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Ask a Boomer: What is one financial thing you wish you’d done at my age?

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Have a question for our Boomer? Email it to charlottefive@charlottefive.com with the subject line “Ask a Boomer.”

As a kid, when I’d ask my mom for a stamp and she’d ask for a quarter (there were no “forever” stamps back then) and then admonish me with: “Do you think stamps grow on trees?”

My dad would load up on store-brand canned vegetables at the grocery even though we hated them. “They’re on sale” he’d say. “Too good a bargain to pass up.”

I came to learn they’d both experienced the Great Depression and it colored their attitude about money throughout their lives.

Despite my folks’ experience, I think people’s relationship to money, finances and savings is more a product of their upbringing than their generation. I knew plenty of my parent’s contemporaries who were not nearly as frugal. Plenty of Boomers, Gen X’rs and Millennials I know are great savers.

Michelle O. asked the boomster to ponder this financial query: I am a barely 40 something with two small kiddos (5 & 10).  My question is what is one financial thing you wish you had done at my age (or earlier in life)?

Money is a VERY personal thing, and while I am not a financial adviser in any way shape or form, I do subscribe to two overriding tenets: (1) Spend less than you earn and (2) Save early, often and plentifully.

There are plenty of sobering statistics out there regarding the U.S. savings rate and the woeful retirement savings of average Americans at various life stages. A recent Money Magazine survey indicates 1 in 3 Americans has saved $0 for retirement.

Michelle asked for one thing I wish I’d done but I’m going to share two.

Though I was always a good saver and actively participated in employer sponsored plans — especially those that offered matching contributions such as a 401(k) — I was too passive in managing those investments.

I’d select a fund or employer stock for my deferred income, set it and forget it. Not always the most prudent option.

Often these plans offer many investment choices, allow you to change and even move funds within your plan, and in the case of mutual fund offerings, provide performance history, fund strategy and access to investment professionals who can advise what choices might be right for you.

Gaining more investment and financial knowledge is important even if you don’t have an employer plan. If you are saving money, you should be as informed and educated about your options as possible, and you should monitor your investment performance over time to be sure you are on track.

Basically: Don’t be passive.

[Related: Five moves to make with your money ASAP.]

My second financial wish I’d done earlier: Spend more on experiences than on things.

As a (gracefully) aging Boomer, all those fancy toys — golf clubs, skis and bell-bottom jeans I bought back in the day — don’t mean much to me now. I wish I’d spent more on great vacations, cooking classes and computer courses that would have provided experiences and life skills I’d still be enjoying today.

One final word: When it comes to money — It’s never too late to redefine your relationship with it.

Photo: File photo

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