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I am writing a letter to my son just a few weeks after you turned 18. Legally, you are the age of majority, but you have a ways to go until maturity. A lot has changed between us for the good since the letter I wrote you as the coronavirus spread, causing many unexpected challenges. Thankfully, our family survived the most challenging time for many people who lost family members.
I prefer this side of the fence. As a senior at a terrific high school doing well, you sent out your college applications on time. You have a wonderful girlfriend among many friends, and you are a valued defensive football player on a team competing in the playoffs. You dyed your hair yellow with your team to celebrate your season win. What could be better?
You are at the beginning of your life with many beautiful milestones ahead, starting with college next Fall.
Why Am I Writing This Letter?
Like I have said a million times silently or out loud, I love you with all my heart. As a parent, I want the absolute best for you and your sister, Alex. As a teen, it is your nature not to listen to advice.
At this age, we are all wired to not listen to our parents or take their advice. I get that, and I am sure I was the same way. I know you don’t need my advice and that you know better than any parent. But, somewhere around your 25th or 26th birthday, you may feel quite different and be more open to considering bits and pieces. Dad and I aren’t always right, and yes, we are ancient in our ways and belong in a museum. Laugh out loud!
However, we have reams of experiences and a long-term perspective worth sharing.
There is always a perfect time to share some of my experiences and pass on some lessons about money and life. Indeed, I share much of the wisdom I gained from my mom to you and Alex, just as I share my grandmother’s words (my mom’s mother) who perished in the Holocaust. She was your great grandmother, and she often said, “Poor or rich, money is good to have.”
Here Are 10 Recommendations
1. Invest In Yourself
No one can do better for you than what you can do for yourself. When you were a young boy, I asked what you wanted to be when you grew up?” Without hesitation, you said, “Tall!” You accomplished that goal.
The best gift I can give you is to tell you to invest in yourself. Now is a good time for you to invest your time and energy to get what you want out of your life.
Set Small But Meaningful Goals
Learn to set small but meaningful goals and achieve them. As your interests grow and solidify, you will look further into the future and set longer-term hurdles. Get the most out of your life by being present and soaking it all up. When you go to college, focus on your classes, get involved with a cause that you are passionate about, or do volunteer work.
Investing in yourself also means taking care of your physical and mental health. Eating healthy, exercising, going outdoors, and getting enough sleep are essential.
I know you care about many things, including marine biology, climate change, and how you listen closely to the lyrics.
Treat time and energy with respect. We live by the same 24 hour day clock. At your age, you aren’t worried about wasting time. Time, for you, feels abundant. I was no different at your age. However, by learning to be productive now, you will have learned a great skill beneficial for the rest of your life. Invest in yourself, Tyler.
2. Find Your Passion
Passion may be an overused word. However, doing something well helps if you have strong positive emotions to motivate you towards achievement. Think about your strengths and how you spend your time and energy. Passion is a powerful force that drives us forward, providing meaning to our work, family, and lives.
Be mindful about what you are drawn to when you have free time to read and think. These activities and thoughts will give you some clues. Don’t worry if nothing is coming to you at this moment. At some point, patterns may emerge and show you the way.
As Steve Jobs said, “You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out. “
3. Save Money To Invest
Since the last letter, you put some savings away in your bank account and have your debit card. Saving money that you made through working long hours is a big deal. I was proud of you for taking the job and running with it without complaining.
That you socked money away in the bank and didn’t spend it all is a tremendous first financial step, and it shows you are taking some fiscal responsibility. Forming good money habits is a cornerstone to having financial flexibility in your future.
I am thrilled you are taking an Investments class at school and setting up a portfolio using a simulated stock market game. It is fun to discuss the market, the economy and learn about different stocks from you.
It’s funny when you mentioned the other day that you like Costco as a stock for its resilient attributes. That’s the same company you said you wanted when you were about nine years old, and I remember buying it around that time because you were adamant about its prospects. See, I listened to you!
As you know, I was an equity analyst for the telecom industry back in the day. That doesn’t give me any foolproof way of making money, but I use a disciplined approach as every investor should.
You’ll recall when I started this blog, I was a bit frightened, but I went forward with its setup, not understanding SEO from the rest of the alphabet. The idea of a money blog came about because I wanted to convey my experiences with money (good and bad) and inspire your interest in investments. As older parents, I worried about that.
