TIME Opinion

Stop Telling Women Their Most Valuable Asset Is Their Youth

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MmeEmil—Getty Images/Vetta

Why, in an era when we are succeeding in so many ways, do we buy into sexist tropes about aging?

Last week, I wrote a column about​ millennials and​ beta-marriages: ​young people, like me, who want to beta-test their relationships before they commit to “forever” — by way of temporary marriage contracts. It led to an interesting response,​ in particular,​ from a five-times married, ​71-year-old ​television host who posts semi-nude selfies on the internet.

Appearing on FOX to discuss the piece, Geraldo Rivera noted, to stunned female hosts, that what a woman brings to a marriage “more than anything else” is “her youth.”

Her youth?

Yes, “her youth,​” ​Geraldo continued. Because a woman’s youth, he explained, “is a fragile and diminishing resource.”

Geraldo’s logic went like this: If a woman were to invest two precious years into ​a beta-marriage, and then, God forbid, have her man reject her (his words, not mine), she’ll have wasted her most valuable asset. The thing that is, obviously, going to determine not just whether a woman will have a family, but whether she’ll have a husband, and live happily ever after, at all.

I spent all week trying to ignore that comment. Honestly, who gives a ​sh-t about Geraldo Rivera? And yet I couldn’t get it out of my head. Like the ticking of that clock, I kept hearing it, reading about it, stumbling on it everywhere I turned: Your youth. Your youth. Your youth.

Women have been hearing this argument since the dawn of time. And since the dawn of time, part of it has been true (youth means fertility). But Geraldo’s sin was not simply that what he said was impolitic. It’s that he put bluntly one of the most insidious and persistent smears: that women come with an expiration date.

​It’s a concept that is still pounded into us at every turn, from media to pop culture–and not just by septuagenarian TV personalities. It is there, almost tauntingly, in a recent article in Esquire, which seemed to bask in its own generosity by proclaiming that a woman could still be hot at 42–as if that were a reason to reconsider their value. It’s there in the endless media blitz by Susan Patton, the “Princeton Mom,” who’s managed to create a “mini empire,“as Salon recently put it, from “one crazy op-ed” about how women need to hurry up and find a man.

I’m 32 (though I’m always tempted to shave a year or two from that number). I’m surrounded by other unmarried women in their 30s ​who are ambitious, career-driven, attractive.Intellectually, we know that the longer we wait to ​settle down, the more likely our relationships will be successful. (We’ve read the studies.) And we know that when we do decide to tie the knot, we’re going to bring a whole lot ​of benefits to ​the relationships – things like ​advanced ​education and ​money-earning​ potential​ — ​that would have been inconceivable even a generation ago.

​We also know we’re going to do all of this while slathering our faces with anti-aging cream. Pricking our smile-lines with Botox. Lying about our ages.​ ​And cleaning up after everyone in the house (even ​breadwinning wives still do the majority of chores).​ And on some strange level, we’ve accepted it.

The thing is, reality no longer conforms to those old tropes. Women now get the majority of college degrees. We have careers. We are living longer than ever. We can freeze our eggs to buy us biological time.

And yet our conception of what makes a woman desirable and valuable in society hasn’t caught up. From every angle, we continue to hear that we need to “rush.” That we should make it easier and more comfortable for the men around us. That our youth — not necessarily even our fertility — is our most valuable asset.

And as if that wasn’t already our worst fear, we have people like Geraldo hammering that home.

On Tuesday, while this story went viral, my 33-year-old friend was having her eggs frozen, then tearfully coming over to my house, bloated and emotional, worried she hadn’t bought herself enough time.

On Wednesday, I had a half-hour conversation with another friend, about how many years she was allowed to shave off of an online dating profile​ — because, she feared, nobody would want to date a woman over 30.

On Thursday, I cried to my therapist, about the clock that was ticking in my head. “​But is it really even your clock?” she asked. “Or is it just the pressure you feel from everybody else?”

The youthfulness we’re chasing is not about biology, and it’s not solvable by science. It’s a cultural message. And we need to stop listening to it.

