Graduation Gifts That Make a Real Difference

Think b18942935_sack to those wonderful days leading up to your graduation.

Your time was likely spent attempting to secure a job, celebrating with friends and family and receiving gifts.

But how many of those we’re memorable?

How would you’ve liked to receive a gift that changed the course of how you thought about money?  One that would keep paying off years later.

In this podcast episode, Mike and Chad share a few gifts that will keep on giving (a la Christmas Vacation) as opposed to the normal material item.

A Book for Graduation

Shorter Reads with Valuable Guidance

Many graduating students are too busy to sit and read an entire book so we also covered a few shorter articles that possess a great deal of wisdom that could set junior off in the right direction.

  • Financial Advice for My New Son – Morgan Housel is one of the clearest, relatable, and common sense writers out now.  In this article he lays out life lessons that could save many graduates thousands by adhering to his advice before making these mistakes themselves.
  • Second Article mentioned: Seriously, You Should Save Money in Your 20s.
  • Reflections on the Riches We Leave Behind – Fellow wealth manager, Ross Levin (who’s a regular columnist in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, describes assets that are important to build a person’s character, which is equally as important when starting your career.

Other Links Mentioned

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Full Transcript: Financial Gifts for Grads

Chad: The best thing money buys is control of your time. Your savings rate has more to do with how much you spend versus how much you earn. Before buying try to understand why you want an expensive car, a fancy watch or a huge house, right? Referring back to some of those thoughts that we have for graduating, that you know you want to get ahead.

Chad: Welcome back. We’re here again talking about a timely topic of the year, graduation, so I think you’ll like this. We’re encouraging you to think back to those wonderful days leading up to your own graduation. Basically you know that time, your time was spent securing a job, maybe celebrating with friends and family and receiving gifts. Right. That’s the big part of the graduation time of the year. But if you think back to that time for you, how many of those were memorable gifts? You might of got financial gifts. You know money to spend on things, a trip or a house, or a job, clothes for your new job, things like that. But how would you have liked to have received a gift that changed the course of how you thought about money. Right? One that would ideally keep paying off years later. We’d love to hear about any of those for you if you had a best graduation gifts or ones that were really memorable for you. You can e-mail us and send those thoughts that would be interesting to hear to or Mike at…


Chad: So Mike as we’re approaching graduation season here, you know we’ll find and read many headlines about graduation over the next month or so. So I thought what if we share some of the gifts or ideas that we have that we feel like may be able to give back to these graduating seniors this May.

Books That Have Lasting Impact [2:08]

Mike: So we have a list here of some books, some articles, and some other things I think would be helpful as you think about if you have a child or have a niece or nephew graduating or a friend graduating either high school or college, this would be a great place to have them get them start in the right direction. I know for me,I will talk about a book I received that made a big difference in my life and how I live. And that was you know obviously was one gift from one individual. So I want to jump right into it and we’re going to start with a few books here. Now not everyone reads books like they used to, so I think all these are available as audio books as well. But first one is a book I received when I graduated college was called The Millionaire Next Door. So it’s an excellent book, and was written in the late 90s but it’s still really relevant today. Really it’s very simple, it talks about where the wealth is in America, talks about living below your means, and you know really that’s how you gain wealth and status in the long run. It’s not about the car you drive, and it’s not about having the big house. It’s not about having all the fancy clothes. It’s effectively about living below your means. And so I think for a fairly recent college graduate that can be incentivized by credit card offers and everything else. It’s a great place to start to understand to get them headed in the right direction.

Chad: You know just thinking about the economy while you were describing that that meant a lot to me as well. And it makes me think how do you determine what the difference between cheap, frugal, and wise are?

Mike: I would say cheap is when it’s so cheap that something’s going to break a week after you buy it. That for me is like if it’s so cheap that initially you may get no value out of it and that it’s not worth it. Frugal is probably more, you’re always kind of counting pennies but trying to find the best deal possible. I think you’re always look for something better. If you go to buy a car you go to not five dealers you go to six dealers. You’re trying to negotiate that final penny away. And what was the last one?

Chad: Wise. What the Millionaire Next Door really is all right?

Mike: Yes. Wise is, and I think we’ve mentioned this in our podcast, there’s times to spend money and there’s times not to. The quote I always love is penny wise pound foolish. And I can say twenty five different examples of situations where something’s broken in my house and it’s much smarter for me to pay someone to come over and fix it. Just like the guys come in to fix the garage tomorrow than me try to do it on my own. And so that’s kind of where the wise decision would be in my personal opinion. The other book I like which for any you who are seasoned investors or a seasoned financial types are going to think this is pretty basic, it’s called the Wealthy Barber. It’s a very entry level financial personal finance book that gives just the basic information of the benefits of savings avoiding credit card debt and how that works over the long term, obviously it’s not going in to any kind of detail that some of the more complex books are today. But I think it’s a great place for a recent college graduate to kind of learn a little bit more about personal finance because the reality is and I don’t think that much is changed since I graduated is there’s not a lot of personal finance classes in high school or college. I wish there was more but unfortunately that’s how it works today.

