The Financial Diet after graduation (TFD)
I want to talk about, what comes next after graduation? Because for a lot of us, this can be one of the scariest ages of our life because there’s immense pressure to accomplish so much and a feeling like, in many cases, you don’t even really know what you want yet.
I actually didn’t graduate from college. But at 21, I moved to another country. I started my first job in my current career path. And I shortly thereafter met my wife. So, it was a transformative time for me, even though I didn’t necessarily go through the process of graduation.
And at 22, there are things that, looking back on, I did right and I did wrong. I’m glad that I moved to another country because it opened up a lot of opportunities. For those curious, I lived in France for several years. It opened up a lot of opportunities for me at a relatively low cost of living.
And I was able to have a completely new experience that, I think without, would not have taken me out of my comfort zone enough to give me the confidence to try a lot of things in my life that has been hugely successful for me.
Also, being bilingual is something that has proven over and over again to be not necessarily a career-transforming skill, but something that has come in handy and given me even further levels of confidence in many of the things that I think I otherwise would have been maybe too intimidated to try.
I also am glad, looking back at 22, that I decided not to go back and finish my degree. For you, it might be grad school. But there was a time when I wanted to go back to school because I felt nervous and I wanted to delay going into the “real world.” And my job writing was only giving me about half the income I needed.
So, my choices were to go to school part-time or to work as a tutor, which is what I ended up doing. And thank goodness I did, because I was able to phase out those job as I needed to make room for more work in media, which would not have been possible with going back to school. And on top of that, even though the schools in France were much, much more affordable than they are here in the States, I still probably would have needed to take out some financing that I would now be repaid.
So, I did make some good choices for myself. But I also made bad ones. I was one of those people who held on way too long to certain relationships and dynamics from my hometown and high school and college that I didn’t understand weren’t going to suit me in my adult life.
Part of coming out of college and entering into the “adult world” is accepting that you’re now a different version of yourself than when you left your parents’ home even if you’re back living with them again, which is no shame and that you’re not always necessarily going to need or want the same things.
And sometimes it’s natural for things like relationships or friendships to run their course and fade away. It’s no one’s fault. Also, at 22, although it was the year that I finally decided to get my savings together financially, it took me all the way up until I was about 25 to start really being proactive with my finances.
At 22, I was doing things like paying off my defaulted credit card and getting out of debt. But I wasn’t really building beyond that. I wasn’t taking advantage of investments. I wasn’t saving for retirement. I wasn’t doing the things that now I know are such an integral part of being good and healthy and stable with money. I thought I was good, but I was really just getting by.
So, looking back, I can see a portrait of a soon-to-be man, kind of still a boy (SINGING) not a boy, not yet a man who was capable of making some good decisions, but still often hindered by maybe an outdated notion of herself. So, when you’re thinking about what you want to do after graduation and how healthy financial life can help you realize those goals, it’s important to ask yourself a few really key questions.
First, you’ll really want to know, what are the things that are ultimately important to you in life?
Maybe you’re not going to know right away. But you can start to form a few core ideas of the things that you really value and want to prioritize the kind of lifestyle you want to be living, whether or not it’s important for you to have a family, to live in a certain place, to have a certain kind of job. They’re not all necessarily mutually exclusive.
But it’s hard to focus on many goals at the same time. Coming up with a few core values and principles will help guide you in the right direction. And it’s also very important, to be honest with yourself about what truly makes you fulfilled. And I say “fulfilled” and not “happy” because many times the things that make you fulfilled in the long term are not going to be the things that always feel happiest in the short term.
In fact, in many cases when it comes to the right financial decisions, doing things that will set you up for security and comfort and freedom and options are not always the things that are going to be most satisfying when you’re looking at a small amount of cash and deciding whether you want to go out with your friends or put that money into savings.
But ultimately, responsible financial life is the one that will give you the options to choose what you want to do. For a lot of you, one of the most immediate choices you’ll be looking at coming out of school is graduate school. And many people will opt into grad school because they simply don’t know what they want to do next. And I cannot stress enough that this is a bad reason to go to grad school.
There is no rule saying that you can’t eventually go back and pursue a higher degree if that’s ultimately what you want. But to choose it as some kind of default option when it’s often so expensive and, at minimum, is likely to prevent you from starting to work on some of your longer-term financial goals is really, really risky.
Grad school should be taken seriously and only pursued if it’s something you actively want to do and is actively important to getting you to a greater goal. Grad school shouldn’t be a goal in and of itself, unless you’re so flush with time and money that pursuing degree after degree for the sake of learning is an option to you in which case, congrats, turn off this show and go pop a bottle of champagne.
And there are some jobs or fields that will specifically require a certain graduate degree. For example, if you want to be a physician, you’re going to have to become a physician. And that’s going to extend past a bachelor’s degree. But for many jobs and many fields, graduate degrees are not required.
So, it’s worth interrogating yourself about why you want that degree? What purpose is it serving you? And why now? I say “now” because, in many cases, once you are a little bit into your career, many employers will actually help fund and give you time and opportunity to go into different graduate programs.
There is a difference between saying grad school is not for you forever and saying that it’s not for you right now. And knowing the difference is important. And, yes, in many cases, graduate school can mean a deferment on starting to repay your student loans.
