When you were young, and bemused adults asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, you might have said you wanted to be a fireman, a doctor, or a teacher. More precocious children might have announced from a tender age that they planned to become heart surgeons or investment bankers.
What do the current crop of 18- to 25-year-olds want to become? Rich and famous.
A new national survey of young adults, conducted by the Pew Research Center and reported in USA Today, discovered that the top life goals for the young adults known as Generation Y are to be rich (81%) and famous (51%).
Consider the size of the cultural shift: A 1967 study of college freshmen found that 85.8% said it was essential to develop "a meaningful philosophy of life."
It's probably not surprising that fame and fortune rank at the top of these young adults' priorities. They're peers of Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton. They've been raised on a steady dose of reality television. And, the experts say, they're accustomed to constant attention from their parents' digital and video cameras.
While I can't offer any advice for becoming famous, I can say that young people stand the best chance of becoming filthy rich. In addition to their wrinkle-free skin and supercharged metabolisms, they can make older adults jealous with their vast horizons of time for investing.
If you're young and serious about becoming rich -- seriously rich -- put away your credit cards and pay attention. Start saving your money now, keep it up consistently, and you'll be rich when Britney and Paris have suffered too much plastic surgery and become regulars on daytime game shows.
The trick? You can't get wealthy by spending all your money (and then some) on a celebrity lifestyle. Here's a young person's guide to becoming rich.
Step 1: Spend less than you earn.
You probably don't earn a lot right now, so this part will not be fun. It may seriously crimp your style, if your style means keeping up with every fashion trend and electronic gizmo. You can still have some of that stuff; just don't indulge so much that you're paying for your celebrity lifestyle on credit cards.
If you're piling up debt, your first job should be to stop. Then, eliminate all of those credit card balances as fast as possible. The sooner you do that, the sooner you're on the path to getting rich, not just living rich. Tour the Credit Center for more help.
Once you're out of the hole, cut back your spending so you have something left over every month. The more you can save, the faster you'll get rich.
Step 2: Invest.
Once you've got some extra money in your hands, you can start turning that money into more money. Here's why you'll want to start now. If an 18-year-old scrapes together $1,000 and invests it in something that returns 10% every year, he'll have $88,197 by retirement. If a still young-at-heart 35-year-old makes the same investment, she'll have only $17,449 by retirement.
What returns 10% each year, year after year? The S&P 500 has historically averaged 10% annualized returns. That's no promise of future performance, but you can easily tap into that potential with a low-cost mutual fund that tracks the S&P 500's performance. It's easy and requires little attention, leaving you plenty of time to catch up on People magazine.
If you're feeling young and risky, you might want to take a closer look at small businesses or international stocks. Choosing stocks may be one time when you don't want to follow the trends.
Foolish writer Tim Hanson recently found that the 10 best stocks of the last decade weren't the companies grabbing headlines. Instead, they were companies like retailer Chico's
If you just can't bring yourself to think about investing in those stodgy designers, you'll be happy to know that the younger and trendier American Eagle Outfitters
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Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple, a card-carrying member of Generation X, does not own stock in any company mentioned in this article. She welcomes your feedback. American Eagle and Best Buy are Stock Advisor picks. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.