4 Financial Role Models Who Don't Act Their Age

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Thomas Nitzsche
By Cathie Ericson

How many times have you been told to act your age? Typically, it's used in the pejorative sense because you're being immature and someone wants you to just, well, grow up. But in other cases, not acting your age can be a good thing -- especially when it comes to avoiding negative money stereotypes.

Think 20-somethings who still live with the 'rents, yet can't dig out from under consumer debt. Or 30-somethings who give little thought to financial stability -- spending all their disposable income on the good life. In these cases it could be a good thing to buck the trend.

To prove our point, we've rounded up four examples of people who refuse to give in to negative ageist money stereotypes, from the 20-something who's been saving for retirement since high school to the 50-something who has no plans to stop working. Their stories show that there's no one way to live your money life -- in fact, there are times when it's OK not to follow the crowd.

Justin and Erica LugbillJustin Lugbill, 29, and Erica Lugbill, 28, of Chicago.
In Their 20s, Debt-Free and Laser-Focused on Retirement

"Erica and I met in high school and got married young, when she was 20 and I was 21. Even then, we were thinking about our futures and didn't want to start our lives with debt -- including student loans.

Erica was responsible for her own college costs, so she attended a community college. I went to a private college my freshman year, which my parents paid for, but then transferred to Indiana University South Bend in order to be closer to Erica and save money. I knew chances were good we'd get married before I graduated, at which point I'd be responsible for my own tuition. We both had jobs in college to avoid debt. Erica worked for an interior design firm, while I started a business reselling books online, which I later sold.

%VIRTUAL-pullquote-We own our condo, have two Roth IRAs, a 401(k), CDs and rent out our first home.%Since then, we've become small business owners together. We have a design/build firm in Chicago, which Erica primarily manages. And I spend most of my time running an online marketing firm that I founded.

We've already started on our nest egg, even as we invest back into our companies. We own our condo in Chicago, have two Roth IRAs, a 401(k), CDs and rent out our first home in South Bend -- a reflection of the wisdom our parents instilled in us. They always told us to stash away half our earnings; in fact, I opened my first Roth IRA back in high school.

We also make sure to pay off our credit cards each month, and use rewards to buy the things we need, like the furniture in our home. I think many others view credit as a way to get what they want in the heat of the moment -- and worry about how to pay for it later -- but that's never been our philosophy.

In fact, that's probably the biggest difference we have with others in our age group: We spend intentionally, on the things that matter. Our focus is on building a solid future through hard work and investing, which we've been blessed to be able to achieve so far. We know that is what will pay off in the future."

Thomas NitzscheThomas Nitzsche, 35, of St. Louis.
In His 30s and Immune to Lifestyle Inflation

"As a former counselor at a nonprofit credit counseling agency, I worked with clients who routinely stretched past their financial limits. The experience led me to reject the notion that debt was inevitable -- and that striving to own more stuff was a healthy goal.

My desire to live a simpler lifestyle was what, in part, motivated me to move back in with my mother last year. It was a big change for me, since I've lived on my own since I was 18 and still own a home where I used to live in Atlanta, which I now rent out.

%VIRTUAL-pullquote-Money should be used to make you feel as safe as possible, not as a tool to purchase -- or finance -- as much as you can.%I could easily live on my own, but I enjoy helping my mom maintain her 150-year-old farmhouse in a rural part of St. Louis, which is also where I grew up. After she became a widow, she became increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of living alone, so I help take care of her five acres of property. This saves her a few hundred dollars a month, and I like that I can make it easier for her to stay in the home she loves.

When I returned to St. Louis, I started working again for the credit counseling agency as a media relations manager. Because my mom owns her home outright, I only have some utilities to pay, along with some maintenance costs for my Atlanta home. These lower costs have really helped me to be aggressive with my student loan debt -- I pay nearly 10 times the minimum payment, which is about 25 percent of my take-home pay. I also boosted my retirement contributions by $50 a month, and started a 529 for my niece, to which I contribute $100 a month.

My biggest personal splurge is travel -- last year alone, I visited eight U.S. cities -- but I don't have many other indulgences. I recently bought a 2-year-old Chevy Volt, but that was only to replace my 15-year-old SUV, which had 200,000 miles on it.

I think the biggest difference between myself and others my age is that I don't feel compelled to live to the highest level that my income will afford. My philosophy is that money should be used to make you feel as safe as possible, not as a tool to purchase -- or finance -- as much as you can."

