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Talk With Your Kids Now to Create Independent Adults Later

March 11, 2016
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Among the findings of the recent NerdWallet new graduate retirement study was this: Young adults who live at home for two years after college graduation can shave as many as five years off their expected retirement age. Otherwise, the analysis found, 2015’s graduates are looking at a career that spans half a century.

Given what behavioral finance experts know about our priorities, however, most recent grads are unlikely to swap two years with mom and dad now for an extra five of relaxation later. So parents worried about a “failure to launch” scenario can rest slightly easier.

But even if you’re looking forward to the freedom of an empty nest, you don’t want to see your new grad struggle. About a quarter of young adults are living in their parents’ homes, and the problems of rising rents and crippling student loan debt are likely to get worse, not better.

Want to help your kids have a choice in their post-graduation lifestyle? Lay a foundation so they’re prepared to be financially independent. That means having tough conversations about financial priorities, the potential costs of college and the importance of saving for retirement.

Here, five lessons you need to teach your kids before, during and after college to help them launch:

Start by limiting student debt

A good rule of thumb: Hold total student loan borrowing to 50% to 100% of expected first-year salary.

To do that, college students should get a job rather than borrow to cover lifestyle expenses. Exhaust scholarship and grant opportunities before taking out loans. And the kicker: Be careful with school choice, which has the biggest impact on debt levels.

“Do you want to go to a big school with a great football team and a huge campus or the state school that offers as good of an education for a third of the cost?” asks Mike Sander, a financial planner in Tarrytown, New York. “Our brains are wired to want the nice, shiny, trendy school, but when you start looking at the cost, it often doesn’t make sense.”

And as your children get ready to graduate, make sure they educate themselves on all their student loan repayment options, rather than let the government pick the default plan.

Saving for retirement requires a plan

Plenty of online tools and advice will walk your kids through figuring out how much to save for retirement. After that, you’re ready to talk savings vehicles.

If a 401(k) with matching dollars is an option, this is a short conversation: That match is free money, so the 401(k) should be used first. And payroll deductions for a 401(k) are an easy and hassle-free way to get into the habit of saving.

Otherwise, the best choice is often a Roth IRA. And here’s some good news: Your kids can open a Roth IRA while in college (or, for the really ambitious, high school) as long as the student is earning income.

Your peak wage growth years are coming right up

We often assume that the older we get, the more our salaries will increase. It’s a good excuse to put off saving. But a recent analysis of Social Security Administration data by the New York Fed found that the bulk of earnings growth happens between ages 25 and 35.

How handy, then, that those early years are also when savers can make the most of compound interest, which has a huge impact on a retirement account balance. Those who manage to bank their salary increases when they’re young will have a much easier time building retirement wealth.

“The earlier you start, the easier it is and the greater the impact of compound growth,” says Andy Tilp, a financial planner in Sherwood, Oregon, who also teaches a college course on personal finance. He drives this point home with students using an aging app.

“The intention is to show that even though they are all young and beautiful now, age does happen and you do need to plan ahead,” Tilp explains. Studies show that seeing an age-enhanced version of ourselves can prompt us to save more.

If you don’t want to spend less, you have to earn more

In this gig economy, there’s no excuse not to have a side job if full-time work doesn’t pay the bills.

The options are virtually unlimited, but you may need to nudge your college grads in the right direction. A few suggestions to pass along: Become a rideshare driver. Rent extra space in your home on Airbnb. Use Rover or DogVacay to find pet-sitting clients or to find baby-sitting ones. Rent out your belongings on Zilok, sign up to take on small jobs through TaskRabbit, become a freelance virtual assistant on Upwork, or write or edit content for Scripted.

Part of this lesson involves some gentle reminders that they should use this extra income wisely: The idea isn’t to pad an entertainment budget; it’s to fund an IRA.

Financial basics will keep you on track

Aside from increasing income as noted above, two other things can significantly improve financial security: a budget and an emergency fund. Maintaining the former will make it easier to fund the latter, as well as to find money to save for retirement.

These days, a budget requires little effort, says Stephen Hart, a financial planner in Plano, Texas. “When you have online apps and you can log on to your bank statement at any time, it’s easier than ever to track your spending,” he says. “There’s really no excuse for not doing so.”

More from NerdWallet:

The best Roth IRA account providers

The best budgeting and savings tools

Is it better to contribute to a Roth or traditional IRA?

Arielle O’Shea is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @arioshea.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today.

Image via iStock.