Nick Miller is great at sleeping in, bartending and being a grumpy thirty-something in Los Angeles, but he’s deplorable with money. Advisor to Client asked two experts how Nick can become more financially responsible.
Subject: Nick Miller, New Girl
- Overcoming finance fears
- Handling a windfall
Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow.
Scenario: Law-school dropout Nick Miller has had a rough go of his 20s, but things are looking up. He lives in a large downtown L.A. loft with a rotating cast of four or so friends, depending on who’s in town. Based on L.A. rents, Nick’s paying about $1,300 a month for his share.
Nick is not just bad at financial management, he’s suspicious of it. He uses a sandwich bag as a wallet, throws his bills into a box at the bottom of his closet, and refuses to deal with his debts. From his stint at law school, Nick would likely have tens of thousands in debt, based on tuition rates in California.
For much of his adult life, he didn’t even have a bank account, preferring to keep his money in a paper bag instead of with “The Man.” When he inherits $8,000 from his father, he spends the money on shoes, popcorn and a portrait session. His girlfriend at the time, Jess, uses some of it to start paying off his debts, and at her insistence he finally opens a bank account.
Lately, Nick’s been forging his own path. He wrote a novel, and he and his best friend Schmidt become part owners in their local bar. It’s not clear how either of them came up with the money, or how much. Regardless, becoming bar manager helps Nick become more organized. Now, he must translate that discipline to his personal life.
Concerns: Since Nick is suspicious of financial institutions, disorganized and in debt, how can he become more financially responsible?
Assumption: For this series, we use Canadian laws and planning strategies. No credible financial institution would have loaned Nick money for the bar. It’s more likely that Schmidt spotted him the money or he’s paying the original owner in installments.
At the start of the series, Nick works as a bartender, later becoming a part owner. Though it’s hard to believe he made it to his 30s without a bank account, distrusting financial institutions is common, says Winnipeg-based independent financial advisor Chris Douglas.
“I think people are intimidated by all the jargon, so it’s easier sometimes to keep on working on living and not worry about tomorrow,” he says.
However, Nick is costing himself a secure financial future by avoiding banks altogether, Douglas says. “Occasionally you need something from The Man; one day you may want to buy a house. Or this bar might do phenomenal or the novel; maybe someone picks up on this great writing style.”
Julia Chung, a financial planner from South Surrey, B.C., says life is harder without a bank account. “Finances are digital now. Bills and utilities are all paid online, not by cash.”
She says the fact that Nick’s financial documents—bills, parking tickets, notices from debt collectors—are stored in a box leads her to compare his financial mindset to that of a 20-year-old. To inspire better habits, the first thing Chung would recommend is that Nick put his bartending proceeds into designated jars.
“If there’s no way I can get Nick into a bank, I would at least have him divide up the money he receives into his needs: covering his rent—which makes up nearly half his net income—and his food.” Nick would designate jars for each, with a separate jar for discretionary spending. Once he empties the discretionary jar, he can’t spend any more.
After Nick learns the basics of allocating money, Chung would encourage him to open a bank account at a community institution. “For people who are distrustful of financial institutions, I recommend credit unions because the whole feel and style often fits them a little better.”
The fact that Jess motivated Nick to open an account supports one of Douglas’ suggestions: finding an advocate. People uncomfortable with financial institutions may need a support system to help translate jargon and inspire a sense of accountability.
Douglas says Nick likely wouldn’t have responded well to a banker; Jess was a successful advocate because she is “someone more his age and more in his circumstance, so not someone in a suit and tie.”
One of Nick’s largest mistakes was misspending the $8,000 inheritance he received from his father.
Chung says, “When we receive an inheritance, a lot of times we attach sentimentality to it. It’s important to think ‘What would my parents want?’ A lot of people blow their inheritance because they’re in this place of stress. Stop and think: ‘What would I feel about this later?’ ”
Once Nick considers the personal value of the inheritance, Chung says he should outline his goals and determine how the inheritance can contribute to achieving them. “Maybe it’s not important to you to buy a house or get married and have kids, maybe it’s important that you that your actual dream is to move to Guatemala and live on the beach.”
Douglas has a more generous suggestion. “If you inherited a million dollars the advice is certainly different,” he says, explaining that with a larger inheritance, he’d usually suggest a client put more toward debt repayment.
“But if you inherit $8,000, take a third or half of it and go have fun—but not in one night. You should take a chunk and pay down your student loan debt; put $1,000 against it or something.” Noting that the $8,000 is relatively inconsequential for Nick, he says, “Life’s about the journey, not the destination.”