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Creative Theory Co-founder Tamon George on the Money Advice He’d Give His Younger Self

The CEO of the D.C. based marketing agency shares what he’s learned about living simply, investing smart, and what it means to have “expensive kids.”

Thrive Global / Tamon George
Thrive Global / Tamon George

If the COVID-19 pandemic has made you more anxious about money, you’re not alone. Over 75% of individuals are significantly more nervous about their personal finances and financial future, according to a Thrive Global original survey of 5,000 Americans. In these uncertain times, protecting ourselves from the harmful physical and emotional effects of money stress is more critical than ever — and hearing the financial stories of others can help. In this series, Thrive is asking personal finance experts, business owners, and other savvy professionals to reveal the hard-earned money wisdom they wish they could go back and give to their younger selves.

This past summer, Tamon George — who’s based in D.C. — was bunking in the rugged prairies of Saskatchewan, Canada. He planned the trip as a safety measure. “I brought my whole family up here to escape coronavirus,” George told Thrive. 

In the midst of his escape, George experienced a career highlight when Creative Theory — the creative agency he co-founded in 2015 — was awarded a Silver prize for AdAge’s 2020 Small Agency of the Year. George took to Instagram to reflect on the tremendous industry accolade, and the agency’s success over the years: “This is a win for us… and for every Black-Owned Agency that comes from real humble beginnings,” he wrote in his post. “We bring ourselves, our culture, and community into every room we enter and THAT is what our work is truly about.”

As an entrepreneur who is committed to helping brands create a more equitable world, George is all about authenticity — and that includes the real talk he shared with Thrive Global on the financial lessons he’s learned over the years. Here, George opens up about the money advice he’d give his younger self:

On figuring out what you should earn at your first job:

I’d tell my younger self not to worry about making money in your first job, but to learn the skills that can make you a lot of money in the future. Skills like how people operate in a business environment, or what commitment and leadership look like. Those are the skills that, regardless of what industry you’re in, put you in a position to make real dollars further down the line.

On the upside to living below your means:

The big picture thing that works well for me and my family is that we live significantly below our means. If we do not have the actual cash to do something, then we just don’t do it. I think it has a lot to do with our personalities: we operate from the standpoint of “less is more.” We’ve also been self-reflective about what’s truly important to us, and that helps guide what to spend on and what not to spend on. For example: Would I ever fly first class? Nope. Business class? Nope. Even though I could, I’d rather get a nicer hotel in a better part of the city than spend more money flying in a different part of the plane. There’s a lot of little financial decisions that we make every day that can help us live the life we want to live.

On why kids are only as expensive as you make them:

I got a really good piece of advice from a friend of mine when I first got married. We were talking about how when you have kids, they take all your money. But then he says, “you know what? I don’t think so.” It was funny because he was a single guy without kids, but his perspective really struck me. He went on to explain his theory that “your kids are expensive if you’re expensive.” That took me back in my whole chair. And it’s true. Whoever you are as a person trickles down into what you bring into your family.

As it turns out, my kids haven’t been particularly “expensive.” Our lives haven’t changed all that much since we had children, and we spend on them the way we spend on ourselves. For instance, I only have three pairs of shoes; I only wear Levi’s jeans. I would never buy my kids a pair of Jordans. Just regular old sneakers should do!

On the limitations of saving:

I might be one of the outliers, but I’m not a huge fan of just straight saving. My wife and I are much more interested in investing. By investing, we’re not just putting our money somewhere for it to sit for a rainy day. We want it to work for us. We want it to do something for us. That being said, I think it’s important to have a bare minimum of funds you need for “just in case.” Outside of that, we don’t have much interest in simply putting our money away.

There’s no right way or wrong way to invest. I think the people who do it well start early. You don’t even need to start putting your money in, just look. Track the opportunities and follow different industries. Ask yourself, “Would I invest in something like that? Is that too risky? Is it not too risky? How did that pan out?” Keeping your eyes open in this way — checking to see what other people are doing, how they’re doing it, what’s creating wins — will help you become ready to say, “this is the risk that I’m willing to take. This is how I’ve seen it play out in the past for other people.” Then when you’re ready, you go after it.

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