So thanks for the reminder, Geraldo — but I’d rather not listen. Here’s hoping that the fifth time’s the charm.

If not, there’s always the beta-marriage.

 

MONEY Kids and Money

Go Figure, Grandkids Want to Hear About Your Money Memories

Having seen tough times already, young adults crave money conversations with grandparents who have seen it all before.

What young person doesn’t enjoy a good story? And it doesn’t have to be about vampires or super heroes. The top thing young adults want to hear from grandparents is about experiences and decisions that shaped their life, new research shows.

This is especially true of events having to do with money, according to a survey from TIAA-CREF, a financial firm with $613 billion under management. The finding suggests that grandparents who are willing to talk about their financial follies can play an important role in helping their grandkids learn early to save, manage debt and stick to a budget.

Only 8% of grandparents say they are willing to start a conversation with their grandkids about money, the survey found. Yet 85% of grandkids aged 18 to 24 say they are open to such a conversation. In a further sign of this divide: only 30% of grandparents believe they could have an influence over their grandkids’ money habits; but 73% of young adults say their grandparents already have such influence.

How can perceptions be so different? For one thing, young adults have got the message and are intensely interested in understanding how to manage their money. In the survey, 97% said they were concerned about saving for their future. They see their grandparents as a role model: 59% rated their grandparents as very good or excellent savers.

Grandparents may be missing their influence due to cultural differences, the survey authors say. Many grandparents today are Baby Boomers, the generation that once upon a time didn’t trust anyone over 30. They wonder why young people would listen to them about anything.

But Millennials are coming of age in different times. They embrace the new multi-generational workplace and family. Through the Great Recession, they have seen first hand how tough life can be and they tend to respect elders who have muddled through despite life’s many ups and downs, says Joe Coughlin, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab, which collaborated with TIAA-CREF on the study.

Coughlin suggests initiating the money conversation with grandkids when they are teens or earlier. Saving for college is a great starting topic. This may require crossing another divide, however. Grandparents are largely in the dark as to how expensive college has become. Four-year university costs easily run to $100,000 and can shoot to $160,00 or more at a private school. Yet one in five grandparents believe the total to be under $50,000 and a quarter believe it to be $50,000 to $75,000, TIAA-CREF found.

In speaking to grandkids about money, the trick is framing the discussion as a personal experience. Kids love to hear stories about rituals, big decisions, frugality and home life, he says. Grandparents can find ideas and conversation starters for teens here and for younger kids here and here.

Taking on this subject can be a fun and rewarding way to get to know a grandchild better—and it may be a huge help to parents. “Life has gotten very busy for dual income households,” Coughlin says. “Grandparents can fill in the gaps. They have the time and the stories to tell.” They just need to understand that, unlike themselves in younger days, the kids will listen.

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MONEY Social Security

Why Millennials and Gen Xers Shouldn’t Diss Social Security

Don't fall for the myth that Social Security runs dry after Baby Boomers retire. You'll still get most of the promised benefits.

Ask your average American born after 1964 what they think about Social Security and they will probably say something like, “I’ll never see any of it. When I get those statements in the mail I just throw them away.” For this we have to thank (among others) novelist Douglas Coupland, author of Generation X, who back in 1991 said in an interview, “I don’t think anyone honestly expects to collect a single penny they pay into Social Security…The day you want to go collect your money the system will have just gone bankrupt buying a jewelled stereo system for Jane Fonda’s walker.”

It is true that timing is terribly unkind to me and my peers—the Social Security trust fund reserves will be depleted in 2033, the same year I will be turning 65, according to the most recent board of trustees report.

And it is equally true that this depletion will be due to ballooning expenditures for Baby Boomer beneficiaries that will begin to create a steeply rising deficit in about 2019. But this does not mean that Social Security will not be there for me when I retire—which is what more than 80% of Millennials and Gen X-ers believe, according to a survey released last monthby the TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies.

