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‘No One Ever Told Us That': Advice For Your Life And Your Wallet

BOSTON — For the thousands of Massachusetts college students about to graduate, finding a job, managing a budget and thinking about your financial future could be tough.

So here’s one more book they might want to crack open before they dive into life after school: “No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Letters to My Grandchildren” by Boston writer and financial advisor John Spooner.

“It dares to be a little unconventional,” Spooner says of the book. “And in this increasingly anonymous world, it’s okay to be a little unconventional — it may even help you.”

Spooner tells us he got the idea for the book after a Brandeis University student said no one had ever told her about basic financial principles.

John Spooner: There’s so much financial illiteracy on the part of the young, and so much illiteracy about lots of things that nobody had told them growing up or if parents did tell them, they kind of blew off what parents say. That really rang a bell with me, that we had to fill a need for education for the young.

Bob Oakes: What do you say to the average Massachusetts college student, for example, who’s getting ready to graduate, is worried about finding a job in this economy and is sitting on top of the average loan debt of $25,000 plus?

Well, this is the key question these days for anybody getting out of college and graduate school: Is anybody going to hire me? What’s my life going to be like? And they’re all scared about it.

And I see dozens of resumes a year. And most of them, Bob, are just plain vanilla. They are boring. They talk about academic life, which is almost irrelevant when it comes to job hunting.

I tell all of these young people, I want to see something on your resume that jumps out at me. That’s what’s going to get you jobs.

Put your passions on the resume and stuff that you excelled in or are really interested in. Whether it’s ballet, or I don’t care, or kayaking, that’s the thing that’s going to get you a job.

When I read the book, one of the most important lessons I thought that you passed forward was in terms of building your own team.

There are three key areas of our lives, Bob, where we need a team: medical, legal and financial. There are several ways to build this team, which I describe in the book.

One is to stay in touch with your past and go to school reunions, both high school and college. Yes, Facebook and social networking really does fill a bill, but nothing quite as good as eyeballing people.

“Don’t be afraid to be a little different in life. Don’t be a cookie cutter.”
– John Spooner

The Second way is to make yourself memorable somehow. For instance, whenever I call for an appointment anywhere — a new doctor or dentist, etcetera — I say I’m talking about the doctor’s emotional future. I get called back all the time, you know, they’re curious. So you’ve got to set the hook in unusual ways, ask the unusual questions.

And the third thing is to have something to trade. Something you’re good at that the person on the other side of the desk can use as well.

You also talk about personal stories about your life not necessarily working out as planned — a contractor takes your money and runs, planning to become a writer and ending up managing investments. What do you tell your grandkids in terms of planning for the future and being open to unplanned circumstances?

You can’t really prepare for what blindsides us, but I learned a lot from panics in the stock markets, for instance.

It turns out that in every panic that I’ve seen — Kennedy assassination, 9/11, the crash of ’87, and the meltdown of the financial system in the last three to four years — in every case, you should have been a buyer not a seller.

So another lesson in this whole thing is don’t be a headline reader, Bob, because the things we fear on the news almost never develop. It’s stuff that blindsides us that hurts.

With the potential biggest IPO — initial public stock offering — just around the corner from the social networking giant Facebook, what are your grandkids telling you about investing or trying to invest in Facebook?

For legal reasons in my business, I can’t comment specifically on Facebook, but as a concept: Be careful of the frenzy. When people are frenzied for something, a product — whether it’s hula hoops or you name it — that fad is going to change and perceptions will change as well. So that I’d be a little cynical about chasing what seems to be the most popular fad of the moment.

That being said, if you have an itch, scratch it.

So what’s the number one takeaway for young children and/or your grandchildren from this book?

I’d say the number one takeaway is all life is relationships, and along with that, don’t be afraid to be a little different in life. Don’t be a cookie cutter.

In terms of being a little different, John Spooner sits in front of me across this desk with a nice bow tie on, red, red horn-rimmed glasses and a nice set of gold cufflinks. Thank you very much for coming in, very good to see you again.

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