For most of us, there comes a moment when we realize we need to pay more attention to our money. It might happen when we get our first paycheck and realize how many times we need to divide it to cover all of our expenses—and also put some savings aside and pay down any student debt, and, oh, don’t forget the 401(k). Or maybe the moment comes when we realize what it will take financially to hit a major life goal, like buying a house or starting a family.
Reuters personal finance columnist Bobbi Rebell calls those financial grown-up moments, and in her new book, “How to be a Financial Grown Up,” she’s collected stories about them from more than two-dozen ‘financial role models’—from Tony Robbins to Jim Cramer to Sallie Krawcheck. She also shares some of her own. I spoke to Rebell about those stories, plus tips she gathered on how to hack your way to grown-up status—and why it’s so important to grow up financially.
Why did you write this book?
It just came to me. It came from the fact that I had that ‘financial grown-up’ moment in my own life. I was turning down promotions, and I didn’t want to accept that I wasn’t the new kid at work anymore. And finally my boss said, it’s time for you to grow up. Take the promotion. So I did. Also, as a journalist, so much data comes across your desk, and I kept seeing data on how millennials are finally starting to do grown-up things financially—buying homes, getting married and getting better jobs. It’s been a delayed growing up for that generation. So it all came together.
What does it mean to be a ‘financial grown up’?
It’s when you make a decision to be proactive about your choices about money.
Is that the grown-up moment?
Yes, your grown-up moment is the moment that you decide money matters and that you have to pay attention to it, and you have to make proactive decisions to reach your goals.
If you don’t make a decision, you’re essentially making a decision, too.
Right. If you don’t make an active decision about your money, you have still made a decision. If you put off putting money into your 401(k), for example, or you say, oh, I’ll address it later—that is a decision. And you need to acknowledge that that’s your decision, and it has consequences.
Do you think there’s a reluctance to be a financial grown up?
I do think a lot of young people have a lot of reluctance. But I think we’re at that tipping point. There’s a greater awareness now that you need to be involved with your money, and they’re being more proactive. Millennials are a very serious generation.
Is that different than generations before?
When we lived at home with our parents as Gen Xers, we were ‘slackers.’ When they do it, they’re saving money to buy a home and paying off student debt. They’re a very responsible generation. They’re savers like the boomers were.
What about on the career front?
I think they’re very eager to do well in their careers, but on their own terms—and that’s different. They’re not as apologetic as we were about having a personal life.
When I was at CNBC early in my career, my dad said to me, you better never call in sick. There was no back up for me when I was doing reports from the New York Stock Exchange. But that’s changing. It’s not that millennials are slackers in any way, but they don’t apologize for having a life.
You brought in a lot of big names to share their financial grown-up moments too. What was the most surprising story you heard?
[Founder of the global professional women’s network Ellevest and former head of wealth management at Bank of America] Sallie Krawcheck’s story was the jaw-dropper. She talks about her first husband cheating on her. It was really candid and raw.
What was the financial lesson from her story?
The takeaway was she was on Wall Street and incredibly successful and had no idea what was going on with her finances at home. She confronts her husband initially about having an affair, and he denied it at first. And she almost didn’t want him to. Eventually, it came out. But the financial lesson is that she didn’t know what was going on with their finances, and that was a mistake. It’s so important to be engaged.
Do you have a few other simple takeaways for readers that they can apply right away?
One is to know your numbers. The majority of people don’t know their net worth. The first thing to do is to look at your financial makeup: What’s your net worth? How much do you earn? What are you spending? It’s like a diet. Once you start writing down what you eat, you know what you need to do. Likewise, when you know your numbers, you’ll start making different decisions.
You have to take some ownership of your finances, too. No excuses. A lot of my book is made up of stories with context and lessons, and motivation to follow up yourself. This book should not be the end. It’s the beginning.