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The Middle Ages

Facing the real world in Brentwood — on a budget

ColumnFinanceEconomy, Business and FinancePersonal FinanceJohn Travolta

In our last dispatch, our younger daughter was moving to an apartment in Brentwood, of all places, that verdant playground of Land Rovers and balding studio execs.

"I signed a lease, Daddy," she said.

The Louisiana Purchase never generated this level of territorial accomplishment.

At 22, my daughter's been out of college a year, living at home, keeping vampire hours, stashing away money from her entry-level gig in public relations.

I thought she was happy here till she started bringing home couches and storing them in our living room. That's right, she was pre-nesting. I began to sense she was eager to escape.

"Ugh, this place," she'd moan, while tripping over her younger brother's pajamas.

"I know, right?" replied her mother.

So off she goes to the mean streets of Brentwood, the L.A. neighborhood where only the strong survive. She takes with her 50 pairs of shoes and good standing in the First National Bank of Dad.

What worries me is that my daughter is only "cocktail party smart" on the financial demands of the real world. "Cocktail party smart" is a friend's term for being fluent enough on a topic to fake your way through drinks with friends. All of us rely on that to some degree — when we're talking about the Ukraine or John Travolta. When it comes to personal finance, "cocktail party smart" can give you the ultimate hangover.

In anticipation of her move, my daughter was wise enough to make a budget, though she won't reveal the monthly rent. She did tell her mother, shared this vital tidbit like it's some sort of hushed feminine secret. This Secret World of Women has confounded me since I was 14, no end in sight.

I do know that average rents in Los Angeles are $1,700 a month and that Brentwood apartments average almost $1,000 more than that.

And I also know that additional expenses — utilities, food, gas, etc. — usually cost half again what your rent is. So if she and her roomie split the $2,200 rent — a ballpark guess — she will likely pay another $1,100 in monthly expenses, some shared, some not.

It's amazing, isn't it, how much we're mentored on silly topics like sex or Euclidean geometry, yet hardly tutored at all on personal finance?

Think of the amount of time we spend on teaching our kids to trap a soccer ball. Did I ever spend 20 minutes explaining the importance of cash flow and a budget? No, I was too busy making Pinewood Derby cars.

In lieu of useful info, we turn to osmosis. My own parents argued about almost everything except money. Having grown up in the Great Depression, they were in sync on the need to save and invest. Their financial angst rubbed off.

My wife and I never lived through anything like the Great Depression, but we have an innate understanding of the unforeseen expenses that pepper everyday life.

To that end, financial strategist Paul Nourigat, author of "No Time to Wander: The Financial Compass for Young Americans," stresses rainy-day funds.

"That's the most important thing in the first year or two," he says. "More important than long-term savings."

For now, my daughter's rainy-day fund is made up of bitcoins and little chocolate doubloons cloaked in foil.

Meanwhile, our daughter's prospective landlord called us the other day for a reference.

How delicious is that, right? I mean, how candid do you think parents are going to be? We want our daughter happy and on her own, yet we know that she can't change a light bulb or jiggle the handle on the toilet when it runs and runs and runs.

OK, lady, what do you want to know?

The other day, she left the house dressed like a bowl of sherbet, and to my mind her clothes don't fit that well, too short in the midriff, too tight in the tookus, with shoes that were once water-park slides.

Temperamentally, she has a highly developed sense of irony (mostly from her mother). And she blushes a little when she laughs (like her old man).

Financially, she's a work in progress — sensible, sure, but a clotheshound now heading for West L.A., a global hotbed of overpriced boutiques.

In short, Dear Landlord, our daughter is a real catch, as is her roomie Quinn, her beautiful blond soul mate and best pal since forever.

Two sunflowers, from our garden to yours. Please keep in touch.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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ColumnFinanceEconomy, Business and FinancePersonal FinanceJohn Travolta
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