Investing Is The Best Path To Wealth
Investing is the best path to wealth, and while you have no interest in being wealthy now, you often make that point- you will want to be financially independent in your life.
Remember the book you brought home, One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale by Demi. It teaches young kids how rice doubling every day could grow into more than a billion grains of rice. That concept is the nearest thing to investment magic where the power of compound interest is when you earn interest on the interest generated by your investment portfolio. This concept boosts your portfolio over the long term. Learn some of the investing jargon.
The earlier you save money and invest in the market with a long-term perspective, the better your chances of building wealth. I know that trading can be more exciting than investing long term and using a low-cost index fund, but patience in the market is far more rewarding. As Warren Buffett says, “Just pick a broad index like the S&P 500. Don’t put your money in all at once; do it over a period of time.”
4. Adopt An Abundance Mindset
Setbacks are normal and happen to everybody, and it is how you deal with these disappointments that can make a difference in your life. They happen but learn to deal with them better so you can minimize disappointments.
Are our mindsets predetermined, or can we grow, adapt and change? Your mindset matters greatly and could mean the difference between suffering disappointments or being content. Tyler, you have the power to develop your mentality between a scarcity mindset or an abundance mindset.
Those with a scarcity mentality may feel the grass is always greener somewhere and may feel someone else is hampering their ability to succeed. Individuals who tend toward scarcity are more often fearful, anxious, and stressed. It is difficult for them to see the good in the world and may suffer from tunnel vision, focusing on what is wrong rather than right.
In contrast to having a scarcity mentality, the abundance mindset envisions the world with enough resources to go around. This mentality is the antithesis of the scarcity mindset in virtually every regard. Positivity reigns for those with a predominant abundance mindset. Win-win situations for the abundance mindset replace the zero-sum game, which has someone as a loser.
Their perspective sees limitless opportunities, whether in business or life. Such a mindset is desirable for making progress toward prosperity, and don’t dwell on the setbacks. There is a Yiddish phrase, GAM ZU YAAVOR, which means “This too shall pass.”
5. There Must Be A Pony!
I am focusing on your mindset because I have seen your potential, but I know you are prone to concentrate on the negative side of the equation and worry too much. On that, we are very much alike.
It is like carrying a considerable weight around when an optimistic attitude would be so much better for all of us.
Thinking more about this and sometimes focusing on the negative reminds me of a book I once read by James Kirkwood. Jr, who wrote There Must Be A Pony! He didn’t originate the story, and there are many iterations with similar conclusions.
The Story Goes Like This:
A family had twin boys whose only resemblance to each other was their near-identical looks. If one was too cold and needed to turn on the heat, the other was too hot. If the music was too loud, the other claimed the volume was too low and asked to turn it up. If both saw the same movie, one was excited that they saw it, the other thought it a drag. They were opposite in every way, with one child an optimist and the other an eternal pessimist.
They consulted a psychiatrist, who discussed celebrating the twins’ birthday. The parents bought toys for them and put them in their room when they were visiting friends. When they returned, they both went to their separate rooms.
The father went into the pessimist’s room and found him sitting amid his new gifts, crying bitterly. Why are you crying? His father asked him. His pessimistic son said, “Because my friends will not like the presents or will be jealous, and I’ll need to read instructions and get the batteries to make them work, and my toys will eventually break.” He then went back to crying.
He then passed by his other son’s room, the optimist, and the son was happily engaged with a shovel, dancing in a pile of horse manure. “What are you so happy about?” asked the father.
To which his optimist twin replied, “With all of this manure, there must be a pony in here somewhere!”
Many versions of this story go back to the 19th century, but they have similar meanings. Having an upbeat attitude is way better for your health and life overall. Be grateful for what you get, especially if you weren’t expecting anything. Life is a gift, and try to lighten those challenging moments you will get and learn from them.
6. Tackle Things Now, Don’t Procrastinate
“Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday.”
Napoleon Hill, author of Think And Grow Rich
Young people use delay tactics to hand in homework and other assignments late. Procrastination can be a toxic habit for your finances, especially when you pay your bills late and have to high-cost interest charges and late fees. It’s a no-win situation for which you will pay dearly at work or home.
