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Personal Finance: YoBucko talks money for 20-something

Published: Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012

When it comes to managing money, there’s no lack of advice online, on everything from figuring out a budget to calculating your retirement plan.

But for 20-somethings? Not so much.

And that’s the concept behind YoBucko.com, a new personal finance website aimed squarely at those in their 20s. It’s the brainchild of Eric Bell, a 28-year-old Washington, D.C., entrepreneur who sees a void in personal finance guidance for his generation.

What Bell lacks in years, he’s made up in passion for personal finances. While in college, Bell started money-management workshops at four universities in his native Arkansas. After graduating in 2006 (“one of the last group of graduates to easily get jobs”), he spent four years in the private banking division of Citigroup. Now finishing an MBA program at Georgetown University, he just finished two years as president of the Greater Washington, D.C., Jumpstart Coalition, a national nonprofit that promotes financial literacy in schools.

It all led to November, when he founded YoBucko, which offers advice to 20-somethings on budgets, debt, savings, insurance and more.

This week, he talked by phone about his website and his generation’s attitudes on work, taking risks and the recession’s lasting impact. Here’s an excerpt:

For obvious reasons, I like the YoBucko name. Where’d it come from?

I wanted a name that made people laugh. There’s so much out there on personal finances but not a lot you can laugh about … . Real problems come from personal finances. But people aren’t receptive to the message if they can’t smile about it.

 

Why focus on 20-somethings?

I focus on 20-year-olds and up because I am one. I understand the challenges they’re facing … . When I was in college, I wanted to take classes on money management but nothing was available. … I’m trying to get in front of problems and (help prevent) a lot of what we’ve seen with credit card debt, bad mortgages, etc.

Like many college graduates, you’re saddled with $100,000 in student loans, the legacy of finishing your Georgetown University MBA. Does that make you more – or less – credible with your audience?

From my perspective, it adds to my credibility. I’m in the trenches with people, not speaking to them from my ivory tower. Some of the most successful people in the personal finance field are folks who faced real financial issues and got through them successfully. … So rather than hide behind the facts and pretend to be someone I’m not, I prefer to share my story openly so I can speak from experience, not theory.

Student loan debt is estimated to hit $1 trillion this year and take decades to repay. What’s your advice on student loans? And how are you tackling your own debt?

Tuition and the rising cost of education is the downfall of our generation … . (Students) should think long and hard about why they’re going back to school. If you’re trying to switch careers or add to your current job skills, there can be a payoff. If you’re just going because you don’t know what you want to do, it may not be the best investment.

I’ve already paid off a chunk of my loans, the higher-interest rate loans first. I’m looking at my repayment options: lowering interest rates, consolidating loans, income-based repayment plans.

For your generation, what are the lasting lessons of the recession?

There are three major takeaways:

• Bad things happen to good people. The recession demonstrated this very clearly and instilled a little fear in our generation. Prior to the recession, there was an eternal sense of optimism about our future and our potential. The recession (gave) us a wake-up call and helped us realize that we need to protect ourselves by saving for a rainy day, living below our means and hedging our bets.

• Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. People now see how being too concentrated in one asset – whether it’s real estate, stocks, cash or 401(k) plans – is a risky proposition. The concept of diversification makes more sense to our generation now than it did before.

• Be skeptical. While there are a lot of great people in the financial services industry, a few bad apples caused a ton of financial problems globally … . For our generation, it translates into being skeptical of individuals and companies that sell financial products and services.

Part of the “wake-up call” is setting aside some savings. How do people do that?

People talk a good game about saving. But it’s like you know you’re not supposed to eat sausage, biscuits and gravy, but you do until you have a heart attack. … As a country, we’ve lived through a small heart attack and are finally listening to the fact that we should be prepared if it happens again. … Look at your 401(k). Set up direct deposit. Create a budget so you have a snapshot of your money and where it goes each month. (For detailed tips, see accompanying box, “12 Ways to Save More Money in 2012.”)

According to a recent Pew Research Center study of 18-to-34-year-olds, the ragged economy forced many to move back in with parents (24 percent) and postpone marriage (20 percent) or kids (22 percent). Nearly half said they took a job they didn’t like just to pay the bills. How else did the recession change your generation?

It’s forced us to curb our expectations. That dream home at age 35 isn’t likely. … In 2006, when I got out of college, I’d go hang out with friends and buy drinks and an expensive dinner. Now, I’ll cook at home. And that’s not a bad thing … . With careers, you have to have a backup plan. Our sense of loyalty (to a company) is gone because many of us got laid off. We’ve seen people lose their homes. Parents are having to admit to their kids their house is being foreclosed on and they can’t pay for college. Or they don’t have the money for retirement. It’s a scary time. We came into the world where everything was provided to us. Many more of us are now cynics.

Why start a business in tough times?

It was a calculated risk. I’ve probably learned 10 times more from this experience than what I’ve learned from my MBA. … I’m not married; I don’t have kids. I can afford the risk. … If it doesn’t work out, it won’t be because I didn’t try. I believe in what I’m doing. We’ve already helped some people. If I can help a lot more people, it’s even better.
Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/02/19/4272661/personal-finance-yobucko-talks.html#storylink=misearch#storylink=cpy

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