John D. Spooner is an investment adviser, author and novelist. His most recent book is the Boston Globe number-one best-seller No One Ever Told Us That, a collection of letters with life lessons for his grandchildren. Here, he responds to queries from advice seekers of all ages. Send your conundrums to email@example.com.
Relationships are more challenged than ever in America, and any new romance is probably doomed if you cannot happily eat together. I advise you to avoid the cavemen and search for the greener editions. I do know a billionaire who became a happy vegan in the last few years. However, he lives in New York. But these days it seems that there’s an app for everything, and certainly the social networks can supply you with vegetarian men of every flavor.
But know the downside: You’re removing a big part of the male population from your search for happiness.
You’re not alone. Since the Great Recession started in 2007-08, millions of Americans have found it difficult, if not impossible, to save money. And all the expenses that require monthly payments—rent, insurance, cable, phones—seem to endlessly increase, not shrink. You mentioned some favorite pleasures of life that are expensive—shopping is the most discretionary item, an indulgence that may be modest for one person, out of control for another.
Oscar Wilde once said, “I can resist everything except temptation.” So, I believe that the best way for people to avoid temptation is to be forced to save. My first boss was a mentor to me, wise in the ways of the world and a student of history. “I’m going to do you a favor,” he told me. “I’m going to take 10 percent of your monthly pay and put it into an account in your name that you cannot touch until you buy your first house or apartment. If you work for me, you’re going to learn self-discipline.” Can you imagine that happening today? Yet five years later I had accumulated enough to put a down payment on my first house.
I don’t know your personal story, but it sounds like some discipline is needed. This is easy if you have a 401(k) plan as part of your company benefits. Just pick a percentage of your pay to put into the plan—I suggest putting it into whatever long-term-growth mutual fund they offer. There will be penalties for early withdrawal, so it forces you to be good to yourself in the long-term planning department.
As for cheap entertainment? There are all kinds of delicious cheap wines out there. Pasta with salad won’t break the bank. And lovemaking costs almost nothing, unless marriage enters the room.
Look back at something you were pushed into, and you’ll say, “I knew this wouldn’t work. Why did I do it?” But I hope you’re being honest with yourself and not just putting off the inevitable—which is working at something. The simple solution is to thank the person for his kindness to you, but say that within that industry you’d really like to focus on a specific area, like IT or marketing. When you’re looking for a job, don’t be gentle or wishy-washy. Say “I really want to be in sales.” Then you’re making your point in being specific.
When people are trying to help you, don’t beat around the bush—or they will sooner, not later, lose interest in your hunt for employment.
If we have a dream and it involves risk, people try to discourage us, in part because they don’t dare to jump off the cliff themselves. But failure teaches us more useful lessons than success, particularly when failure takes place early in our adult lives. So you shouldn’t discourage your friend in his new venture. But my sense of the restaurant business is that he most likely will lose his money. And the best next step for him would be to finish college. Most of us are not dropouts like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, who didn’t need school. The diploma will be a good thing for your friend.