Seven Words Worth More than College

I was really lucky when it came to higher education.  Junior college was affordable.  I could work at night and pay my way during the first two years.   Then two years of night school at Portland State let me work day time to fill in the 180 hours, required.  That was not a pedigree higher education, but what I gained and learned in the process was worthwhile.

Little did I know that seven words I would gain were worth more than all that university study and would be free.

More importantly I exited college without a penny of student debt.  I am not sure such things existed at that time.  How the world turns. Though we helped them all, and though they all worked while in university, our children still ended up with student debt.  A Wall Street Journal article “Five Common Mistakes People Make When Paying for College”(1)  shows that today, getting a higher education, without debt, is harder.

Debt traps include obsessing about Elite Schools.

The article says: Think the Ivy League is the only college pedigree that matters?  “Students will do better if they go to a college they can afford that is a match for them academically—where they will be challenged but not overwhelmed,”  Research shows the more a college charges, the more people apply, says Prof. Goldrick-Rab: “Just because it is expensive doesn’t mean it is good.”

For boomers, this might not seem an issue, but it is!   Some of us have children who still need an education.  Others are thinking about helping grandkids.

In addition the rapid change in technology and its impact on employment opportunities mean we can no longer rely on keeping the career we started with.  Keeping up with change often means getting more education as we age.

We live in an ever richer but also increasingly divisive world created but disruptive progress.

The article “Americans Doing Better Financially, Except for Non-College Educated” (2)  paints the picture we face.

The article says:  A Federal Reserve survey says the financial health of American households overall has improved modestly in recent years.  Americans’ sense of their overall financial health improved modestly last year, but adults without any college education lost ground for the first time since 2013, according to a new Federal Reserve survey.

Some 70% of respondents polled in October 2016 said they were either “living comfortably” or “doing okay,” up from 69% the year before, and 62% when the question was first posed in 2013, the Fed found in its latest Survey of Household Economics and Decision Making, released Friday.

Yet the share of respondents with no more than a high-school diploma who said they were “living comfortably” or “doing okay” declined last year to 60% from 61% in 2015.

Day-to-day finances are still precarious for many Americans. The survey found 44% of respondents said they wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense like a car repair or medical bill, or would have to borrow money or sell something to meet it.

In another sign of the educational divide, 79% of those with at least a bachelor’s degree said they would still be able to pay all of their other bills in full if hit with a $400 charge. Just 52% of those with no more than a high school diploma said the same.

“Everybody on the low end feels like they’re in a different situation, almost like they’re in a different America than those with a bachelor’s or more,” said Jonathan Morduch, a New York University professor of public policy and an economist.

This forces many boomers into debt.

The article “More Boomers Refinancing, Taking Out Student Loans” (3) shows how student debt really is a problem that crosses generation.

The article says: Student loan debt isn’t just making it harder for millennials to own a home. According to data from Ameritech Financial, it’s also impacting the Boomer generation.

New analysis from Ameritech, based on data from the New York Federal Reserve, shows that student loan debt has increased eight times for people aged 60 or older—all between 2005 and 2015 alone. Student debt increased five times for people between 50 and 59 and two times for those under the age of 30.

My Most Important Education

The school of hard knocks was definitely more educational than university for me.

I was lucky almost 50 years ago after finishing higher education to get an opportunity to work in Hong Kong selling US mutual funds.  That was exactly the wrong place and time to be selling US funds.  The error in timing really clobbered me financially for awhile, but Noel Croucher, an eccentric Hong Kong expat, showed me how to cross the divide between those who are in debt and those who financially thrive.

I arrived in Hong Kong in 1968 to sell US mutual funds but this was just about the end of a great US market bull cycle.  The Dow was entering a 15 year bear.  However, Hong Kong was about to explode upwards.

I might have missed this fact but was lucky that one of my clients was Noel Croucher.  He lived to be 88, but when I walked in his door on a cold call, in the 1970s I suspect he was somewhere in his 70s.

There is a book “Quest of Noel Croucher” by Vaudine England” which tells his wonderful story.


See for the book “The Quest of Noel Croucher” by Vaudine England.

The book tells that Croucher was a man of many facets, some not very nice.  I knew he was a founder of the Stock Exchange and had been in Hong Kong so long that he could remember the colony before WWI.  I did not know that he was the wealthiest white man East of the Suez Canal and did not learn that until years later!

All I saw was his good side.  Perhaps he saw in me a similarity to his past, a young man just starting with nothing but a willingness to work.  Whatever the reason, Croucher was happy to provide me with many hours of his time. He was a wealth of legends and stories about the Colony.

Noel Croucher helped me see how times had changed and that I should be selling Hong Kong investments to Americans rather than American investments in Hong Kong!  Nothing could have been more brilliant.

Plus he gave me the best personal financial advice, just seven words, that is more important than any college career.

If you want money to work for you, instead of having to work for your money, there are only 3 things you need to do. Here are the seven words.

  • Spend less.
  • Earn more.
  • Save the difference.

Investing in good value is key to making these seven words work.  Once money works for you instead of against you, you have the freedom to do whatever you choose.


(1)  Five common mistakes people make when paying for college

(2) Financial health improved for mos Americans in recent years

(3) Boomers refinancing taking student loans

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