“You’re expected to do better than the last generation,” is a saying that is heard frequently in Black households, and I heard it plenty when I was growing up. Yet many of us have been worried lately about the prospects for generational economic gains, particularly in African-American and other poor communities. While it’s encouraging that a recent survey (by MTV and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research) reports that about half of young people expect to be financially better off than their parents, we have to accept that report with caution.
In reality, fewer young people will do better financially than their parents — unless they are taught now how to create money strategies that allow them to achieve financial freedom.
We’ve all heard stories of Black celebrities who worked hard to become millionaires and then had to declare bankruptcy either because they were cheated out of their money or because they cheated themselves through frivolous spending and poor investments. There are even more stories of everyday people who started broke and remained that way because they were just never taught to do better with money.
Regardless of our own economic status and financial knowledge, it’s all of our responsibilities to make sure these optimistic young people have the tools and encouragement they need to turn their hope into action. We can start by sharing our own stories of financial success and failure.
My debt story started with a Gulf credit card that allowed me to drive anywhere I wanted to go. Before I had the credit card, I walked a lot because I didn’t have enough cash to keep filling up my car. The credit card made it easy for me to live beyond my means and embark on a lifestyle that I later regretted. In my case, I knew better because I had frugal parents. Yet, I did it anyway. It took me years to get out of debt and even longer to focus on and learn enough about financial matters to achieve financial freedom. It was not easy, but I am living proof that it can be done.
Young people are more susceptible to being influenced by celebrities and marketing gurus who advocate conspicuous consumption. They’re subject to peer pressure from friends who want to hang out, which usually requires some level of spending. Yet, we all know that if they start saving and investing while they are young, they have a better chance of living comfortably as they age. We need to be those mentors who preach and teach financial discipline.
Even if you don’t have the best financial habits, don’t ignore having these important conversations with the young people in your life. In my experience, young people have an incredible interest in money and when you take the time to explain things like how saving a little on a regular basis now can make them millionaires later, they are apt to listen.
Millennials report being under tremendous stress about the amount of money they have to live on, particularly with heavy student debt and tight job markets. Many didn’t save much money growing up, weren’t taught about money in school and don’t necessarily have good spending habits. Many are completely lost when it comes to understanding their credit scores and credit cards and interest rates.
It’s true that there still are not enough banks and financial institutions that focus on teens or create special programs to encourage young people to save and invest. But young people today aren’t so trusting of societal institutions. The good news is, there are ample mobile and online tools that can teach anyone everything you really need to know about the basics of money management. Point the young people in your life to some – like Billion Dollar Challenge, Digit, Empower, Freshbooks, Robinhood, Stash and many others.
Each generation should improve upon the next, but they can’t do it alone. We’ve stood on the shoulders of great ancestors. Let’s make sure today’s young people get a lift.
DeForest B. Soaries, Jr., author of Say Yes to No Debt: 12 Steps to Financial Freedom, is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey and is the architect of the dfree® financial freedom movement.