how they can apply to a future career. When I say interests, what are some topics that you enjoy learning about? Topics that you research and learn about in your free time (not when you have to). For example, if you enjoy software programming and academically inclined, Engineering may be a good option. Talk to people already in the work field that hit your interest list and talk to career counselors.
Continual learning is the key to getting good at a particular skill, and interest in that subject is a prerequisite. Becoming an expert at a specific skill will bring you far in your career.
Invest with the Long Game in Mind
Now that you saving a bunch of cash, what should you do with all? If your goal is to build wealth, then buy appreciating assets for the long term! Do you have any interest in the stock market? What about real estate?
For some people, it makes the most sense to invest in real estate. It’s what they know, and they like knowing/seeing that they own a physical building. Investment real estate growth, over the long term, is known to keep up with inflation. Many investors have the strategy of buying rentals, using the rent to pay down the mortgage over time, and living off the rental income during retirement. While this is a sound strategy, it is not passive. It is more like running an active business especially when you get a bad set of tenants.
In my opinion, the easiest and most passive way to build wealth over the long term is by investing in the broad stock market. I’ve written this many times before, but over any 20+ year period, broad market returns have exceed inflation. In other words, historically, investing in the index over the long term has never lost money.
If you are just starting your investing journey, then setting up a mutual fund account with your bank to buy index mutual funds may be a good bet (in a TFSA). When the account grows to $30k+, you may want to consider switching to a self-directed account and building an index ETF portfolio to save on fees, but sticking with low cost index mutual funds are ok too.
Like I said earlier, if you maintain your current savings amount, you will be a millionaire in today’s dollars just in time for traditional retirement. If you want to retire earlier, you will need to save more, but likely not out of reach for you. Here is an article on how much you will need to save for early retirement.
Balance in Life
While building wealth can be all consuming, try to find that delicate balance between spending money on things that you value, and saving for financial freedom. For example, some people value travel and experiences. While this may be a high cost item, many travel extensively with modest budgets. The key is to save for the things that you value while cutting back on things that don’t add value to your life.
You may find that your savings rate may drop if/when you get married and have children – that’s ok too! Providing that you maintain a reasonable lifestyle, the savings rate will bounce back with time. Hopefully, your future spouse will have the similar financial values which will accelerate your financial goals.
Oh and one more thing David, enjoy the journey.
Putting it All Together
I believe that David has a huge head-start in building wealth and I have no doubt that David is a multi-millionaire in the making.
I have touched on a few pieces of advice in this article but I’m interested in your thoughts and opinions.
What advice do you have for 17 year old David?