Experience is the mother of all wisdom, and sometimes we have to learn lessons the hard way, even when it comes to our personal finances. Still, there are valuable lessons we could have learned earlier, if only we had taken the time to consult an expert.
According to a behavioural finance study by TD Wealth1 many millennials surveyed — including those earning more than $100,000 a year — are choosing to go at it alone with their financial plans. The study suggests that those in the 18–34 age group are three times less likely to have a financial plan with an advisor than those who are 55 and up, with only 15% currently working with an advisor.
What’s more, the TD study found this group was less likely to rank high in financial conscientiousness (35%) and more likely to be highly reactive with their money (43%) than their older counterparts. This means they may make uninformed decisions when markets experience volatility. All the more reason millennials may find it useful to have a financial co-pilot, such as an advisor, to help them build confidence about how to invest and stay on track with their goals.
We asked eight TD Wealth advisors — all under 40 — to share the financial lessons they learned the hard way, and why working with a financial professional might have helped them save money and time.
Lesson learned: Take care of the money together
"Opposites attract. My husband and I have completely different styles when it comes to managing money. Growing up, my family was very careful with what little money we had, while my husband's family didn't have the same financial struggles. I was frugal, and he was freewheeling, and it was frustrating for both of us at times. When we bought our first house, I was tired of being the one to take care of the money in our relationship. So we decided I would take a step back and he could take a turn at handling all the bills. Suddenly he was seeing where our money went, and how fast it can go. My husband started to have an appreciation for my inclination to save where possible. By bringing him to the table it eased the frustration for both of us. As an advisor, I try to get both partners involved when we talk about their goals and their money and help them understand each other's blind spots."
Lesson learned: Your home is an investment
Advisor, Chartered Professional Accountant
St. John, NB
"One of my most important goals was buying a property. I started saving at 19 and worked co-op during university to save. When I was finally able to afford a down payment, I found an old building with a unit that had been renovated, but the location wasn't ideal. I was so focused on buying a home and getting into the market quickly that I probably didn't make the best investment decision. When it came time to sell, I didn't make any money on it. If I had just saved more initially, I could have afforded something that would have been a better investment. An advisor may have been able to assist me in seeing past the excitement of the purchase."
Lesson learned: Your house is also a home
"Our first home was in a convenient spot in the city, near where we worked. Eventually my husband and I realized we wanted something bigger, and we decided that we would move out to the suburbs to get more home for less money. Financially it made sense, but from a quality-of-life standpoint, it ended up being more stressful living in a home that was bigger and farther away from work. We didn't think deeply enough about the lifestyle changes of the move and focused more on the potential investment opportunity. Financially it was a good decision, the winter commute was brutal!"
Lesson learned: Don't waste that raise
"The first time I got a raise, I blew most of it on a big trip to Cuba with my girlfriends. I have great memories, but not much to show for it financially. When you get a salary increase, consider saving some for long-term goals. The temptation is there to buy a better phone, eat out more often or buy nicer clothes, but sometimes it's good to resist the urge. It's something I try to impart to my clients."
Lesson learned: Protect your future
"When I was younger my dad had a work accident. He had no disability insurance and was the sole breadwinner. My mom had to go back to work, and although they had an emergency fund, I witnessed the stress it put them through. Setting money aside for a rainy day saved our family. At our age, we often think we are young and healthy and don't need insurance, but now can be the most affordable time to get it."
Lesson learned: Brushing your teeth can be an analogy for money
Portfolio Manager, Private Investment Advisor
"At our wedding, my wife made a speech in which she said, "In the world, there are toothpaste rollers, and toothpaste squeezers." I'm the toothpaste roller, and she is the squeezer. I am more careful and conscientious about almost everything, including money. She is the toothpaste squeezer, enjoying life and not thinking too much about what comes next. But over the years the two of us have realized that there must be a balance. Sometimes you must roll, like when the tube is getting empty. Other times squeezing is OK, particularly if there's lots of toothpaste in there. We apply this philosophy to our marriage and our money. The important thing for us is that we have a long-term plan that guides us along the way, and that we both brush our teeth."
Lesson learned: Tiny house, big happiness
Senior Financial Planner
"My wife and I originally wanted to live the dream of having a big house in the city with our careers being our top priority. But early in our marriage we realized we were working long hours, eating late when we got home, and spending little to no time together. So we decided to make a major life renovation. We rented our home out and built a tiny house on my in-laws' farm. It's just 420 square feet. My wife quit her job as a pharmacist to work on the farm. We are much happier and much less stressed because we no longer have the financial and physical burden of a big home. We hope to have kids one day, and maybe our home will have to change. But we also hope our philosophy stays. I try to remind my clients that stuff may not equate to happiness."
Lesson learned: Withdrawal fees can sabotage your savings
North York, ON
"I came from Indonesia to attend university in Canada, so I wasn't well prepared for how banking works. I never even had a credit card. When I signed up for a bank account I went for the most basic account. When I finally talked to an advisor, they pointed out that I was paying $80 a month in transaction and withdrawal fees. If I had just put that $80 away in a TFSA or RSP, it really could have added up."
*About the survey: TD Bank Group commissioned the TD Wealth Behavioural Finance Survey which more than 1,600 Canadians, from across the country in 2017.
- TD Wealth. “Behavioural Finance Research Analysis,” Feb 16, 2018. ↩