Life is messy.

 

Truer words have never been spoken. Parents know the messiness in the form of dirty diapers and floors. Employees know the messiness in the form of office politics. Students know the messiness in the form of insecurity about the future. Children know the messiness… as being messy.

 

At every stage of life, we deal with a different form of messiness. Let’s talk about the messiness of American finance culture.

 

Government debt gdp

On average, workers aged 50-59 years old are only saving $78 per month towards retirement. That stat makes me sick to my stomach.

 

On average, the average American is saddled in debt, and taking no strides to get out. We happily live paycheck to paycheck, filling whatever void is inside us with the next gadget, overpriced latte, or movie ticket to escape reality.

 

We enslave ourselves to our life of subsistence, and look for the government to make college free to help with the “surmounting student debt.”

 

What? Many have student debt, sure. But how many in this situation also drive brand new cars they can’t afford, wear name brand clothes purchased on a credit card, and spend all the money that should be going to tuition on beers after studying?

 

Day 3 Occupy Wall Street 2011 Shankbone 7

 

I don’t say this to sound judgmental or cynical. There are countless stories of students who pursued their passions in college to receive a degree that was not in demand, and became unable to pay it off after college.

 

I fully support students following their passions, but as a frugal money-cruncher, I want this message to get out that everyone should be considering their own return-on-investment of their education.

 

In 2014, 69 percent of graduates had student loan debt, and from 2004 to 2014, the average college debt grew at more than double the rate of inflation.

 

But let’s assume that you are able to get a good paying job. The choice is always yours on how much you save.

 

So often I hear people complain how they “can’t” save any more than $50 a month. They, of course, say that in between sips of their $5 Starbucks coffee, while talking on their iPhone.

 

The choice is ours how we use the money we make.

 

One choice is to spend every dollar we make. We pray for our health to continue, because we have no way to pay for our lifestyle if things don’t go our way. And when an emergency occurs, we become a burden on our children, our families, or our government. To pay for our poor choices earlier in life when we had an option to correct it.

 

The other choice is to prepare for the messy life we live, and store up the potential energy we need to deal with future crises. We can seek financial independence. And it’s not hard. Let me share my 3 principles with you.

 

Principle 1: Investing should be simple.

You don’t need to pick the next Apple. You don’t need to watch your portfolio every day (in fact, you really shouldn’t!). Stick to indexing. Use services like Betterment to keep things simple, automate the process, and motivate you with an appropriate number of emails and educational pieces to keep you from doing something dumb!

 

Principle 2: Keep track of your life to keep your life on track.

Mortgages, 401ks, bank accounts… it’s terribly difficult to get an overall picture of your finances. I get it! Don’t keep it on a spreadsheet… this problem has been solved. Sign up for a free Personal Capital account, and link all your accounts just once.

 

From there, you’ll have an instant hub to see how you are progressing to your goal. Using their Retirement Planner, you can get a great overview of your overall plan, and take action while you still have a chance to make a difference.

 

Principle 3: Generosity is a Priority.

Whether you believe in God, Karma, or any other supernatural force, you know the term, “What goes around, comes around.” Whenever you put money into one of your savings funds, make a habit now to put a portion into a generosity fund. This helps me stay motivated – I select a cause every year that I want to make a true difference in, and I make a lump sum donation as a Christmas gift. Watching the balance grow in that account lets me know I am making a difference, and it keeps my eye on the prize for my own savings.

 

I also use Betterment for this account, as I can set auto-deposits to a separate “Goal,” and I don’t have to worry about confusing the buckets of money.

 

 

So keep it simple, and plan for your future.