Remember back when going to college and buying a house were two very important components of the "American dream"? Well, it's still true, if you do it the right way.
Now, I know that a lot of people who bought homes took a beating in the foreclosure epidemic a few years ago and either lost their homes or are currently underwater on their mortgages. And, I know that the employment rate for new college graduates is less than stellar these days.
Despite this, if you do these things the right way, they can still lead to a more stable and secure financial future.
Go to college, but have an "end game" in mind
Even considering the higher rate of student loan debt in recent years, college graduates still end up doing better over the long run.
In fact, according to the Federal Reserve's latest Study of Consumer Finances, households headed by college graduates were the only group to experience income growth over the past three years. The median income of high school graduates dropped by 6% during that time period, and people who never graduated high school or just attended some college fared even worse.
However, the mean household income of college graduates actually grew by about 1% since 2010. Now, this isn't healthy wage growth by any means, but it's certainly better than losing ground. And, the average college grad's net worth grew 5% during that time, compared to a 14% drop for those with just a high school diploma.
And, the best way to approach college is to have an "end game" in mind. The 1% income growth is just an average and many did better or worse than that. It's also safe to say that the median household income of $80,000 certainly doesn't apply to all college graduates.
Before you dive into a college education, do some research on what you can expect when you're done. Check out average starting salaries for the majors you are considering, as well as the cost of tuition at prospective schools. For example, the average engineering major earns about $62,000 in their first job, while the average education major earns just over $40,000. Now, if you want to be a teacher, that's fantastic, but just like anything else in life you should be fully aware of what to expect.
Consider starting your education at a community college, as it can help you avoid a great deal of student loan debt later on and offer some other benefits, which I've detailed in a separate article.
Buy enough house, but not too much
Another group that has fared very well is homeowners. While the 4% gain in the median net worth of homeowners can be attributed to gains in the real estate market, the numerical differences between homeowners and renters is simply staggering.
The average U.S. homeowner's household has a net worth of just over $195,000. This is more than 35 times the median net worth of a renter, which is just $5,400. Homeownership can indeed be a headache at times, but the buildup of home equity over time is still one of the most powerful forces toward long-term financial security.
However, if you buy a home, make sure you do it the right way. I rarely advocate purchasing a home with less than 20% down. First of all, this gives you a nice cushion in the event of another drop in the real estate market. With a large down payment, the market would really have to tank before you'd be underwater on your mortgage. And secondly, it lets you avoid private mortgage insurance, which can cost you hundreds of dollars per month and greatly reduce your buying power.
And, despite the fact that home prices have surged in recent years, it is still looking like a pretty good time to buy. Interest rates are very low on a historical basis, and the U.S. market appears to be stabilizing.
The proof is in the numbers
Numbers don't lie. According to data from the Federal Reserve's most recent Survey of Consumer Finances, college graduates and homeowners still fare better than non-graduates and renters over the long run.
Even with the obstacles facing both areas, such as student loan debt and volatility in the housing market, owning a home and graduating from college are still the best paths to prosperity in America.
Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.