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Generation Earn: The Young Professional's Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back

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Generation Earn: The Young Professional's Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back [Paperback]

Kimberly Palmer
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Young people have a serious PR problem, argues U.S. News & World Report finance columnist Palmer. According to the media, the youngest slacker generation is wallowing in credit card debt, rolling in unnecessary luxury goods, and living in their parents' basements--or are they? The truth, it turns out, is quite a bit cheerier. Only one in three college students has a credit card, and the average amount owed is only . But these young whippersnappers coming of age in a recession could still use some solid advice, and Palmer is here to help. She gives a comprehensive overview of the basics of financial literacy, including defining financial goals, weighing a traditional job vs. entrepreneurship, saving for retirement, voluntary simplicity, the effect that marriage and children can have on your finances, and how to prioritize charitable giving even on a tight budget. Though her advice is solid and her message of embracing sustainability and thriftiness sound, the tone is dry and the content familiar--it's been done better, by others, and Millennials searching for inspired money advice would be better off looking elsewhere. (Nov.) (c)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Palmer expands lessons from her own experience into something truly helpful for a wider audience. Generation Earn reads like a light-hearted yet sincere letter from a slightly older and wiser friend. ...a thoughtful and incredibly useful graduation or birthday gift.”
Better Investing, 1/1/11

“it takes you on [a] journey toward financial freedom, and offers helpful tips that you can actually put into practice.”
—, Personal Finance Corner, 10/28/10

Generation Earn offers real, applicable career and money advice.”
—Mediabistro blog, FishbowlDC, 10/20/10

"Kimberly Palmer, author of the new "Generation Earn: The Young Professional's Guide to Spending, Investing and Giving Back" (Ten Speed Press, October 2010) speaks of and for the next generation. Palmer writes the popular "Alpha Consumer" column for U.S. News and World Report and she's mad! She's tired of today's young professionals being referred to as "Generation Debt." Palmer points out that Generations X and Y hold more advanced degrees than any prior generation, giving them serious earning potential. ...What stands out about "Generation Earn" is that Palmer goes beyond the desperate "me, me, me" of most personal finance books. Of course, she advises young professionals on how to get their financial houses in order. That's obligatory. And she covers those fundamentals with a crisp, conversational style that makes it sink in. But then she goes beyond that and advises her generation on how to fulfill their dreams of making a difference. It's a lot easier to change the world if you have something more in your arsenal than just sweat and tears. Palmer advises on green spending, wise giving and what she calls "Nonprofit Dreamin.' Generations X and Y are often maligned, but nobody can deny that these young people often think beyond themselves. "Generation Earn" can help them put some money and muscle behind their good intentions."
—Elisabeth Leamy, Good Morning America, Consumer Correspondent, 10/18/10

"Generation Earn is aimed at young professionals, who are increasingly interested in spending smarter, investing and giving back. But the book is also excellent in its scope and even mentions ways to reduce one’s carbon footprint, such as calculating one’s footprint and offsetting in support of innovative clean energy projects. As the dust of the recession is finally settling, you might be wondering where do we go from here? Generation Earn provides a compass and reveals paths for a better future."
— blog, 10/12/10

"This is a great book for a thoughtful college graduate. In fact, without knowing anything more than that about a graduate, this would be my first pick as a gift for graduation (perhaps coupled with Your Money or Your Life). As with many such books, the subtitle should make it clear whether this book will have any value for you personally. Are you a young professional? If the answer is yes, this book is probably worth a look."
—The Simple Dollar blog, 10/10/10

“If you’re looking for a book that talks to your life, your money, right now, this is it! It’s an essential guide for a rapidly changing world.”
—Carmen Wong Ulrich, personal finance expert for The Dr. Oz Show and author of The Real Cost of Living

“Kimberly Palmer has crafted a clear-eyed, engaging book that goes far beyond finances and careers, and gives us a roadmap for how best to conduct our lives. As my three daughters enter their twenties, this is one of the most valuable guidebooks I could give them.”
—Jeff Zaslow, coauthor of The Last Lecture and columnist, Wall Street Journal

