20 Pieces of Traditional Advice That Could Easily Make You Poorer

When we grow up, we often hear our parents and grandparents give us advice on how to be successful. The advice they offer is given to us with hopes that we will take it, become wealthier than they are, and do right by the world around us.

However, not all advice you get is good advice. "Common advice," as it’s known, is not always the best guidance. At times, it can hurt far more than it will help. Speaking as someone who has seen people follow this advice to their downfall, it’s often best to take things with a grain of salt—even if it’s meant well.

Some advice is definitely better than others. These 20 items below, for example, are rarely ever good ideas to pursue.

1. "Go to college, and get a degree in anything. You’ll get a good paying job."

Don’t get me wrong; college can be a great way to open your career to better things. The right college education can help you become an incredibly successful, well-rounded person.

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However, there are so many caveats that need to be discussed when talking about college. Crippling college debt that’s not even forgiven by bankruptcy, majors that pay poorly, and bloated industries make this a risky investment. (And yes, that’s what college really is: an investment.)

If you choose to go to college, go to one that’s respected, have an exit plan, and choose a major that you know will have job prospects open. If you’re not sure what you want to do, don’t go.

2. "Go to every employer in town, personally introduce yourself, and hand them a resume. You’ll get a job."

Ugh. This would have worked in the 50s and 60s, true. Maybe even in the 80s, it would have been a good source of job prospects.

However, it’s 2018. Things aren’t done that way anymore, and doing this kind of job hunting now will make you appear creepy. Doing this will get you escorted out of areas by security rather than get offered a job.

3. "Find yourself a nice man to take care of you."

Girls often hear this, even now, as advice from people. Once again, this is one of those bits of advice that would have been solid for women in the 50s.

With the average divorce rate middling around 50 percent, there’s a 1 in 2 chance that this will fail—if you can even find someone to marry. (Men are eschewing marriage at increasingly high rates.)

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I hate to say it, but this kind of lifestyle is dead. Fend for yourself, because you’re really the only person you can trust today.

4. "You can pay for college with a part-time job."

No, you can’t. College is $10,000 per year. A part-time job will get you around $1,000 a month—if you’re lucky. You have other living expenses to worry about that will eat up that $1,000 faster than you think. Ergo, this does not compute.

5. "Don’t job hop! You want your company to see you as being loyal."

Actually, there’s no such thing as loyalty from companies anymore. Job hopping, statistically, is the easiest way to increase your annual salary. Since the market has changed so much, it makes sense to job hop.

6. "Buy as much home as you can afford. It’s a solid investment."

Oh, real estate. You are the ultimate American dream, aren’t you? Well, you were. And then, 2008’s financial crisis happened and millions of people were foreclosed upon.

Brown and white birdhouse hanging from tree
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Truth be told, buying a home is a very solid investment as long as you actively buy what you can very reasonably afford, in a neighborhood that is "up and coming."

You can never tell what the future will bring when it comes to your financial standing. It’s better to underestimate and look for a reasonable home than it is to overestimate and find yourself in the middle of a foreclosure.

7. "Don’t talk about money."

It may be considered rude to talk about money, but you know what? Rude as it may be, it gives you valuable insight into what others are being paid and how you can better your financial standing.

One thing you might not realize is that this old school advice was actually developed by the upper class, as a way to make people accept lower wages. Don’t fall for it. The rich talk about money all the time.

8. "You don’t need a prenup! You’re not in Hollywood!"

Prenups are often seen as a sign that you’re really not with a person for their personality, or that you’re suspicious of them. The truth is that they are extremely valuable tools that allow you to define what you expect from the marriage—and what you should expect should a divorce occur.

Even if you are not extremely wealthy, you should get a prenup before you marry. Divorce is much rougher when you’re broke and knowing what each partner expects is crucial to ensuring that your marriage will be a happy one.

9. "Don’t marry for money. You’ll be a golddigger."

I absolutely understand the stigma behind gold-digging, but let’s be real for a moment. It’s just as easy to fall in love with a wealthy person as it is to fall for a poor person.


