If you’re ever sitting up late night watching episodes of The Suze Orman Show, lamenting over the fact that you don’t have nearly enough savings, equity or income to even think about writing into her “Can I Afford It” segment, just know you’re not alone. It is very common to hear Gen-Xers talk about their lack of savings, inability to save, or stories about how they had to use savings to save themselves in hard times.
The sad part is that while we have to take full responsibility for our actions, you’ll find very few of us who were actually taught how to manage money properly from the beginning. We are a generation full of bright innovators and entrepreneurs, equally wrought with debt and financial burdens that past generations did not have on their backs. Whether it is tons of credit card or mortgage debt, or caring for young children and aging parents at the same time, we have a lot to think about when it comes to the harsh reality of planning our financial futures.
Enter Ted Jenkin. After nearly two decades working for Ameriprise, once known as American Express Financial Advisors, Jenkin took off on his own to start oXYGen Financial. His firm consults Generations X and Y in various areas of financial fitness, and Jenkin also speaks openly with media and the public about positive solutions to our growing money problems in the U.S.
Ted Jenkin graciously took some time from his crazy schedule to talk with UrbLife.com about some of the primary financial issues facing Gen-Xers across the country, namely our propensity for living a chateaubriand lifestyle on a burger budget. Read on as he speaks on his career, and advises on some issues that many of us may already be dealing with…
How did you get initially interested in doing finance?
Ted Jenkin: I did a double major at Boston College in finance and accounting, and when I started in the business in 1991, this really was a specialty that was just starting to happen; this idea of giving financial advice. American Express had a program for card members and I thought I’d give it a try, and it turns out it was the right field to get into.
Have you advised people who lost a lot during the recession?
TJ: Well, both. I saw a turn in 1994 and the big one in 2000 when we had the tech bubble and 2008. In 2008 was when I decided to build a company to serve the X and Y Generation, especially Gen-X which is our core client, and that’s how our name OXYgen Financial came about. The last five letters are x-y-gen. I am a Gen-Xer, I was born in ’69 so I’m trying to really cater to that.
What are some common issues you see in our generation?
TJ: I think the number thing for this generation is, unfortunately, they have gotten caught up in something called “lifestyle inflation”. This is the group who graduated college; many of them got on a corporate ladder, started to make a six-figure income, and as they made more money, their lifestyle quickly expanded because they wanted to have a better life than their parents. This is where they got the idea of getting a bigger house, nicer cars and a country club membership.
If you were born in ’67, when we took a vacation, we meant a vacation at the Holiday Inn and going to the shore was a trip with our families. Today, this generation wants to take their kids to the Four Seasons Hotel and big resorts. The problem with it is it’s a conspicuous consumption type of budgeting by Generation X, so they don’t nearly save what they should, because their money is getting chewed up in disposable expenses. They never really considered that income doesn’t go up in perpetuity.
So the people that started to make $200k when the recession hit, and they were living at that, but their income went back to $140k, now how do I afford all this stuff? When you inflate your lifestyle, it’s near impossible to shrink it back down, you just can’t.
The reality is that this is starting to happen again. They’re making money again, but we’re seeing them create the same type of atmosphere that they did leading up to 2008, and I’m really trying to help give them really smart money tips so they cannot put themselves in the same bind. A lot of them want to get off the corporate treadmill and into a job that they love. Truth is a lot of them hate their jobs; they just make too much money to move.
Do you have clients who are juggling different types of responsibilities like extra jobs and caring for extended family?
TJ: What’s happening now is our parents are getting older, so it’s weird to see our parents slow down. A lot of Gen-Xers brothers and sisters are spread across the United States. This may sound terrible, but people want to take care of mom and dad, but no one wants to take care of mom and dad because they’ve got their own lives in their own cities. It’s not like all of us live right down the block from our families, like I used to live in New Jersey and we all lived down the block from each other.
And then, people are adopting kids or having their own later in life, and they have this rising cost of college education is really sandwiched into “Okay, how am I going to save for retirement, take care of my parents, pay for this ridiculous cost of college education…’ so they are stressed out to the hilt right now.
What kind of advice do you give people who have appropriated the fancy lifestyle but live paycheck to paycheck? How can they get started on the right track at this point?
TJ: I have a few things in mind for that…
1. Use the rule of thirds.
It means wherever you are today, if your income goes up, let’s put one-third of every raise and put it towards savings. A third is probably going to go to tax, and a third for fun because this generation doesn’t want to completely save for retirement in the spite of having fun today.
Take one-third of that raise going forward and chunk that away. IRA, brokerage account, whatever it is. That will actually help them prevent lifestyle inflation now until the time they get into their early 60s, because Gen-Xers have a good 10 or 15 years, and some of us 20 years, to retirement. It’s now time to start thinking about that attitude.
2. Pay for your house.
If you own a house, even if funds are low, I want to try to help Gen-Xers lighten their backpack. They’ve never been trained to pay off debt. They’ve been trained to leverage debt; more credit cards, student loan… bigger home, bigger mortgage, refinance four times… but not to pay off debt. I’m trying to get them to pay off their house. They have a 30 year mortgage now, I’m trying to get it to 15 years. If not, just save in that time when paying off the house so when you want to make work optional, you don’t have this huge backpack of debt.
3. If you have kids, get them off the payroll.
Which means your kids can borrow for college, you can’t borrow for retirement. So if you have to make a choice of where to put the dollar. A lot of people, especially in New York, are paying huge the cost of private high school and middle school between 40, 50 and 60 thousand dollars a year.
4. Know which sibling is the Ring Leader.
You could all put your finger on your nose during Thanksgiving and say “Not It” at the table, but someone’s going to have to take care of mom and dad. Maybe it’s a good idea as brothers and sisters to get them some long-term care insurance and say “look, if no one us wants to take care of them maybe we all chip in for a policy so we preserve our future inheritance from our parents.”
5. Take care of your health.
I would invest in eating healthy, so I wouldn’t mind people spending the money on that and doing what they need to do. Someone of them like my cousin who turned 50, just adopted his first child. He’s going to be 70 by the time they go to school. He’s gotta be healthier, or he’s not even gonna be around to see his kids.
6. It’s not always about having to have a front row seat.
Somewhere along the way this generation, if I see a concert like Billy Joel playing at the Garden, they don’t want to just see Billy Joel. “I deserve to be in the 4th row to see Billy Joel” and it’s like, “No you don’t!” You don’t deserve to be in the fourth row. You get to see Billy Joel and that’s going to be a cool concert. You don’t have to pay $1800 on StubHub so you can basically see him sweat.
But it’s the nature of this generation today, lifestyle-wise. It’s like “What do you mean I can’t stay at the Ritz Carlton? Of course I can. I make a six-figure income and I deserve it.”
7. Become the CEO of your family’s finances.
What we do as a business is we act as a CFO for people’s personal finances. There are a lot of entrepreneurial Gen-Xers who run a business, but they don’t run their family finances like a business. We’re trying to train people to run that like a business and think about their profit and loss, their income statement, where their balance sheets are at, and targets and goals – just like they if they were at a VP job at Coca-Cola. That is the nature of what we do.
What do you want people to know most about your care of this generation and your work?
TJ: Number one, it’s not too late to start [doing things right]if you haven’t started. Do not be afraid to be vulnerable in the sense that you’re really stressed out. We’re all stressed out right now. High paying jobs and people have gotten themselves into these big mortgages, and I think there are people that feel trapped because don’t know how to get out – and its okay.
Don’t just run yourself into the ground because you don’t know what to do with all these problems. There’s always a way to make the situation better.