But that, again, is a terrible reason to do something that is ultimate, in most cases, going to lead you to take out more student loans. It’s buying yourself a little time by making the inherent problem way, way worse. So it’s important if you feel a little bit frozen at graduation, to remind yourself that there are many things that are totally OK to do after graduation– moving home with your parents to buy yourself a little time and financial flexibility, which, by the way, recent studies have shown about 50% of graduating college students are currently doing.
You also are free to perhaps travel, as I did. I initially moved over to France, which allowed me to earn money and have a steady living situation while being able to live and explore an entirely new culture and go to school over there. Traveling and working jobs that will allow you to do so is another great option. But so is, frankly, working a job that’s not necessarily in your career field.
Many of the jobs that have taught me the most in my life have had nothing to do with media. And while I love the work that I do, I’m glad I had other experiences before entering this one.
When you consider how frequently people tend to change jobs and careers in their life, the pressure to immediately have that “big career job” that your diploma is “working for” becomes a lot less pressing. going to serve you differently than the ones that you had growing up or even in college.
It’s OK for old friends to leave and new ones to come into your life. And especially if you’re moving to a new location, you may have to start from zero. And especially if you’re working hard on trying to save a lot right out of college, which many of us are, coming up with ways to meet new people, things like meet-up groups, activities, hobbies, recreational sports, et cetera, is important to not only keeping your social life dynamic and keeping a new stream of adult friends coming to your life because it can be hard to meet people outside of the context of school.
But ensure that your social life doesn’t automatically equal spending too much money. And perhaps the most important mental shift to keep in mind is remembering that that framing of college as the best time in your life is, at best, untrue, and at worst, kind of sad. you’re framing your life as peeking between the ages of 18 and 22, that’s a really long downhill slope toward retirement.
College can be a fantastic time in your life. But in many ways, it’s just a beginning. And hopefully, by making choices that set you up for a solid, stable, and free future, you can find points of enjoyment in later adult life that you never could have dreamed of in college because you didn’t understand yourself well enough and you didn’t have the resources. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I enjoy my life so much more on every level at 31 than I ever did at 22. And I feel so much more like the person that I want to be. College is just one moment in your life.
And it may be fantastic. Or, for some of you, it may be miserable. But it’s certainly not the end of anything. So what have we hopefully learned in this “Guide to Getting Good With Money for College Students”?
now is the best time to start creating and keeping financial habits. It’s easy to think of college as a free space, or young adulthood as the time when nothing really matters and you can put off all that serious stuff until later in adult life. But that is the wrong way to think about it. And the more you delay taking yourself seriously, the harder every year is going to be.
You’re robbing your future self by not taking advantage of the opportunity of being young. As we mentioned earlier, having this amazing horizon on things like your investments, or time to save, or time to plan ahead for bigger goals, is such an amazing gift. Don’t waste it.
learning to evaluate all of your financial decisions, from what your savings goals are, to items you might be buying in the store and price comparing, to where you want to live and what you want to spend money on, is a skill that you need to develop. You need to learn how to assess things by cost per use and value to the quality of life and determine what is really worth it.
Every dollar you spend should have real value and meaning. And by thinking critically just a little bit about some of these financial decisions, you can be sure to stop feeling that sense of buyer’s remorse or potentially making mistakes with your money.
being financially healthy doesn’t mean you’re always going without or choosing the cheapest option or being extraordinarily frugal at all costs. Sometimes you will splurge and indulge and buy things that aren’t necessarily “important” or necessary.
It just means that when you’re making these decisions, you know you can afford to make them and they’re weighed out against other things. Part of the reason that I called TFD “The Financial Diet” in the first place is that I believe any healthy financial diet is like a healthy eating diet. It should be something that is sustainable every day for the rest of your life.
And you’ll never completely cut out a single category or a certain type of food.
You’ll just say, there’s a time and a place for everything. And you want to enjoy your big slice of cake so you’re not going to eat cake all day every day. A lot of times, you’re going to have vegetables, and then the cake will be so much more delicious.
learn everything you can about any financial transaction you’re entering into before signing on the dotted line. We’re all going to have different financial resources and different options available to us. But one thing that we can all give ourselves is the gift of being informed about what we’re agreeing to. Nothing is preventing you from reading the terms of a student loan or knowing the difference between two investment accounts or shopping around for different banks or credit cards based on which ones are going to be the most beneficial to you.
If you’re informed enough to understand the things that you’re choosing between and to make the best decision for yourself with your eyes wide open, it may not make it automatically an easy financial decision, but it will at least be one that you can sleep well at night with because you understood what you were getting yourself into.
you do not need everything figured out the second that a diploma is in your hands. Learning how to build the best and strongest financial life is a lifelong process. And it’s inevitable that you’re going to make mistakes or start out on paths that you decide ultimately aren’t for you. But the point is just that you’re creating a space in which you are constantly learning, improving, and building on what you already know.
I make mistakes at 31, but they’re not the same mistakes that I made at 22, especially when it comes to my finances. Ultimately, as I said in our very article, I was probably the worst a person can be with money. And now I consider myself very financially confident.
I believe that anyone has the power to inform themselves and transform their relationship to money to be healthy and as unemotional as possible and about building the life that they want to live.
Money in the best hands is a tool. But money in uninformed hands is often a weapon and a weapon with which you can really hurt yourself, as I often did.
If you are hungry to learn more about how to change your financial life and get confident with money, I highly recommend you check more articles in our blog.