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Around a third of all divorces are linked to financial issues. By marrying someone who has money, you’re quite possibly avoiding all of that duress. Marriage is a business partnership, not just a romantic one. You need to think about BOTH aspects for a happy marriage.

10. "Hard work will always pay off."

Though hard work will often pay off, the truth is that it doesn’t always do that. This advice was never truly flawless, and often ended up making people poorer and more burnt out as a result. The real advice is to work smart rather than work hard.

In life, it’s not what you know or what you can do. Rather, it’s who you know and how smart you are about getting the best possible price for your work. Hone those aspects, and you will very likely find yourself in a better position.

11. "Debt is bad, savings is good."

This might not seem like outdated advice that will make you poorer, but it is. In the past, a debt was always frowned upon, while savings were great.

A piggy bank on a white surface
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The thing is that people have gotten better about their credit scores lately. Credit scores reward responsible debt and allow wise spenders to get better rates when borrowing.

On the other hand, savings has become an increasingly bad "investment." While having some liquid cash on hand is good, storing all your money in a bank is a bad idea. Inflation will eat away at that money’s value, and most bank interest rates don’t match the rate of inflation.

If you do want to save money, save enough for an emergency and make a point of fluffing up your stock investments instead.

12. "Don’t spend more than 25% of your income on rent."

This is an absolutely wonderful rule of thumb if you can actually afford to do so. The problem is that rents are rising across the country and wages remain stagnant. As a result, most people will not be physically able to follow this rule.


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A better idea? Try to find whatever you can afford and work around it.

13. "Use the ‘100 Minus Your Age’ rule to figure out how many stocks you should keep in your portfolio."

This old-school rule was for calculating the percentage of your portfolio that had to deal with stocks. The idea behind it was that you should invest in fewer stocks and more low-risk investments as you age.

Clearly, Warren Buffett doesn’t feel the same way. A better idea would be to look at the market, the economy, and everything else to determine how much of your portfolio should be stocks.

14. "Don’t bother with stocks. Just put everything into savings bonds. It’s safer."

Most savings bonds do not have the returns stocks do, and sometimes don’t even keep up with the rate of inflation. Savings bonds, therefore, could actually become a way to lose money rather than make it.

A little risk won’t kill you.

15. "Risk it all and follow your dreams. You will succeed."

We all grew up with this advice, but the truth is that it’s often a bad idea. Though we all hear about people who did this and survived, the rate of success is astronomically small. It’s a foolish and dangerous thing to do.

A better idea to do is to come up with a plan, use a regular day job to support you, and then work towards your dreams in your spare time.

16. "You can be anything you want to be."

Nope. This is another common tautology we all heard as kids, and it’s sadly not true. A person who doesn’t look good will not be America’s next top model. A person who sounds like a cat being thrown in a washing machine will not be a singer.
An astronaut looking person in a hazmat suit backpacking in the mountains.
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Life is not fair, and not everyone will have what it takes to reach the top. Not everyone will be an astronaut. A little bit of realism is a good tool that can prevent you from going broke. It’s a good idea to have a backup idea.

17. "Invest in gold and silver to protect yourself against a bear market."

Gold and silver can be great investments, sure, but they aren’t always the brightest to make. Commodities like these precious metals are incredibly volatile and rarely ever match what’s going on in the market.

Invest a little, if you must, but don’t get carried away with it as a "foolproof choice."

18. "Don’t invest until you’ve paid off all your debt."

Classic advice, right? Well, it’s not a good idea. You should try to pay down debt and invest at the same time. In order for your money to make great returns, you need to have time on your side.

Don’t let a little debt get in the way of your financial future. Get a modest portfolio started, and keep working towards debt repayment.

19. "Buy a new car, it’ll last longer."

Technically, this is true. However, most of the depreciation that happens with cars happen in the first couple of years of driving it. It’s a better idea to get a used car that’s only 2 to 3 years old. You’ll have a long lasting car with much smaller payments.

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20. "Listen to me! I’m older than you."

Finally, let’s get real. Age does not necessarily mean wisdom. What worked in the past does not necessarily work for the future. No matter what financial advice you’re hearing, your best weapon is to use your common sense to figure out whether it’s right for you.