According to recent studies Generation Y is one of the fastest growing demographics of workers, and indicators suggest that this trend will continue well into the next decade as Baby Boomers retire. Eric C. Bell is the founder and Editor-in-chief of YoBucko, a website designed to provide Generation Y with the tools and financial education they need to meet financial challenges and get their financial goals on track. Recently we had a chance to talk with Eric, about YoBucko, Generation Y and working toward financial success.
You founded YoBucko.com was there an “aha moment” that inspired its launch?
There have been a lot of "aha moments" in the process of building YoBucko. In fact, YoBucko is completely different today than when I started working on it 2 years ago. When I first started, the plan for YoBucko was to be the "Yelp for financial services" where people could log on, rate and review the financial products they use and comparison shop for financial services. So we built the first version of the site, tested it with real people and learned our first big lesson: people don't wake up each day excited to rate their checking account. We weren't filling a need for people. What I did find, however, was that my friends, peers and colleagues trusted and wanted my financial advice. It was timely, relevant and valuable to them. So I scrapped everything, went back to the drawing board, built and launched YoBucko as you see it today. It is possibly one of the most valuable "aha moments" I've had in my business career: focus on serving your customers.
While still in college you started a student organization called Future Investors did that set the stage for the launch of YoBucko.com?
It did. Future Investors was my first attempt at building a business and an experience that fueled my passion for financial education. Interestingly, it started out because I was frustrated to learn that my college didn't offer any courses in personal finance. Then I started asking around and doing some research on other campuses across my home state of Arkansas only to find that most other schools didn't offer students classes in personal finance either. It blew my mind. So rather than complain about it, a few friends and I decided to try to solve the problem. Over the next few years, we built a pretty cool organization, helped a lot of people and I found a meaningful mission for my own life: to help people manage their finances.
What challenges in particular do you think Generation Y face in having and sustaining financial success?
Every generation before us has faced financial challenges, and we are no different. The challenges we face, however, are very different than those of our predecessors. Here are a few that stick out in my mind:
- Recovering from the Great Recession - A year after I graduated college, the financial markets collapsed and millions of people lost their jobs. While I was not a victim personally, many of my friends and family members were. The world we grew up in is fundamentally different than the world we live in today, and people who cannot learn to adapt to this new world are going to struggle to get ahead financially.
- Tackling Student Loan Debt - The rising cost of higher education in America is a tragedy. For many years now, schools have raised tuition and fees, and students have to taken out loans to bridge the gap. Education is a fundamental component of achieving the American dream, and without affordable options we force young people to take on debt that can't afford to repay. Many students are getting out of school today expecting the world to hand them a job. But we are in a tough economy and jobs are scarce. To combat this, I highly recommend looking into affordable options for higher education, and seeking out free money, like scholarships and grants, to bridge the gap rather than taking out loans. But if you have to borrow money for school, like I did, then be prepared to repay them on time.
- Saving for Retirement - As you are probably aware, employees today are responsible for their own retirement savings. Pensions are a thing of the past. Social Security may not be there. And if you are not taking steps today to save for retirement your financial future is at stake. I'm not sure most young people are aware of this. Compounding the problem is the weak performance of the stock market over the last 10 years. People simply don't know where to put there money, and aren't confident that the markets are the best option for storing their wealth.
What are the top five things readers can do to save money and keep debt down?
- Quit spending so much - it seems simple, but overspending is the crux of the problem.
- Split the cost of living - rather than living on your own, find some people to live with and split your rent, utilities and other living costs.
- Drink cheap beer - if I could have back all the money I spent buying shots for friends at bars and buying drinks for girls who weren't interested in me, I wouldn't have a dollar of student loan debt. Quit spending all your money at bars buying top-shelf liquor for your boys and learn to settle for a 12-pack of Schlitz. It will save you a ton of money.
- Give yourself an allowance - Set a fixed amount of money to spend each month on entertainment, partying, etc. and cash a check for that amount. Once the cash runs out, quit going out that month.
- Take your lunch to work - One way I save money is taking my lunch to work and cooking dinner at home. By shopping at Trader Joe's, I'm able to save even more on groceries. After a couple years of doing this, I've lowered my monthly expenses by more than $400/month. That's nearly $5,000 per year.
Budgeting can be hard no matter what age you are, do you have any tips so that making a budget and sticking with it is easier?
That's a tough one because budgeting is a terribly boring thing to do. To make it a little easier, we've put together a free budget worksheet at YoBucko.com that people can download, and there are a lot of free tools online. Anything you can do to automate the process or simplify it is a positive step in my opinion.
In terms of sticking to it, there are a few things you can do. You can set up reminders on sites like MoneyBugger or simply put it on your personal calendar so you get an update to check your budget each month.
So much of our financial lives comes down to personal responsibility and decision-making. Budgeting is no different. If you are worried about overspending or want to get your financial life on track, then create a budget and stick to it. If you'd prefer not to, that's your choice. It's your decision.
Credit cards are a part of life, what do you think readers can do to make sure they don’t run into trouble in the long term?
Don't buy stuff you can't afford is my first recommendation. My second is to keep your outstanding balances below 30% of your total credit limit. 39% is the point at which your credit score gets affected, but I set mine a little lower so I don't tempt the bureaus to drop my score. Next, I highly recommend paying off your bill in full each month. It will save you a ton in interest expenses each year and allows you to take full advantage of your card's benefits. Finally, if you are forced to pay less than the full amount, make sure to pay more than the minimum payment. Even if it's a buck more, it makes a difference to your credit history.
What cards are in your wallet, and which ones do you like to use and why? Are you using any of these cards for business?
I've got four credit cards: 2 for business and 2 for personal use. My business credit cards are American Express cards. One is the Amex Costco card and the other is the Amex Starwood rewards card. My personal credit cards are the Citi Thank You Premier Card and a Bank of America Rewards Platinum Visa card. Personally, I like the American Express cards the best. In my experience, they have the best customer service, and the best tools for tracking my spending. I'm willing to pay an annual fee for a service that adds value. The other two cards I'm not as impressed with. The rewards are okay and the customer service is mediocre. The reason I keep them is that they are my oldest lines of credit and I don't want to terminate my relationship. Eventually, I plan to switch, but they serve their purpose for the time being. Regarding the business cards, I like the rewards. I don't go to Costco nearly enough these days, but I do accumulate a decent amount of cash back savings with the card. And when I'm traveling, I like staying at Starwoods properties because it adds to my rewards. Overall, I'm a fan of American Express.
Name five business expenses that you pay with credit cards and why?
- Gas - because I get 3% cash back
- Meals - because I can keep track of my spending and get 2% cash back
- Software & Subscriptions - because it's easier to track and automate payments
- Flights, Hotels & Car Rentals - because of the discounts and rewards from my cards
- Office Supplies - because I can get 1% cash back
I like getting cash back, I really like rewards and I love free flights and hotels.