There’s something about Zac Bissonnette’s outlook on life and money that just makes you smile and nod knowingly. In How to Be Richer, Smarter and Better Looking than Your Parents, the 23-year-old author takes you on a merry, albeit serious, ride along the financial road of potholes and dreams that he and his post-college cohorts are traveling.
Bissonnette is down on materialism. “Your life will not be better because it has more stuff in it,” he writes.
He’s adamant that debt will make your life bad by adding stress and risk.
He writes from his own experience. He remembers as a child hearing his parents fight often and loudly about money. Those struggles formed the basis for his financial outlook.
“My dad taught me about money the way an alcoholic teaches his kids about drinking: by being a bad example,” he writes. His dad was a hippie, he tells readers. At one point he lived in a tree house. He defaulted on his mortgage.”
” ‘I’ve spent my whole life trying to avoid thinking about money,’ ” his father tells him. “Now it’s all I can think about.”
Bissonnette’s pitch to his peers: “You are at an age now where developing a winning attitude about money, making a few smart decisions, and then automating them for the rest of your life … can set you up for a lifetime of prosperous security far beyond what most of our parents have enjoyed.”
He glibly tosses around examples of sports figures and TV personalities from shows likeThe Real Housewives of New Jersey to show why you don’t want to end up like them. He peppers his own advice with references from research studies, personal finance articles, and how-to books and their authors who he tapped for advice — all carefully footnoted.
In his chapter on the topic, money can’t buy happiness, for example, he writes: “People who drive luxury cars aren’t happier than people who drive non-luxury cars, but people who play music are likely to be happier than people who don’t,” citing a CNN.com health story about Mike Miller, a research cardiologist, at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, who has been studying the effects of happiness — or things that make people happy —on hearts.
Bissonnette smoothly covers a lot of ground fast here from buying groceries to credit scores to purchasing a car to shopping for insurance policies, and saving for retirement. Here are some of his sage pearls of youthful wisdom that all ages can learn from.
• Cultivate nonmaterialistic hobbies and interests. To keep your materialistic urges in check, he calls on Knox College psychology professor Tim Kasser. “Dr. Kasser says that focusing energy on hobbies and pursuits that don’t promote materialistic values can help divert that impulse within us — and by extension, make us better with our money. Painting, biking, yoga, meditation, iPhone Scrabble, chess — anything that involves focus and effort but doesn’t cost a lot of money … will actually improve your financial life,” he writes.
•Practice saying “no” to yourself. “Believe it or not, it’s actually kind of fun. Every day, I say ‘no’ to myself at least once. … Minor things that I would like to have but don’t need: no to magazines in the grocery store that have Britney on the cover. Recognize that stuff doesn’t lead to happiness, but that a willingness to say ‘no’ does.”
•Your credit score is not the most important number in your life. “I’m not saying that FICO scores are completely unimportant,” he writes. But, “more important than your net worth? More important than your cholesterol or body mass index? The whole point of having a decent credit score is that lenders can use it to determine your eligibility for loans and the interest rate you’ll pay. If you’re not in the market for credit — and my goal for you is that you limit your future borrowing to the mortgage on your home that you will one day own — then you don’t need to worry about it much.”
•Pay with cash: “The one-step plan to get rich.”
•Make retirement savings automatic. Divert money each pay period from your paycheck to a 401 (k) savings account and/or IRA by default. Once it is set up, it takes willpower to stop it, so you will be more likely to stick with it.
•Enroll in your company’s retirement plan. “If you make every single financial mistake in the world but contribute up to the maximum employer match on your 401 (k) and never touch that money until you retire, you will end up with a vastly better financial life than most Americans. If your employer offers a Roth 401 (k), even better.”
Before you buy something, calculate the expenditure in terms of how much you earn per hour. Ask yourself if it’s worth it. “If I earn $8 an hour after-tax and this sweater costs $40, is it worth five hours of my time?”
Take care of your body. “Make sure you look good. Your physical appearance might very well be a better career investment than a graduate degree. Join a gym, stop bingeing on Hot Pockets at 3:00 a.m., and drink more water.”
Pick roommates with care. If you have roommates, always pay your share of the rent directly to the landlord. To make sure you are not getting involved with someone who has a track record of skipping out on bills, sit down and check each other’s credit scores together on a site like myfico.com before you sign a lease. It costs less than $20.
Your career should excite you. “If you hate your job, you’re not going to like your life.”
The decision to scale back expenses to do something you’re passionate about is unlikely to be a decision you’ll regret.” But don’t quit your day job “unless you are debt-free and have six months of living expenses, or will be able to start generating income from your dream job immediately.”
Don’t skimp on work in your 20s. If you put a high value on having a balanced life at the beginning of your career and want to be highly successful, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
If you want your own business, start small. If you have a business idea, chances are it’s a big idea. But try to think of a way to start smaller. Want a clothing store; maybe you could start by setting up a personal styling business.
A little bit of money in savings will make life good. Most personal finance experts recommend a six-to-eight month emergency fund; that’s a fantastic goal and something that everyone should strive for. But even having enough cash so that a toilet malfunction or flat tire doesn’t lead to major financial stress makes a huge difference.
Kerry Hannon is the author of What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job.