A recent-ish New York Times article suggested parents should write a Money Letter to their children, as a way of passing on wisdom—in a lasting fashion—to the next generation. We loved the idea and have asked our YNAB parents to write (and share!) their hard-earned advice. Jannelle, a customer service rep from California, wrote to her young daughters, and Sherri, a teacher from New Hampshire, wrote to her already grown children. Today, Todd, our Chief Customer Officer, writes to his in-the-thick-of-it-aged-children: Sadie (13), Wyatt (10), and Oliver (8).
By this time, kids, you’re used to my talk about opposites that aren’t really opposite, about things that seem like they should rule each other out, but actually, don’t. Like the Zen teaching that says you are, at this very moment perfect and complete–and that at this moment, you also could use a little bit of improvement. Or how I want you to be a tenacious competitor, and the soft willow tree bending to the winds you’ll certainly encounter in the world. How can both sides of these pairs be true? Yet they are.
Life is full of riddles like this, which is why I insist on driving you a bit crazy pointing them out. I want to talk to you about another one of them—about what I hope you’ll learn about money before you grow up and move out. (I will be sad, and yet—oh, the contradictions!)
Be Cautious, Be Conservative
One wish I have for you is that you are cautious and conservative with your money. It’s one reason why your mother and I insist that savings is a big part of your own budgets—and why you even have your own budgets, never mind that I work for YNAB.
Your security will come, in many ways, from your money. We don’t grow much of our own food (despite our small garden and flock of chickens), nor do we have a family home, passed down through generations. We need money to supply these things, plus more abstract things like life insurance policies and retirement savings accounts. Money can help you be more confident in your future.
I don’t want you to put yourself in a situation where debt keeps you from making plans benefiting your security and your future. Even without debt, you’ll likely never earn enough of it each month to provide everything you need, so—trust me on this one—you’ll be most happy and content if you develop a habit of saving for later rather than spending for now.
Be Bold, Don’t Overthink
The other wish I have for you—which may sound contradictory at first glance—is that I want you to be bold with your money. I want you to spend your money without over-thinking the consequences.
Being fiscally cautious and conservative ensures you will have what you need when life gets complicated, especially when you are older and there are other people depending on you for their security. But if you’re not careful (about being careful …) this cautious saving can turn into having money just to have money.
That’s not what I want for you. Your money can also mean opportunity. Your mother and I talk about this when we consider going back to Europe: Will it be worth the money? Will it be worth the potential security we’ll lose? We can’t be sure—but we know that there is an entire life for our whole family that we will never experience if we overthink it to death.
Who knows what this will mean for you? Maybe it will mean going out on a limb and starting your own business. Maybe it will mean pursuing a career that earns less because it’s better aligned with your passions (Spoiler Alert: Being a professional cyclist or pianist may not pay much). Maybe it will mean being crazy, intentional about giving your money away—what might that mean for your life?
One thing I know is that beyond potential security, your money won’t do anything for you, just sitting there. It’s like that roll of duct tape you love. Sitting on the shelf, it’s just a roll of tape, but when you use it, it takes on a life of its own: book covers, jewelry, origami Yodas and Princess Leias. All used up, it brings you joy.
Cherish Perspective, Practice Gratitude
I want you to think about money in both these ways while you appreciate the enormous privilege it is to be thinking and talking like this. Many people can only think about security because they have none.
Your mother and I have worked hard. We went to college (again and again and again, for that matter) and studied hard. Many years, we worked multiple jobs to help provide the security we enjoy today. But we also owe much of that to the luck of being born into our own families. We owe our health, our education, to the place we were born and those who came before us.
You are in this same position. You could choose to ignore it or feel guilty about it, but I hope you’ll choose awareness and gratitude. As you get older, I hope you’ll be aware and thankful for all the choices you have. Living the life you want to lead includes being grateful for what makes it all possible.