Social Security gets money to make payments to retirees in three ways: through taxes on current workers, through taxes on the benefit payments, and through interest income on a trust fund of about $2.6 trillion as of the end of 2013. (The Department of the Treasury invests the trust fund in special, non-marketable government securities, which may explain why it only made 3.75% last year—more on that later.) As the program begins to run a larger and larger deficit, the shortfall will be made up by eating into the reserve fund itself. That’s what will be depleted by 2033, but not the entire program, which anticipates being able to pay approximately 75% of scheduled benefits between 2033 and 2088.

75% isn’t as good as 100%, but I’ll take it. (I’m not as sure about deferring benefits to age 70, even though the economic advantages of doing so make Michael Kitces describe deferral as “the best annuity money can buy.”)

According to projections done by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, between 73% and 76 % of people in 401(k) plans will still have a “successful” retirement (defined as being able to replace between 60% to 80% of pre-retirement income) even with reduced Social Security benefits, compared to between 83% and 86% of people reaching “successful” retirement at current Social Security benefit amounts.

Those projections assume a retirement at age 65. They also assume that nothing will be done to “fix” the projected shortfall, such as raising taxes or more actively managing the trust fund investment to get a higher return, both of which would be extremely controversial solutions. Something must be done, if only, as the trustees warn, to avoid the increasing strain that the trust fund deficit will also put on the unified Federal budget. If there’s one fiscal issue Millenials and Gen Xers could both rally around, this should be it, and yet the problem seems to be met with apathy, perhaps owing to the misunderstanding that we no longer have anything at stake.

I used to like getting those statements of estimated benefits, the ones called “what Social Security means to you.” After suspending those mailings due to financial cutbacks, Social Security will once again send estimates but only at five-year intervals (you can also get them online.) Don’t disregard them. Social Security will still mean an awful lot.

Konigsberg is the author of The Truth About Grief, a contributor to the anthology Money Changes Everything, and a director at Arden Asset Management.

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MONEY Millennials

The 15 Most Affordable Cities for Millennials

Greeting Card from Augusta, Georgia. ca. 1943
Universal Images Group (Lake County Discovery Museum)—Alamy

Finding an affordable place to live is one of the biggest challenges for millennials. This list should make it easier.

Last week, we told you about the 15 most expensive cities for millennials to live in based on a recent study by RealtyTrac. This week, we bring you the other side of the story: the 15 areas that are the most affordable, and the most attractive, to young people.

To quickly review how this list came to be, RealtyTrac ranked counties with at least 100,000 people by the percentage of median income one needs to spend in order to make a median housing payment or pay an average rent bill on a three-bedroom property. To make sure these cities are actually places young people would want to live, the company only included areas where millennials make up at least 24% of the population, and where the percentage of millennials has increased over the past six years.

So which area wins the most-affordable crown? It depends if you’re renting or buying. As is often the case, renting is significantly more expensive than making payments on purchased property. The best county for buyers—Richmond County, Georgia, which includes the city of Augusta—will cost an owner 10% less of their median income than if they were renting in Bossier Parish, Louisiana, the most affordable area for leasing.

For renters, Bossier Parish, home to Bossier City, will cost about 20% of the area’s median income. Average rent on a three-bedroom is a paltry $943. There aren’t as many familiar names on this list as its less affordable cousin, but some relatively major cities do make an appearance. Dane County, ranked ninth, includes Madison, Wisconsin; a beautiful city that also houses one of the nation’s top universities. Franklin County, home to to Columbus, Ohio, also offers a great city for millennials to live. Minneapolis, Minnesota’s Hennepin County even squeaks in at number 14.

Those willing to purchase a home are going to see a very different ranking. While Baltimore and Philadelphia are some of the least affordable places to rent, they’re actually one of the more affordable cities for buyers. Philadelphia County and Baltimore City rank 5th and 6th respectively, and payments will cost buyers around 14% of their area’s median income. Other highlights are Milwaukee, Minnesota, which comes in 9th, and Columbus’s Franklin County, which makes another, more highly ranked appearance.

