Editor’s note: This is the first in an ongoing series interviewing regular 20-somethings about their successes and setbacks with money. If you’d like to share your story, please drop us a line. -DW
At 29, Bijan Golkar is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and vice president and senior advisor of FPC Investment Advisory in Petaluma, Calif. You could say he knows a thing or two about handling money well.
As a high school student, Golkar took note of how many college students graduated with staggering debt. He cites a 2013 Fidelity Investments survey that pegs the amount at $35,200. That study also notes that 40 percent of respondents would’ve made different college decisions if they better understood the costs.
“I was determined to avoid that fate,” Golkar recalls. “I’d always believed that a college degree was a prerequisite for a successful career. But there was no way I was going to spend years and years slogging through debt repayments.”
The quandary of course, is how is such a thing possible?
Golkar says he made two conscious decisions. The first was to attend community college for two years while working full time. The second: to research how he could keep college costs down as he attended Golden Gate University in San Francisco for his full undergrad degree in Business Management.
At 22, and married, he was eligible for a tax credit that saved him about $5,000.
He kept working full time.
He found a scholarship that covered half of his two-year stint at Golden Gate. While he did need an $8,000 loan to get over the finish line, it put him in far better stead than owing $30,000. He repaid the loan within six months of earning his degree.
Speaking of degrees, it’s one thing to have the right major to start a financial career. But it’s something else to prove your money chops by example. “Because I had no college debt early in my career, I was able to pay in cash the costs needed to earn my Certified Financial Planner designation,” he says. “And that opened the door for my employer, FPC Investment Advisory, Inc., to offer me an ownership position in the firm.”
He adds: “Life is good.”
You may think Golkar’s cleverness applies only to those in college; he insists otherwise. The same strategizing, he notes, can be applied to any situation in life where the choice looms between going in debt and managing your affairs responsibly to avoid it.
Golkar says you can apply this strategic thinking to any life decision.
Visualize the outcome
“If you’re faced with a challenge, it’s important to decide what you would like the long-term outcome to be. For me, it was starting my career with no student debt.” For you, it may be saving to earn a big downpayment on a home, and putting yourself in a position to finance a 15-yet mortgage instead of a 30-year one.
Explore all the options
“It’s easy to assume that your options are limited to the conventional ones,” he says. “For college students, that might mean riding the student-loan conveyor belt through a four-year college. Don’t assume. Be creative; find a way.”
So if you see everyone around you solving a financial problem in a way that causes fiscal strain as opposed to relieving it, stop before you act. Make a list of all the ways you can attain your goal, including those you devise yourself.
Choose an optimal solution
Golkar puts it this way: “If you’re just commuting to work, you don’t need a Ferrari. I decided that having a successful career didn’t require an expensive degree.”
That kind of logic applies in all sorts of situations; you can have access to a vacation home, for example, through a friend as opposed to buying one and struggling to make the payments. Or, to play on Golkar’s metaphor, you can drive a used car that’s paid for as opposed to a new one or used one with lofty payments.
Finally, Golkar champions hard-yet-smart work. “That’s the key to overcoming obstacles and seizing opportunities, even if you don’t yet know the ultimate payoff,” he says. It’ll also distract you from plugging money, out of boredom, into wasteful consumerism.
Taken as a whole, Golkar’s approach revolves around combining the same targeting you might apply to, say, your career, and applying it to your financial life. If you’re starting out, you don’t need to be (or spend like) the king of the mountain. Just start with a first step, even if it’s small, and keep the top in sight. You’ll get there in time, hopefully without a rucksack full of bad debt to weigh you down.