My youngest son loves a good shopping trip. Clothes. That’s his sweet spot. Shoes in a pinch. So when I’m at a loss as to how we will spend all the extra time we have in between cello lessons, I think, well, we can shop.
You might think that spending money is a messed-up way to kill time. Why don’t we go to the bookstore and cuddle in a corner and read a book, right? Well, the thing is, he doesn’t really like books. And anyway, I think it’s okay to have alternative approaches to money. My son loves clothes so it’s okay to spend mother-son time shopping together.
If you don’t like that logic, you’re not going to like any of the rest of this post. Because I’ve been looking at money in alternative ways for a long time—ever since I realized that most startup founders risk their family’s financial security to launch their company, over and over again. I realized there are no hard and fast rules for the best way to manage money.
One thing I do see clearly is that the financial advice you are used to reading is for kids who go to public school. And it’s aimed at families that can’t see past the mainstream. And the most common financial advice revolves around the geometric growth from a savings plan that starts early.
That advice works fine for the 1950s. In the 1950s you went to school and learned how to do what you’re told. Then you went to work and in exchange for doing what you’re told you had a job for life. But the old financial advice doesn’t work for a world that celebrates self-directed learners and life-long learners.
Here’s the advice homeschoolers should get:
1. Don’t save for retirement.
If you love the work you do, and you love the life you have, then you don’t need to save for some day in the future when you will get to do what you want. Retirement is an outdated idea for people who don’t understand how to find engaging work right now.
Create a life you love each day, and the next day, if you want to change it, you can. But real life is about making each day full of engagement and growth opportunities. What a sad life you would have if you woke up each day feeling that you didn’t deserve to have a good life until you stop working.
It’s a long time away, and sad to wait. But also, few people define work so narrowly as to say work is only stuff you don’t like. If you define work as the stuff that makes you feel valued in the community, then you never need to retire, you just need to adjust your work as you age.
2. Waste a lot of money in your 20s.
Taking risks in one’s 20s is a lot less riskier than taking those same risks later in life. There’s no mortgage. There are no kids on the verge of starvation. There’s just a twenty-something kid who ran out of money, which happens all the time. Go watch the first season of Girls: running out of rent money is totally standard for that demographic. (And also, seriously, Lena Dunham uses sex as a literary device better than anyone I’ve ever read—even DH Lawrence. How can you not watch that show?)
The other side of spending money willy nilly in one’s 20s is that the benefits are higher if you spend in your 20s than if you spend later in life. The faster you try things and quit them, the faster you learn about yourself.
The kids who do best in their 30s are usually lost in their 20s, because having no idea what you’re doing is a way to figure out what you’re doing. Pretending to have direction is a dead end in the realm of personal development. Being lost takes cash. Spending your last dollar to buy the right clothes for something that turns out to be wrong. Quitting a job without having another lined up. These are good decisions that blow through cash.
3. Raise money instead of earning money.
Y Combinator gives tens of thousands of dollars in startup funding to kids with no work experience. Kickstarter rewards kids who are good at making promotional videos for projects that may or may not be a good idea. Some investment sites allow people to invest in individuals instead of companies. Do you have a brain full of ideas but no track record? Sell shares of yourself to investors.
Just because you teach your kids to break financial rules, doesn’t mean you teach your kids to take crazy risks. In fact, the most successful risk takers are great at mitigating their risk. Teaching kids to take smart risks is the best thing you can do when it comes to financial literacy.
We live in a world where self-directed learning and lifelong learning is the gold standard for successful careers. Teach your kids to use financial tools to get that type of life. And, if they run into trouble, credit repair service should be part of any respectable curriculum, because people often learn the most when they’re making a lot of mistakes.