Want the whole list? Here it is:

MONEY Banking

Stuck Paying Overdraft Fees? One Simple Rule to Not Be a Sucker

Hand holding large lollipop
Yulia M.—Getty Images/Flickr

A tiny portion of bank customers pays nearly three-quarters of all overdraft fees, to the tune of $380.40 annually per account—and some $31 billion total.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of a new government report about overdraft fees, and before reviewing the recent history and some of the staggering statistics regarding these much-maligned bank fees, let’s cut to the chase and give some straightforward advice:

DON’T OPT IN to overdraft protection.

You may have done so after thinking that “protection” sounds like it’s good for you. Heck, you may have no idea that you’re actually signed up for such a service. (An overdraft, by the way, is when you pay for something with a check or debit card and don’t have enough money in your account to cover the tab, prompting a bank fee to kick in, likely in the neighborhood of $35. When you don’t have overdraft protection and don’t have a sufficient account balance to cover a purchase, your card will be declined, and there will be no fee assessed.) If you’re not sure, check with your bank to check your status. And whether you’ve opted in consciously or unwittingly, give serious thought to opting out. Like, now.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s run through how we got to where we are today, and why even as reforms have helped consumers save money, they come up way short compared to how consumers can help themselves.

The total amount and frequency of customers paying overdrafts have been declining. American customers collectively paid a whopping $37 billion in 2009 in overdrafts, one of the more outrageous factoids helping to bring about the creation of the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau), as well as the Occupy Wall Street protests. After rules were put in place requiring bank customers to opt in to overdraft protection, rather than be signed up automatically for it, the total shrunk to $31.6 billion in 2011, and remains at around $31 billion annually.

On the one hand, consumers are paying $6 billion less in overdraft fees compared to five years ago. On the other, we’re still paying $31 BILLION each year on a fee that bank reforms were supposed to rein in. Why is the figure still so high?

A study released last week from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau provides some answers. The vast majority of bank customers actually pay no overdraft fees whatsoever. Seven out of ten accounts incur zero overdrafts annually, and 82% of customer accounts are hit with three or fewer overdrafts per year.

Therefore, it’s a very small portion of customers who are paying the lion’s share of overdraft fees. According to the CFPB, 8.3% of bank customers overdraft more than 10 times annually, and they’re collectively responsible for a mind-boggling 73.7% of overdraft fees collected by banks. Who are these people, who pay on average $380.40 in overdraft fees? The data in the report reveals a profile of the prototypical frequent overdrafter:

They’re young and inexperienced. Nearly 11% of customers ages 18 to 25 have 10+ overdrafts annually, compared to less than 3% of those age 62+.

They make small, frequent purchases with debit cards. Consumers who use their debit cards more than 30 times per month were more likely to be frequent overdrafters, with 18% incurring 10+ overdrafts per year. And the purchases that sent them into a negative balance tended to be small, with a median amount of just $24.

They pay back the money soon. More than half of accounts are back in a positive balance within three days, and three-quarters are positive within a week of overdraft. This tells us that an overdraft is often a matter of sloppiness—absentmindedly paying for a small purchase without realizing the money wasn’t there to cover the bill, then quickly making a deposit or transferring money from another account to get out of a negative balance. By then, however, the customer has already been hit with a fee (one likely higher than the median $24 mentioned above), and paid back a loan that equates to an annual rate of 17,000%, as the CFPB put it.

They’ve opted in. Well, duh. A little over 14% of bank customers have opted in to overdraft protection, and unsurprisingly, they tend to get hit with more overdraft fees. (In unusual circumstances, overdraft fees can be assessed even if you haven’t opted in.) The average checking account that has opted in is hit with $21.61 in overdraft fees monthly, compared to $2.98 for those who haven’t opted in. What’s more, those who opt in tend to pay more in other kinds of bank fees too, including maintenance and ATM fees.

If the portrait above sounds like you, the obvious advice is that it’s high time to start paying more attention to where you bank, how you spend, and whether or not you’ve opted in to overdraft protection. If you have, OPT OUT.

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MONEY Millennials

The 15 Most Expensive Cities for Millennials

Skateboarder on the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California
And the "winner" is...the City by the Bay. Jordan Siemens—Getty Images

Finding an affordable place to live is hard, especially when you're just starting out. Here are 15 cities where you'll be pinching pennies.