Generation Earn shows us how to pursue our financial goals without compromising our values. The financial world—and our place in it—is changing, but Palmer’s advice will help us move ahead.”
—Farnoosh Torabi, money coach on Bank of Mom and Dad and author of Psych Yourself Rich

About the Author

Kimberly Palmer, senior editor and personal finance columnist for US News & World Report, writes the magazine column and daily blog, Alpha Consumer. She has appeared on NBC’s Today show, CNBC, and CNN, and written for the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. She and her husband just welcomed their first baby and bought a townhouse in the Washington, DC, area.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Introduction: Meet the New Young Professional

As the twenty-first century began, journalists and financial advisers began throwing around a new term to describe the current group of young people: Generation Debt. This term evoked slackers who lacked their grandparents’ sense of financial responsibility—instead of saving for a rainy day, they wasted their money on lattes, iPods, and takeout. These people were made to seem as though they lived off credit cards, student loans, and whatever help their parents could send their way.

This mythical tribe soon had its own spokespeople and leaders. Reporters found scores of young professionals caught up in spiraling credit card debt willing to dish about the forces that had created their mess. In response, popular books advocated eating ramen and reusing popcorn bags to get free refills at the movies.1 Before long, a Village Voice column and two books, one with a subtitle that called our era a “terrible time to be young,” were named after the alleged phenomenon.2 The financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 generated even more extreme stories of woe: the Minneapolis Star Tribune profiled a twenty-five-year-old with $94,000 in student loan debt who was resigned, permanently it seemed, to living in her in-laws’ basement.3 NBC’s Today Show featured a handful of twenty-somethings with various degrees of credit card, student loan, and car loan debt. “I don’t even go get a Starbucks,” bemoaned one. “When I go to the gas station I don’t get a drink. I don’t—nothing. I can’t afford it.”4

Pundits used these kinds of examples in order to justify an increasingly condescending attitude about our financial aptitude. On the Fox Business Network, Beth Kobliner, author of the best-seller Get a Financial Life, said that even Ivy League college students graduate without understanding how to pay for everyday expenses. She recalled one student who asked her how to take out a loan to rent an apartment, and she had to explain that people use income, not loans, to pay their rent. “Basic, basic concepts they just don’t know about money,” she said.5

The term generation debt stuck because there is some truth to it. Two out of three college students now take out student loans, compared to less than half in 1993.6 By the time the typical graduate walks across the stage to pick up his diploma, he owes $22,700.7 Average credit card debt among twenty-five- to thirty-four-year-olds has climbed 50 percent since 1989, to over $4,000 per person.8

But most of us are not letting our debts define us. While student loan burdens are heavier than they were in generations past, more of us have college and advanced degrees that give us greater earning power. The number of people enrolled in graduate programs has increased over 70 percent since 1976, making Generations X and Y the most highly educated group of Americans to date.9 Meanwhile, our incomes have largely been underestimated; studies by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis show that, with adjustments for inflation and benefits, the median compensation rate has gone up 28 percent since 1975.10

As for credit cards, only one in three college students carries one at all.11 The average amount owed is just $495. Among twenty-five- to thirty-four-year-olds, more than half pay off their entire balance each month.12 And, when asked how we feel about our economic standing, most of us say we feel pretty good. In a 2009 Pew survey, six in ten respondents under the age of forty said their standard of living is much or somewhat better than that of their parents at the same age, while just 15 percent said it is worse.13 This is true even though many of us experienced two recessions before reaching mid-career, first when the tech bubble burst in 2001 and then when the subprime mortgage crisis led to housing market collapses and bank failures in 2008 and 2009.

However, all these facts and figures don’t quite capture the zeitgeist of our generation. Few would mistake us for self-satisfied Alex P. Keaton types, reaping the bounties of capitalism. The popping of the tech bubble and the subprime mortgage crisis underscored the importance of sacrifice and hard work and made it clear how hard it can be to get ahead. Nor are we purely do-gooders—college kids canvassing for their political idols. We are something in between. We want to own nice homes, feel financially successful, support our families, one day send our kids to college, and change the world at the same time.