Scott NicholsScott Nichols, 44, of Wilsonville, Oregon, and his family.
In His 40s and with a Scaled Back Work-Life Balance

"I landed my first job as a management trainee with a major car rental company right out of college. It was a career that required frequent moves -- I lived in four different places -- but I had received multiple promotions, with opportunity ahead.

My wife, Colleen, and I got married about two years into the job, and we now have three kids. The company provided a tremendous life for us: We lived in a gated community, could afford weekend trips, and stayed in nice hotels when we traveled.

My compensation was in the six figures, but I worked hard for it. My salary was less than a quarter of my take-home pay. The rest was commission -- and that drove me to work harder. As a result I spent little time with my family. When I wasn't traveling, I was clocking in long hours. There were days when I didn't see my family at breakfast or dinner.

When I was 39 I visited my hometown in Oregon to see my dad, who was undergoing surgery. I thought back fondly on the fact that he'd been to every sporting event when I was growing up -- and I realized I was missing that with my kids.

%VIRTUAL-pullquote-I thriving in my new career, but I've been able to invest time in my family.%Several months later I resigned -- without a job lined up. Colleen and I discussed moving back to Portland because she knew work was taking a toll on me, and we wanted to be closer to our families.

So I started the job hunt, and after a few months, I found a position at a health care company in the Portland area that offered a flexible schedule and opportunities to work from home -- although I was taking an initial 30 percent pay cut. But that was OK with us. With that, we moved across the country.

We were living in a cheaper market, and had downsized to a smaller home. We were also watching our spending by, for instance, thinking twice before eating out, and taking on chores that we used to outsource, like mowing the lawn.

It was admittedly scary to make the decision to leave my old job and life behind, but I was confident that my work experience would land me on my feet. And it paid off: Not only am I thriving in my new career, but I've been able to invest time in my family.

Plus, my wife and I knew that to be happy we didn't need to make the kind of money I was making before. I now have the flexibility to coach my kids' teams and be there for every game and school performance. You can't put a price on that."

Susie WyshakSusie Wyshak, 50, of Oakland, California.
In Her 50s and with No Plans to Slow Down

"Since high school I've lived my life with an eye toward financial freedom. For me that meant being able to pursue whatever I wanted personally and professionally, and I knew that the better money decisions I made, the more flexibility I would have.

Even when I was making just $18,000 after college, I saved by not going out to bars, not buying a lot of material things and investing in stocks. I was always on the lookout for ways to grow my money, whether that was through the markets or high-interest accounts that would let my money compound.

%VIRTUAL-pullquote-After surviving a bout with cancer in 2004, I decided I never wanted to retire because I still had a long bucket list of things I wanted to accomplish.%When I do splurge, I always think about how I can optimize my spending. For instance, on my sister's birthday, I offered to take her to the renowned restaurant French Laundry -- until we realized we could go to Italy for the same price.

Professionally I've straddled two worlds: the online marketing space and the artisanal foods industry. Initially, my day job was in tech, while I explored the San Francisco culinary scene on the side. At one point I had wanted to retire at 50.

But after surviving a bout with cancer in 2004, I decided I never wanted to retire because I still had a long bucket list of things I wanted to accomplish -- and several of them were career-related.

So a few years later, while thinking about what made me happiest, I combined my interests to create my dream job: helping new food crafters promote themselves and sell products online.

Proactively managing my investments to produce income has helped me make that shift. I also bring in extra money by renting out half of my duplex through Airbnb, which offsets my mortgage -- plus I meet interesting people from all over.

Part of my strategy for never retiring is to keep pursuing new business ideas. Last fall I released a book called "Good Food, Great Business: How to Take Your Artisan Food Idea From Concept to Marketplace," and I recently acquired a vintage Airstream trailer that I plan to turn into a rental on a lavender, fruit and olive farm -- a chance for me to build a culinary travel business.

I love working, and my role models are great business leaders. I can say that I've created a flexible, variety-filled life full of friends, family and adventure -- which is exactly what I had hoped for."

LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc., that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal or tax planning advice. Please consult a financial adviser, attorney or tax specialist for advice specific to your financial situation. Unless specifically identified as such, the people interviewed in this piece are neither clients, employees nor affiliates of LearnVest Planning Services, and the views expressed are their own. LearnVest Planning Services and any third parties listed, linked to or otherwise appearing in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other's products, services or policies.
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