In June, I moved out of my college dorm room into what I thought was a reasonably priced apartment. I need two roommates to afford the monthly rent, and my room lacks space for anything more than a bed and tiny desk. But I figured those were luxuries my peers in other big cities gave up in their first apartment, too, right?

Wrong.

A new report from RealtyTrac ranks New York, my home town, as the one of the least affordable areas for millennials in the entire country. The study ranked counties with at least 100,000 people by the percentage of median income one needs to spend in order to make a median housing payment or pay an average rent bill on a three-bedroom property. In order to focus on young people, RealtyTrac only included areas where millennials make up at least 24% of the population, and where the percentage of young people has increased over the past six years.

When it comes to least affordable counties to buy a house, four of NYC’s five boroughs take up almost a third of the list, with Manhattan (New York County), Brooklyn (Kings Country), the Bronx (Bronx County), and Queens (Queens Country), each “earning” a spot.

The West Coast isn’t off the hook, either. Beating out Manhattan for the dubious honor of most expensive city for young people is San Francisco. Buying a median-priced three-bedroom house—$950,000 as of this April— in the City by the Bay will cost median income earners more than 78% of their wages.

In terms of renting, the picture changes—but only slightly. Bronx county is the least affordable of the nation’s millennial-heavy areas, not because three-bedroom rent—averaged at about $1,850 a month—is particularly expensive, but because median incomes are relatively low. In 2014, the median Bronx household is estimated to make only $32,891.

For residents of San Francisco, renting is actually relatively more affordable than buying. Leasing an apartment will take about 40% of a median earner’s income, almost half of what the usual housing payment would take away.

OK, we all knew New York and San Francisco were going to be expensive (just maybe not this expensive), but there are some surprising names on the list, too. Our nation’s capital takes up two spots on the most unaffordable homes list, and snowy Denver, Colorado, comes in before Portlandia‘s notoriously expensive namesake.

(No word on whether Denver has restaurants that inform you how many friends your chicken dinner had growing up.)

Renters will also notice that some cities they thought were cheap are a lot less affordable than expected. Baltimore, home of The Wire, is the the second least affordable city, behind the Bronx. Philadelphia comes in third, but the good news is that millennials have been surging into the city recently. From 2007 to 2013, Philly’s young-person population has increased by a fourth. At least you’ll have people your age to complain to about the rent.

What’s also notable are the cities not on this list. Hubs like Boston, San Antonio, Chicago, Houston, and San Jose are nowhere to be found. That doesn’t mean they’re cheap, but their prices might be more manageable than most people realize.

Check out the full list below for even more information.

More: The 5 Cities That Have Recovered Most—and Least—From the Recession

 

MONEY Shopping

12 Iconic Stores and Restaurants That Are Rapidly Disappearing

RadioShack store in downtown Cincinnati
Al Behrman—AP

A dozen once-ubiquitous retailers and restaurants—places where you probably shopped and dined at as a kid—may soon be shutting their doors.

Moody’s Investors Service said in a report this week that RadioShack is in danger of running out of cash by autumn of 2015, according to Bloomberg News. It’s the latest indication that the struggling chain is doomed, following news in the spring that it planned to close up to 1,100 stores. (Those plans were scaled back to around 200 store closures, but still…) The electronics chain’s difficulties probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given the times we live in today. After all, the word “radio” is in the name. Who buys radios anymore?

RadioShack is hardly the only well-known national chain that is flummoxed by the ultra-competitive, rapidly changing modern-day marketplace and shutting locations, among other steps, as a survival tactic. Here are 11 others.

Albertsons
Amid toughening competition in the grocery space—low-cost upstarts, dollar stores, big box all-purpose stores, and online sellers have all stepped up their game—the Albertsons supermarket chain announced earlier this year it would be closing 26 stores, most of them in California. In late July, Albertsons bought Safeway, and the merger is expected to bring about more store closures, most likely ones operating under the Albertsons or Vons brand.

