Tips for parents: Giving financial advice to your 20-something kids

By Tyler C. Gilley, CFP®, AIF®, Wealth Advisor at Halbert Hargrove.

College graduates are entering a tough job market – but you already know that. You also know that navigating saving and investing while managing spending in an expensive world can be massively challenging for younger adults. This blog offers some practical ways to help equip your 20-something kids to achieve financial stability and success on their own terms.

The most important thing is to have ongoing conversations and offer perspective. Many younger adults are exposed to major financial decisions without getting feedback or advice about whether they’re on the right track. Not infrequently, they enter full-time careers and get dropped in the middle of complex retirement plans and confusing W-2 forms. Not to mention the myriad other important financial decisions they contend with. (Why isn’t everyone required to take “Managing Your Finances 101” in high school and college?)

Below are a few concrete topics and suggestions for helping your kids stay on the right track:

Start now

If there’s one thing the current economic lockdown has taught us about personal finance, it’s the importance of saving money for unforeseen circumstances. A robust emergency savings account should be able to fund three to six months of living expenses. The dollar amount required obviously depends on a person’s income and expenses.

But what about those who are still looking for a job or have been laid off? Saving may not be an option, but reviewing discretionary versus non-discretionary expenses and creating a budget is always a good move. Being well informed about spending patterns makes it easier to be strategic about saving when employment is secured. (As an aside, Kelli’s blog, Five Tips For Recent Grads – And Anyone Entering The Job Force During Uncertain Times, offers some great ideas for securing that job.)

Start saving, even if it means starting small

When we think about saving for future goals like retirement, it can be tempting to think that only large deposits can make a difference. Yet even modest, consistent investments over time can be impactful. Platforms like Acorns promote the concept of “micro-investing” – making regular smaller contributions that will slowly grow over time by taking advantage of compounding interest. For many, this may be the perfect place to start.

But starting small should only be done out of necessity, as a way to start building good habits. Those already with reliable, consistent income may imagine they’ll magically find room in their budget to increase savings in their 30s or 40s once they’ve “settled in” to their careers. But here’s the reality: It’s always more difficult to increase your savings, especially as you get older and take on increased responsibilities like paying a mortgage or supporting a family.

Get advice on financial matters

It is OK to ask questions! It’s not realistic to expect that on day one someone newly launched at a job will completely understand their company’s eligibility for retirement plans or know how to make an appropriate asset allocation – or even how to know whether to make pre-tax or after-tax account contributions. There are people who can help: Human Resources, parents, friends and, of course, your financial advisor fiduciaries!

Everyone should take advantage of their company’s programs and benefits. Many companies offer retirement plans for their employees. And many even offer matching employer contributions. That’s free money!

Set and (be able to) forget

Automating your savings (through salary deferrals, automated weekly or monthly transfers from the bank, etc.) can make investing much less painful than manually transferring money out of your bank account.

Finally, here’s my advice to the giver of advice: Like anything that builds on knowledge and experience, financial savvy doesn’t happen overnight. Your kids may make bad financial choices from time to time. Tone down your inner preacher. Sometimes the most valuable thing you can do is ask questions, listen to their concerns, and help them feel understood and supported while navigating complex and often frustrating decisions.

How do you balance having the life you want to enjoy today with what you’re going to need in the future? Are you doing what it takes to enter your dream retirement? TAKE OUR QUIZ to find out.