Chad: Yeah. Financial literacy is one of those things that doesn’t get taught the way it should. The Wealthy Barber you know is one of those really quick reads that has a lot of great wisdom for young people coming out of college. A few that I would share one more recently I read that wasn’t around when I graduated but I would have liked to have had it is called Happy Money. I’ve mentioned this before on a previous podcast, it’s the science of smarter spending. So I think it’s the psychology behind spending is really interesting to me has always intrigued me and there’s actually a TED talk related to this as well from one of the co-authors Michael Norton called How to buy happiness. So this book basically discusses the ideas of how buying experiences and spending your time with others can deliver a higher level of happiness. So I think it’s one of those things that young graduates forget or aren’t putting emphasis on when they’re first coming out. They’re really focused on their career, really focused on getting started fast and maybe comparing themselves to their friends and you know trying to buy that big purchase item to show how well they’re doing right out of school and that could be some of the biggest mistakes you make. So one point they make in the book, about experiences in particular, is how they are unique to the individual which eludes the natural comparison, we tend to make with other things. I think that was really neat. They say looking back on their past decisions about whether to purchase experiences, 83 percent of people sided with Mark Twain they say reporting that the biggest single regret was one of inaction by passing up the chance to buy an experience when the opportunity came along. So you know we talk a lot about that here with clients too, that it’s not always about just the numbers, it’s about how you want to spend the money how you want to set goals and reach those goals not what your portfolio return was over the last month or quarter or year. Right. And it’s just how are you. Are you doing enough things to measure up?

Mike: Yeah I mean that is great. I love the experiences and relationships and there’s many other studies that go into detail we’ve talked about on other podcast. That’s really what is true happiness. Not buying more stuff. I mean I have four kids so we have plenty of stuff in our house and I and experiences are much more valuable over the long term.

Chad: Yes. The second book I actually did get this around graduation and it’s called Your Money and Your Brain. I just referenced on the last podcast. It’s a great break down, it’s a little longer 300 pages or so, but it’s great common sense writing with some research based ideas about how you think about money, how you think about investing, and how you should think about investing. One of the chapters is called confidence. And it talks about how you should handcuff your inner conman references back to what we just discussed in the last podcast on being an average investor, like trying to think how much better than average do I think I am? We think about that all the time. What rate of performance do I think I can achieve? And it goes through all these different examples how diversification is the best defense in a portfolio – not investing in one single thing where a single stock can blow up the portfolio. So a lot of different examples, just great lessons. If you get a chance to give this to a young person I think they would thank you for it Many times over.

Value of Human Capital [8:52]

Mike: Regarding young people, the one thing I always mention is here at Financial Symmetry we meet with folks of all ages. So we have a wide range of individuals that come through the doors. And for young individuals I remind them they might not have a lot of financial capital. So someone who comes in that’s retired, they’ve worked their whole life, they have money in the bank, money they’re 401k, IRA etc., that’s what they’re going to live off the rest of our life. They have a lot of financial capital. Now the folks that just graduate college don’t have that, obviously they haven’t worked those years to grow those savings. But what they have is what people that are about to retire don’t have, because they have what’s called human capital. That means they have many many years of effectively growing their earnings through that knowledge and understanding they have and you can increase your human capital through many ways. What I tell young folks is that any kind of additional education that you get that you know might cost something and could advance your career is worth it. We’re certified financial planner for example, so any designations if that’s important to your field can be really helpful as well. And then with your job if there’s any additional training you can that moves you up the ladder quicker. That’s a great way to spend the time and energy and potentially the investment and that can have a much higher return than the money spent in other places.

Chad: Yeah I mean we’ve written about this right. And we’ll link to these articles that we’re mentioning and books on the the post that will be opening accompanying this show.

Mike: And so the other thing I would say is we talked about the topic of this is about the gifts for college graduates or high school graduates specifically for college grads or it’s something that we see what we think would be a lot of help is the gift of financial planning. Just have an hour or two with a financial planner a lot of financial planner so they charge by the hour including ourselves and just having a college graduate understand the benefits of investing into a 401k. What employer matches what a Roth IRA. You know how to manage credit card debt what to do with their student loans. All that stuff that hour too with a financial planner can pay for itself. You know thousands of time over if they had a start in the right direction because unfortunately too much happens to us when we meet someone in their 40s or 50s that have never had that experience. And now we’re trying to turn them in the right direction with only 10 or 20 years to go before retirement.

