Are you feeling down and out about your personal financial situation? Dug yourself a pretty deep hole to get out of? Feel like no matter how hard you work, you just can’t get ahead? Relax. OK, maybe “relax” is the wrong type of encouragement (more on that later). Rather – stay optimistic.
There have been periods of great economic disparity where extremely privileged oligarchical and monarchical families have handed great wealth down from one generation to another. And to some extent, the over-privileged executive business class has sustained and even strengthened its position in recent years. However, you should not be discouraged.
Never in the history of humankind has the common man/woman had so many resources available to them to financially succeed.
For starters – literacy rates are at all time highs. No other measure is as important in determining ones economic and social impact than literacy.
Socioeconomic disparities still exist (and need to be addressed), but US high school graduation rates are at an all time high – surpassing 86% of the population. Despite cost challenges, college degree completion rates are also up. The number of bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctorates has also risen.
The inflation adjusted household median income is now at an all-time high of $67,521.
While we’ve still got some serious infrastructure and bitrate speed work ahead, US internet usage rates are above 93% – an all time high. There aren’t official numbers on this, but I’d be willing to bet that number is 95%+ for millennials. And with a host of free wifi hotspots, including public libraries – just about everyone in the US has at least partial access to the internet.
The Internet has Leveled the Playing Field for Financial Success
Outside of literacy and education, no other invention in the history of humankind has had to potential to level the playing field between financial haves and have-nots quite like the internet.
Don’t have access to the old stock broker on Wall Street who will execute your investment purchase for hundreds of dollars? That’s OK, discount online brokers will do it for free. Don’t have enough funds to get the attention of a professional investment manager? No worries – through those same online brokers, you can purchase an extremely low cost index fund or ETF and beat the old-school professional investors.
Don’t like high phone bills? You can research and get a low-cost prepaid cell plans for a few bucks a month.
Want to cut your cable bill? Netflix, Roku, Hulu, the rest of the internet, and your local library would be happy to provide you with all of the digital entertainment you could ever consume.
Paying too much for insurance? Go online to shop around and get a handful of comparative quotes in minutes.
Cheapest (researched online) flight home for the holidays still too expensive? You can online video chat for free.
Does your local bank or credit union have low interest rates and checking account fees? Hundreds have their interest rates posted online and free checking and would be happy to be your virtual bank. No waiting in the teller line is necessary.
Not sure if a local retailer is offering up a fair price on that big purchase you need to make? Go online and comparison shop to be sure.
Can’t find that specific energy-saving device like an LED bulb, energy monitor, or low-flow showerhead at your local retailer? You’ll surely find dozens of stores online, who will gladly deliver it to your doorstep.
Don’t want to pay hundreds for new glasses at an optometrist? You can buy glasses online for under $20.
The Power of Knowledge
And all of this pales in comparison to the greatest gift of all that the internet provides – knowledge – and the exponential ROI that it can provide.
At any given moment, you have instant access to a massive library of billions of articles, books, and message boards to help you figure out just about anything. Doctors, lawyers, professional investors, executives, statisticians, economists, educators, cooks, brewers, gardeners, mechanics, contractors, and a few hundred million who have graduated from the school of hard knocks have all left digital bread crumbs for you to find the piece of information you are looking for, with one easy click of a button, day or night.
Don’t like your job? Millions of job boards and employers have openings posted online.
Want to quit your job and become a farmer, but aren’t sure where to start? Watch farming videos on YouTube.
Not sure how to take on a home DIY project so you don’t have to hire a high-priced pro? Thousands of videos and articles will show you how.
Looking for ways to build and boost self-employment income? The internet has made it easier than ever to learn, launch, and transact.
Want to see how much the cost of rent is in San Francisco while considering a move? It’s out there.
When is the cheapest month, historically, to fly to Australia? You’ll find it.
Have questions on your taxes but don’t want to wait in line a few weeks for your appointment with a tax advisor? Online tax software, irs.gov, and thousands of websites have the information you need.
It is bats%[email protected] crazy to think that for much of our very own lifetimes, none of this existed. And we’re just getting started…
The Big BUT to Financial Success…
I want you to leave this article feeling cautiously optimistic, not blindly optimistic. You see, while there has never been a better time to financially succeed, there’s also never been a better time to miserably fail.
Student loan debt, credit card debt, mortgage debt, and auto loan debt are all at or very near all time highs.
