Time magazine, money, and what to tell your kids

Time magazine devoted this past week’s cover to a “Special Money Issue.” Given that I’ve spent the past year thinking about “what we spend,” just as the cover lines promised, I found the topic intriguing. Among the interesting tidbits:

  • Almost two-thirds of Americans would take a pay cut to keep our jobs.
  • In 1950, we spent 22% of our income on food and 3% on health care. In 2010, we spent 7% of our income on food and 16% on health care. Clothing shrank from 10% to 3%; housing rose from 13% to 18%.
  • Extreme couponer Shannon Shaffer (For The Mommas) managed to get six gallons of milk for free in a recent shopping trip, though Time did not bother to explain how. That’s an interesting omission, since milk is quite possibly one of the least discounted grocery items. She claimed to have dropped her $250 weekly grocery budget to $50, but what I found more fascinating was how she was spending $250/week in the first place for a family of three!
  • Nail polish and lipstick tend to sell briskly in recessions, as people cut back on non-essentials but spend on little luxuries. Nail polish sales are, disturbingly, up 54% this year.
Time also cited a famous study that earning north of $75,000 a year doesn’t buy additional happiness, but that’s not the whole story. It doesn’t buy more happiness if you define happiness as your moment by moment mood. It is quite possible to earn $100,000 a year and still be pissed off that you’re stuck in traffic. On the other hand, if you measure happiness in terms of overall life satisfaction — how you think your life is going — happiness continues to rise with income. As far up as that particular study went (which was incomes of about $160,000 per year). I’m not sure why Time decided not to mention that.
The most interesting question, thinking about how the economy is changing, though, is what kind of career advice parents should give kids. Lots of people are telling kids to go into health care, because it seems like a high-paid growing field. But it can’t keep growing forever, and some parts will get massively hit in the next few years (like pharma). Engineering can be good — or could possibly be outsourced. Who knows? Choosing the winning fields in the future is a fool’s game. Here are a few more things I think are more relevant for surviving in a volatile economy:
  • Choose work you will enjoy on a day-to-day basis. The retirement math just doesn’t work to support 20-30+ years of not working while maintaining a decent living standard for most people. We’ll have to work longer — so search for something that won’t make you itch to quit.
  • Learn to be entrepreneurial. Try creating your own jobs during the summer as a teenager, or in college. We all have to learn to survey the marketplace, see what needs exist, and how we can fill those niches.
  • Learn resiliency. The question is not what job is so secure that you’ll never lose it. The question is whether you have the skills and network to find new gigs after you lose old ones.
  • Be good at what you do and aim to get better. I enjoyed a recent article in the New Yorker by Atul Gawande on bringing in a coach to help him become a better surgeon. Even if you’re great at what you do, there’s always room for improvement, and while constant practice is no guarantee for success, it usually doesn’t hurt.
What career advice would you give your kids?

2 thoughts on “Time magazine, money, and what to tell your kids

  1. I’m a university administrator and teacher and I would say this, based on my experience: Along with enjoying the work you do…you MUST develop a work ethic! Meaning you expect to work hard to earn your own success. In fact, we specifically focused on this issue in a new initiative aimed at increasing EARNED success among first-year college students (nau.edu/fyli). With that, the excellent points in this post all fall into place.

    1. @Michelle – Fascinating, I will check out the earned success concept. I do agree that many people show up at college, or at other major transition points in life never having had to work hard. Especially if your high school was not particularly challenging. Throwing yourself into the pursuit of something difficult, and then finally achieving it, is another key component of happiness.

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