Staples
Quite a lot is riding on the current back-to-school shopping season for Staples. After a subpar fourth quarter last year, it announced it would close as many as 225 stores in 2014, after closing 42 throughout North American in 2013. Declining sales have continued into the first half of 2014, largely due to the widespread consumer “shift to e-retailers, mass merchants and drugstores to buy their office supplies,” as Reuters put it. More closures are inevitable if sales during the all-important back-to-school period aren’t up to snuff—and maybe even if they’re decent, as Staples seems increasingly focused on online sales.

Family Dollar
In April, after yet another report of declining store sales, Family Dollar said it would be shutting 370 locations. Now that rival Dollar Tree is buying Family Dollar, it’s likely that more stores—from one or both of these brands, which often have locations in very close proximity to each other—will disappear.

Quiznos
The toasted sandwich chain peaked sometime in the early ’00s, when it boasted some 5,000 stores around the U.S. Quiznos closed around 2,000 locations during the Great Recession years, not only because household spending budgets shrunk, but also because of increased competition from highly successful Subway and all manner of trendy fast-casual restaurants. The more positive economic climate of recent years hasn’t brought Quiznos back from the brink. The company filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. While Quiznos wants to put this all in the past, a trickling of closures continues, such as one planned to take place in Austin in August.

Aeropostale
24/7 Wall Street put Aeropostale on its list of “10 Brands That Will Disappear in 2015,” and some 125 of its stores are set to disappear by the end of the current fiscal year. The company’s sales and stock price have been cratering due to what’s described as a “seismic shift” in teens’ fashion taste.

Abercrombie & Fitch
Similar to Aeropostale, the much-higher priced Abercrombie & Fitch has cited a “challenging retail environment,” especially among teens, as a prime reason for declining sales—and why it is being forced to close dozens of stores. The overpriced merchandise and the fat-shaming comments of its CEO probably haven’t helped either.

Toys R Us
The continued shift to online shopping, combined with a shift among consumers away from toys and more toward gadgets, has had the toy store giant in a funk for years. To cope with declining sales, there have been thousands of layoffs at the retail and administrative levels, and some expect store closures at any moment. Overall, things look grim. “There is a 50-50 chance the company can survive,” Howard Davidowitz, chairman of the retail consulting firm Davidowitz & Associates, told the The Record in New Jersey, home of Toys R Us’s headquarters. “I’m not saying they are finished. I would not say that. But there is a limited time, given the debt level they have, for this business to get fixed.”

TCBY
Once 1,500 franchises strong, TCBY has closed two-thirds of its locations over the years. TCBY has tried many things to kickstart the business—Greek fro-yo, sharing space with sister brand Mrs. Fields Cookies—but some think that TCBY is likely to suffer the same fate as Crumbs, the trendy cupcake chain that recently shut down.

Barnes & Noble, J.C. Penney, Sears
The decline, and perhaps impending death, of these three iconic, old-timey retailers has been discussed for so long that it’s almost surprising they’re still around. Barnes & Noble has closed 10% of its stores over the last five years, despite the fact that its long-time book-selling rival, Borders, is no longer in the picture, and despite relentless pressure from Amazon.com. J.C. Penney is routinely described as being in a “death spiral” and “at death’s door.” As for Sears, when CEO Edward Lampert was speaking to investors this past spring, he offered a brutally honest vision of what’s to come. “Closing stores is going to be part of our future,” he said.

Read More:
10 Things Americans Have Suddenly Stopped Buying
10 Things Millennials Won’t Spend Money On

MONEY Shopping

The Stunning Sales Figure That Shows Nobody Wants to Grow Up

Businessman carrying backpack and briefcase
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Working professionals seem to be trying really hard to look like they're still in college.

It’s not exactly like Wall Streeters have started wearing hoodies to the office, but it’s in the same ballpark. In a sign that indicates working professionals are embracing the delusion they could still pass for college students, many are skipping the tired old briefcase and turning to the youthful backpack as their go-to office bag of choice.

AdAge and GQ, among others, have noticed the trend, quantified by data from the NPD Group, which has it that for the 12-month period ending in May 2014, backpack sales among adults 18 and over were up 33%. Among adult women, backpack sales were up 48% over that time span, though men still outspend the gals on backpacks annually: $385 million vs. $311 million.