Rather than putting off what you need to do, tackle your tasks as you do with your opponents in football head-on. We all procrastinate a little, and sometimes it is a good thing, like delaying gratification to reduce overspending.
My point is not to let procrastination get out of control so that you can’t pay down large credit card balances or use your savings for investment. Take small steps to organize what you need to do before the due date and achieve a balance.
7. Networking Is Essential Even In High School
Over the next several years, you will meet different kinds of people. Building a network may sound intimidating to you today, but it is essential. Networking will grow in importance to you as you move from high school to college and into your career.
The purpose of networking is to establish relationships with those who can advance you. You can start in high school with your relationships like your peers, alumni, teachers, and friends. Some people you meet at college may become friends for life, and others represent potential connections to career opportunities.
Like building a following on social media and respective sites, you will be making connections with people with similar interests in your field or areas of your interest. Networking will be your friend and an asset but will only be as good as you nurture your list over the long term.
8. Finding A Mentor
The most successful people in the world always credit someone in their life who helped them along the way. A mentor acts in the best interest of a less experienced person or mentee. They provide expertise, transferring professional knowledge and feedback from an experienced vantage point.
Quality mentoring relationships can have powerful effects on students, entrepreneurs, and future leaders. Be on the lookout for people in your area of interest who want to help you. They are willing to share what they know, actively listen carefully, and possess empathy and understanding.
Mentees who benefit from these invaluable relationships make excellent mentors. Tyler, we have watched you at the games, and we have been proud to see you nurture some of the younger players on the team. Mentoring is a gift for both parties.
9. Never Stop Learning
No matter what they teach academically, you will not have scratched the surface of what you need to learn to be successful. Besides the hard skills taught in colleges, you need to master soft skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and communications in depth. Learn to listen to others, receive and give feedback, be empathic, and work in collaborative groups.
The knack of picking up new skills is a worthwhile skill on its own. You are tech-savvy, a talent I envy, but there are things in the future you will have to pick up to stay ahead in your field. Embrace learning and challenge yourself.
The wealthiest and most successful people read a lot and expand their creativity to build businesses. Warren Buffett, Mark Cuban, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Bill Gates, and Oprah are lifelong learners. Tyler, don’t stop learning. You have exciting perspectives I always enjoy hearing.
10. Many Virtues of Working Hard
Tyler, your life is just beginning now. I know the last thing you want to hear about is the many virtues of work.
I am not talking about working hard just to be busy. I hated my first job working at a factoring company alongside people who had been doing the same clerical task (recording check amounts) for decades. Every workday at around 4:58 PM, there would be a line of disgruntled workers waiting to punch the clock at 5 pm.
It was very depressing, and I promised myself that I would look for a more fulfilling job that challenged me. Ultimately, I landed on Wall Street, becoming an equity analyst, persevering and gaining recognition.
Finding work and a career that helps you grow and personally develop is very rewarding. Besides the income, you want to make the most of your days, handling responsibility, contributing, and finding a sense of meaning in your life. Working with others helps us build character and relationships.
Tyler, whatever you choose to do in your career, select being engaged over disengaged at a job you don’t enjoy. You can accomplish whatever you want within reason.
Determine what your interests are and go for them. Do some research and talk to people who are doing what you may like to do. Your interests may change and expand over time. Be open to new things rather than stubbornly sticking to a narrow focus.
As Mark Twain (and many others) said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never work a day in your life.” I know you can achieve success and have a “can-do” attitude. Tyler, understand what you don’t know, and that is not a weakness. Instead, it is a weakness to think you know everything and are not open to learning more.
I am so proud of you and your accomplishments, and I know it is just the beginning. You have beautiful qualities with that wry sense of humor, intelligence, and passion for others. I want you to value yourself and be confident about your abilities. College is coming. Are you ready? Take charge of your future and invest in yourself!
Keep growing as the amazing person you are becoming. I know that you will learn to handle money with the care it deserves.
Love you always,
PS: Tyler, I know you are a subscriber, but I want you to learn many of the topics on the blog that you can find on The Cents of Money. You have a free lifetime subscription from mom!
Thank you for reading this article!
With a passion for investing and personal finance, I began The Cents of Money to help and teach others. My experience as an equity analyst, professor, and mom provide me with unique insights about money and wealth creation and a desire to share with you.