There is more stuff (both physical goods and services) than ever to buy and it is easier than ever to buy it and have it effortlessly delivered to us. Meanwhile, advertising is smarter and more prevalent than it’s ever been and has become extremely effective at separating us from our money. And there is more social pressure than ever before to show that you are a “have” and not a “have-not”, and the only way that most know how to do that is through the purchase and flaunting of their stuff.
With all of freedom of choice and easy access to everything at any time, it is easier than ever to hand away everything we earn (and then some).
Great opportunity can only be exercised if it is:
- taken action on
Many of us fail on all three accounts.
With proper realization, appreciation, and action just about any of us could easily and comfortably retire before the age of 40, if we so desired. But many will work until they physically cannot any more, without a penny to show.
What do millennials have to show for all of the educational and technological advancements that have been afforded to them? A negative personal saving rate!
You can re-write your story. Financial failure can precede financial success. You have all the resources in the world at the click of your finger.
More than ever, the opportunity to financially succeed is there for the taking. Will you realize, appreciate, and take action on it?
Good article and good perspective. I like your writing style and content and web site.
been reading this site for quite some time and your articles are quite insightful and have made a huge impact on not not only my personal finances, but how I view life in general (stuff just doesn’t do it for me anymore basically). Just a couple quick points:
Although literacy rates are high, there needs to be an emphasis on financial literacy in the educational system (accessiblity is greater now, but only for those who ACTIVELY seek the information).
Concepts such as personal saving rate (perhaps the best tool to jack up portfolio returns early on), compound interest, and delayed gratification are secondary concerns for many people simply because they DO NOT perceive these to be pressing issues. Many studies have alluded to this with a recent Charles Schwab study stating people spend more time figuring out which smartphone to get than their examining their 401k.
Realization is perhaps the biggest stumbling block of the 3 mentioned in the post and most people don’t even figure it out until their 40s…..losing out on nearly 2 decades of capital appreciation.
Anyways, Keep up the good work!
I’ve had similar thoughts about our internet age–you really can learn anything you want from the internet. It’s pretty incredible. The internet also serves as our entertainment, television, way of connecting with friends, hobby–it’s amazingly cheap when you consider the alternative costs of cable, movie theaters, and the like.
My husband and I plan to retire early at age 33 and move to a homestead in the woods and so this comment cracked me up: “Want to quit your job and become a farmer, but aren’t sure where to start? Watch farming videos on YouTube.” That’s exactly what we do! There are some amazing resources on YouTube!
Excellent post and I completely agree with your analysis. The internet has definitely levelled the playing field because some bloggers and internet marketers are making more money compared to company CEO. All that is required to build wealth is a great idea or an improvement on a great idea and the determination to execute the plan effectively. Very inspirational, thanks for sharing.
Great article! Reading articles like this one inspires me to continue my journey to financial independence.
I’m in my early 30s now and I was not a very responsible saver in my 20s (wish I had been a reader of this blog at that time) but with a current personal savings rate of 70% and a goal to retire before age 50 I finally feel like I am in control of my financial future.
As always, thank you for your insightful commentary on these topics.
I like this article. The internet is an amazing tool, for sure.
A few days ago, my mom’s Keurig coffee maker wasn’t working. The first thing I asked: “Did you Google the problem?” I told her to put in keywords, because someone else has had this problem before. And sure enough, she fixed it. I was proud.
I’ve learned a lot from the internet, particularly within the domain of personal finance. Almost anything to do with taxes. The costs/benefits of renting vs. buying a home. The types of retirement accounts and the considerations behind that. How to invest.
As an actuary, the online resources and community available to me accelerated my passing exams and earning my credentials.
And if someone is stuck in a minimum wage job, there are free resources on the web that can teach marketable skills. At least enough to get a “first step” job. Programming, finance, automotive, you name it… if someone had no experience, but showed the drive to learn on their own, I’d give them a shot.
Good article. There are many ways to earn and save money while also being as many ways to spend it. We really have to be careful on which side of the spectrum we end up on.
Good point. This comment really made me think. When in debt I think an individual needs to change their thinking from consumerism and materialism to becoming a producer while practising minimalism. By making this change I have virtually wiped out all my debt and now have substantial savings invested.
You make some great points. We do have lots of resources and referances at our disposal thanks to the time and world we were born into. Most of us don’t take advantage of all the things available to us and instead continue to struggle financially. Thanks for sharing!