Shorter Reads For Graduates [11:16]

Chad: Yeah I mean these things you know are if you’re a college graduate now listen to the show it’s applicable to you but it’s really for parents right to have children going through this now and realize they’ve been through it and they realize some may be prepared some may not be. And they’re both good opportunities to give back to your children and put them in good position. But not everybody is I guess a book reader or a book listener these days that takes a little more time in our short attention span theater type of environment that we’re in now. We picked a few articles as well that you can run through. So one I would say is from a writer named Morgan Housel think with the Motley Fool he and it’s published in the Wall Street Journal what is called financial advice for my new son. I thought this was great. He is honestly one of the clearest I would say relatable common sense like giving writers out right now and he does a great job of breaking things down concisely. In this article he lays out life lessons that he basically for his new baby that he’s writing that he can read later on when he grows up. And I love some of the things he said like the best thing money buys is control of your time. Right. Your savings rate has more to do with how much you spend versus how much you earn before buying. Try to understand why you want an expensive car a fancy watch or a huge house right. Referring back to some of those thoughts that we have them are graduating that you know you want to get ahead right. You’ve been through college I’ll say if you graduate from college and you scrimped and saved then you felt like you haven’t had much. And sometimes that feeling of that instant gratification you want to reward yourself. But it’s not always the wisest thing.

Mike: Why do you think some reward is good it’s just you know the overly expensive car house may not be worth it. You know like you mentioned the relationships and experiences taking that fun trip with friends or things like that. So you were not saying you can’t have fun just keep it in moderation.

Chad: Funny you mention that the second article that we have here same rider is called seriously you should save money in your 20s. That’s the headline. And I just wanted to point out two of the things he says he’s is basically a rebuttal to an article that was written by a young female I think in New York maybe that was saying that you know she couldn’t spend and have fun at all because she was trying to say even just not making enough to have a good time. But he points out two things. She says basically if you can enjoy time with friends without spending all your money you’re doing it wrong. People have been enjoined in enjoying themselves long before $65 brunches were a thing. Right. So it’s not always about going out to the nicest places just finding and people you want to spend time with and spending money smartly. Basically he says the decision isn’t between saving or not saving but like our Wise friend Mike here just told you. Wise. Finding a balance between the two lets you enjoy life while being smart about your future.

Mike: I agree. If you don’t spend it someone else will. So.

Chad: Will enjoy it. So that’s one of the things we put emphasis on too when we’re working with clients all ages right trying to find the balance between how much you should save and I think people innately have this feeling like they’re always behind the eight ball in some manner. I mean very few that we meet with that feel like they’re in good position there and a lot will ask me you know how I’m doing. How am I doing for our age and we’re doing the things we want to do. And that’s one thing that you know we can help answer right because you need some time software that enables you to see a year by year look of how things are progressing how things are growing and give you targets to shoot for going forward.

Mike: Yeah I mean that’s the only way I think as Chad mentioned is a good objective view of your personal situation. And I think that I want to allude to this because you know we’re in this field but sometimes working with a few only financial planner provides you that kind of guidance if whether or not you’re on pace or on track or if you need additional assistance to get you there and everyone’s situation is different. So you know just because you read something on line based on the averages doesn’t mean kind of where you’re at. Your situation is different than everyone else.

Chad: So I’ll end with one more article I think that kind of summarizes the bigger picture view maybe maybe a little bit heavy for a college graduate maybe not in their frame of mind and probably something that they’re going to hear in their commencement speech anyway. But it’s one of those things to think about because when you look back at life right if you can. One of the concepts I think in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People boss Stephen Covey that’s another book that we didn’t put our lives to begin with the end in mind. Right. So if you’re thinking about how you want to live your life and how your life will look after things are said and done you look back and wonder how you’re spending your time and your money. Right. So another writer named Ross Levin he’s a wealth manager from Mike’s hometown of Minnesota. The Great State of Minnesota. Yeah. He wrote an article called “Reflections on the riches we leave behind.” Basically his points are talking about experiences he’s had with other people in which he’d learned a lesson from them which is not a nice concept and a few of them are you know one person he met had a sense of gratitude right. He had an amazing sense of gratitude that stood out to all the people in his life. The second point was he gave to those from whom he expected nothing in return. The third he was interested in much and many things so he got a lot to say about a lot of different things. But he was always interesting to talk to so he invested in people that in that manner he lightened others loads that he was helpful and did things out of his way for other people and then the last one and she recognized how connected we all are. So I’ll end with that because I think it’s important that you invest not only your time and your money in the way you want to but also invest in relationships. And that’s something that college graduates could use because a network is very valuable these days and how you progress. And to Mike’s point build your human capital.

Mike: Yeah I mean that reminds me have another book we didn’t put in the list but I read a while ago Dale Carnegie actually wrote a book in the 1930s how to influence people and talked a lot about a lot about those points that Ross Levin brought up in terms of you know relationships, working with people. And that’s you know something that’s not can be focused on enough these days. How to Win Friends and Influence People. Yes. I was looking for the title I knew you’d knew it. I should ask you that. How do you win friends and influence people Mike? There’s many tips in there. You have to read the book. We’ll put a link to it on the podcast. That’s the next podcast there we go got another idea. Next up.

Chad: Very good. All right. Well thanks for joining us today. Look forward to being with you next time.

This podcast is a property of financial symmetry incorporated with production by fat cat strategies. The hosts and guests of this show do not render or offer to render personalized investment or tax advice through this podcast. This production is for entertainment purposes only and does not constitute financial tax investment or legal advice. Find out more about our advisors at

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