Although we may now have some money to invest, our goals involve far more than just becoming rich. The financial crisis of 2008 dovetailed with a growing interest in sustainability, simplicity, and even frugality. Instead of living exclusively for our own pleasures, we have embraced a new level of social consciousness. We care about the environment, our cities, and social justice. Many of us also want kids, and, thanks in part to loud warnings about the decline of fertility with age, we aren’t putting that off forever, either.

As the “Alpha Consumer” blogger and columnist for US News & World Report, I frequently receive questions from readers about navigating this terrain: What should I be doing with my savings? Where should I invest my money? Can I afford to buy a house, or should I keep renting? Does it make sense to share a mortgage with my boyfriend? Can I afford a baby? How can I support the causes I believe in? As a young professional myself, I have many of the same concerns.

This book explores those questions and gives you tools to help you make the best decisions for your situation. It explains how to improve your bank account as well as how to get closer to reaching your bigger financial ambitions, from living debt free to saving for a child’s future college education. It looks at how to manage money in relationships, both before and during marriage. It asks when it makes sense to accept financial aid from parents, and how to handle requests for assistance from other family members. It will help you decide whether you’re ready to buy a house, have a baby, or take a break from your career. It also explains how to make an impact on the world with your money and resources, whether that means starting a nonprofit or spending and investing in a way that supports your values.

Along the way, we’ll meet twenty-, thirty-, and forty-somethings who have faced those challenges themselves. Before moving in together, Chicago couple Pasha Carroll and Matthew Krise wondered how they should combine, or not combine, their bank accounts. They give partial credit for the success of their relationship to their solution—to keep almost everything separate—although many couples find combining everything equally satisfying. Kate and Thomas Deriso show us why cooking and even growing some of their own food in northern Virginia isn’t a sacrifice but a way to live more richly. Keith and Katy Hewson decided that the best way to start out married life was to live with Katy’s parents in their Houston townhouse. While the older couple covered the mortgage payments, Keith and Katy pulled their weight by handling most of the monthly bills, which meant each couple saved thousands of dollars. Lindsay Hyde, a twenty-eight-year-old from southern Florida, turned her passion for mentoring young girls into a nonprofit that now operates in three cities.

Each of their paths began with questions: How should we manage our money together? Is there a way to afford the lifestyle we want? How can I feel like I’m making an impact without sacrificing my own financial security? My husband and I also grappled with these issues as we prepared for the birth of our first child while I wrote this book. In the process, we weighed the pros and cons of moving into a bigger place, taking out life insurance, and saving for our daughter’s future college education versus putting money away for our own retirements.

Our generation doesn’t need to define itself by debt and financial struggle, but we do face new challenges and trade-offs. I hope this book helps you to navigate them. 

Part 1  Building Your Life

1. The Joy of Spending
We can finally afford some of the luxuries that were out of reach when we were struggling college students and entry-level employees. But, in addition to reaping some of the rewards of our hard work, we also need to prioritize financial security. Because the cost of living has gone up while job security has gone down, getting ahead requires saving a higher percentage of our incomes than any previous generation has before.

In this chapter, you’ll learn how to do the following:

1. Define your financial goals, even the ones that cost as much as a Manhattan townhouse
2. Create a spending plan that makes sense for your lifestyle
3. Win the consumer wars that lead to overspending

Disney World or Soy Lattes?
I met Kimberly Wilson, a yoga teacher, author, and entrepreneur, on an early spring day in Washington, DC, at a coffee shop in Dupont Circle to find out how she had turned so many of her goals into reality. I’d been a longtime reader of her blog, “Tranquility du Jour,” which discusses how to apply the lessons of yoga to everyday life. In addition to teaching yoga and designing her own line of ecofriendly clothing, she runs a foundation to help young women and was in the midst of opening a new yoga studio down the street when we spoke.

“I’m a saver,” she told me as we sat down. “But I also think self-care is so important. Massages, candles . . . simple indulgences can be a small amount of money but contribute to overall happiness.” She mostly wears her own designs, supplemented with items from Target and other discount stores; she picked up her dangly earrings for $2.99 at H&M. (Not th...
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