Clearly, one reason that backpack sales are soaring is simply that they’re practical: They can handle your gym gear, sunglasses, snacks, and an ever-increasing amount of gadgets that just wouldn’t fit in even the largest briefcases. Backpacks are also easier to tote around, especially if you’re on a bike or have a long walk.

We also must acknowledge that the rise of work backpacks goes hand in hand with a turn to more casual dress in the workplace, prompted as least partly by all of those scruffy, hoodie-wearing tech workers. By now, the Swiss Army backpack has become a key component of the official Silicon Valley tech uniform, alongside Warby Parkers, skater sneakers, and a general lack of grooming.

Professionals are allowing themselves to strap on the kind of bag they used when they were 15 without embarrassment or totally looking foolish thanks to the introduction of a wide range of packs that are more, well, professional. Tumi lists dozens of understated, black and earth-tone backpacks in the category of being appropriate for business.

What’s more, the backpack’s versatility and youthful cachet sends a certain message, to the wearer if not the entire world. The message is one of adventure and possibility—that you can jump from the boardroom, to a mountain bike, to an impromptu flight to Copenhagen. The backpack says I may work in an office, but I’m not just another drone commuter. I have more going on in my life than any sad, slim briefcase can handle.

Then again, maybe instead it just says you like pretending you’re still in college.

MONEY Careers

What I Wish I’d Known About My First Paycheck When I Was 22

Tug of War
When you get your first job offer, you can dig in and ask for more (nicely). Paul Kelly—Getty Images/Flickr Select

Earning every penny you're worth when you join the workforce can pay off for the rest of your life. So don't hesitate to negotiate.

For many people, negotiating pay is not a welcome task. In fact, almost half of U.S. workers simply accept the first offer. And when you’ve just graduated from college and are interviewing for your first real job, your focus is probably on landing the job, not demanding top dollar.

I’m here to say that more often than not it’s worth asking for a little bit more. I’ve been there, and if I could sit down with my 22-year-old self, there are a few things I’d tell her about that first salary negotiation.

Employers Expect You to Negotiate

The greatest fear I’ve heard people express is that a job offer might be rescinded if they try to negotiate the pay. As long as you’re respectful and reasonable, that’s very unlikely.

The prospective employer has already expressed interest in hiring you. As in any negotiation, they expect you to do just that—negotiate. It’s okay to simply ask if the salary is negotiable or to suggest a number that is slightly higher than what’s proposed. Most employers will have a salary range in mind when they make you an offer, not a hard-and-fast number. If they are first to float a figure, they usually won’t start at the top of that range.

The best thing you can do for yourself is come to that discussion prepared so that you know what an appropriate counter-offer would be. Do your salary research ahead of time. You want to know the potential pay range based on the job title, city, company size, and industry, as well as what you bring to the table—your education and any relevant experience. Negotiating blindly is not a great plan. Proposing a salary number that’s too high or too low for the position just indicates that you haven’t done your homework.

Your Salary Will Level Out Around 40

Typically, your biggest opportunity for pay increases is in the first 20 years or so of your career, so keep negotiating well. When PayScale delved into the data, we found that pay essentially goes nowhere after age 40, once you account for inflation. Your early career is when you have the most opportunity to rise up in the ranks.

Once you’ve reached a certain level in your chosen career, meteoric growth just isn’t as possible as it was when you were starting out. Additionally, even if you continue to see pay increases in your later career, if your raises are not keeping pace with inflation, you may not be able to stretch your paycheck any further year after year. In fact, it could be shrinking.

Not Speaking Up Now Means Working Longer

I know retirement seems a long way off, but the earlier you start considering it, the happier you’ll be later in life. According to the 2013 Wells Fargo Retirement Study, 34% of the middle class expect to work until they are at least 80 years old because they will not have saved enough for retirement.

You don’t want to be one of those people, do you? You want to be in the group that planned early so you can retire in your sixties and travel the world.

Even a small difference in starting salary could mean some serious money over the course of a career, according to a recent study by researchers at George Mason University and Temple University. The study concluded that “a 25-year-old who negotiated a starting salary of $55,000 will earn $634,000 more than a non-negotiator who accepted an initial offer of $50,000” (assuming a 5% average annual pay increase over a 40-year career.)

Just remember to invest that extra $5,000 in a 401(k) plan or other retirement fund, especially if your employer offers a 401(k) match. Your 80-year-old self will thank you.

Lydia Frank is editorial director at PayScale.com, a site that provides on-demand compensation data and software to employees and employers.

MONEY Careers

Make Sure a Friend’s Unemployment Doesn’t Ruin Your Friendship

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Melissa Ross—Getty Images/Flickr Open

Millennials and new college grads still face a tough job market, and that can create strains in your social circle. Follow this script to keep everyone happy.

You and your best friend graduated from the same college and moved to the same city at the same time. But while you landed a promising entry-level position, your friend’s been out of work for months. Even though you know that shouldn’t affect your relationship, you’re starting to feel that the two of you are drifting apart. Or maybe you’re simply sick of hearing yourself repeat the same chirpy platitudes (“I’m sure something will come up!”).

As millennials and new grads enter the job market together, one friend’s unemployment can easily become a point of tension. Landing a position is an uphill battle for some young job seekers. The unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds stood at 10.5% in June. Although that number has been on the decline, it’s still higher than the overall unemployment rate of 6.1%

“This mirrors a lot of other life-stage issues, whether it’s getting married or getting pregnant. One person is moving forward, and the other one is stuck,” says Ken Clark, a certified financial planner and psychotherapist.

The good news? You can take steps to ensure that your relationship doesn’t crumble as your friend scrambles for a job. No matter how long this stretch of unemployment lasts, here’s what you can say (or not say) to preserve your friendship.

YOU SAY: “A couple of people are coming to my place for happy hour this week—want to join?”

While your friend looks for work he or she may pull away from you or your group of friends. It’s normal—many people are embarrassed and reluctant to spend money on socializing when they’re unemployed. But if you notice your friend hasn’t been around much, try to draw him or her back into your social circle.

“A sensitive friend should take a leadership role among their circle of friends,” says Clark.

If your group of friends tends to spend a lot of money at bars or eating out, subtly push for a change. Invite a close group over for drinks at your place, or suggest a half-price movie or a free concert you can all attend. If spending time together doesn’t mean spending money, your unemployed friend may find it easier to join in.

“People have a tendency to self-isolate when they’re trying to be careful with their money,” says Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist and author of financial behavior blog The Good, the Bad and the Money. “Go above and beyond in terms of making offers to your friend.”

YOU DON’T SAY: “How’s the job hunt going this week?”

Avoid the impulse to dig for details on the job search. Trust that you’ll hear when a major development comes up.

“Stuff doesn’t change that much in a week,” says Clark. “If you’re asking more than once a month, it’s too much.”

That said, don’t stop checking in. Retreating from your friend could cause him or her to become even more isolated.

“Your presence and availability is huge for someone who’s hurting,” says Maggie Baker, a psychologist specializing in money and relationships. “The worst thing you can do is pull away.”

YOU SAY: “I could really use a running partner tomorrow.”

Be aware that unemployment can quickly give way to depression. Exercise is an easy, natural way to shake the blues. Invite your friend out for a brisk walk or run with you. It’ll give you two time to talk one-on-one and help your friend re-energize.

“Physical exercise outside is both beneficial and free,” says Clark. “You’re helping elevate her mood, decreasing anxiety, and building your relationship.”

YOU DON’T SAY: “I can give you feedback on your résumé if you’d like.”

You might want to offer to help edit your friend’s résumé or forward job listings that seem relevant. Tread lightly. Your offers could backfire if they come off as condescending.

“Just having a job doesn’t make you an expert on résumés,” says Clayman. “Don’t presume that you have the solution.”

Instead, make a gentle, broad offer to help in any way you can. Beyond that, let your friend’s reaction guide you.

“Usually if people are scrambling to find whatever work they can, they put off a very strong signal. If you aren’t seeing them ask for help, better safe than sorry.”

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