Some simple advice from a recent college graduate

It’s been only a year since I flipped the tassel to the other side, and I still have a lot to learn myself, but I’ve also picked up some valuable lessons in the last 12 months. Everyone has a different situation, but I hope most can relate to these few simple suggestions.

 

1. The fun does not stop.

Will you ever have more fun than your college years? Perhaps not. Do hangovers get worse once you graduate? Absolutely. But don’t think that the fun ends when you enter the real world. In fact, it can really be a blast.

Weekends are still great, and sometimes you can even treat yourself to a weeknight out. There are no more papers. No more reading assignments. No more midterms. I hope your job allows you to go home most nights and relax. It is an incredibly fun part about having a real job. Your budget for fun also expands.

 

2. You are not locking yourself into a career.

Still having doubts about that degree you earned? Not sure about the job you just accepted? That’s OK. In fact, it’s very OK. At my last job, I worked with a man named Bill. He went to school for pharmacy, completed the program and then worked a few years as a pharmacist. But it wasn’t at all what he wanted. So he left healthcare altogether, went back to school for landscape architecture and is very successful (and happy) in his field.

Your first few jobs may in fact lead you into what you really love. And at the very least, those first few jobs are going to teach you a lot about professional practices and skills. Work hard and don’t worry if you think there might be something completely different in your future. It’s very possible.

 

3. Retirement is not the only thing you have to look forward to.

None of us can afford to wait until we’re 65 (or 70… or 75…) to finally enjoy life. And we don’t have to. Think about how valuable the next 45 years of your life are to you and then consider if you want to drive yourself into the ground working, or enjoy life as well. I hope you find room for the second.

In a recent TED talk, David Brooks discussed building your resume versus building your eulogy. I hope your eulogy is a long way off, but now is the time to consider how you want to spend your very finite time on this Earth. I hope you have a lot of fun before retirement.

 

4. Start saving now.

I know, I know. I just told you to stop looking toward retirement, but this time in life is very important if you are going to be able to enjoy life after 65 as well. It’s really important to start putting away money in a retirement account now. And here’s why:

  • If you contribute $75 per month for 10 years between the ages of 25 to 30 – and nothing after that—you will retire at 65 with $98,000. (An $89,000 gain)
  • If you contribute $100 per month between the ages of 40 to 65, you will retire with $78,000. (A $48,000 gain)
  • If you contribute $300 per month between the ages of 50-65, you will retire with $94,000. (A $40,000 gain)

Because of compounding interest, it incredibly valuable to start saving as early as possible. I cannot personally recommend $75 per month right away, and it is also very important to pay off debts. But consider the little bit you can do now to set yourself up for many great late years. (I’m also not a financial specialist, so those above numbers are slightly made up, but generally realistic.)

 

5. Know your resources.

If you’re like me, you didn’t strike a jackpot salary right out of school. There are a lot of resources for low income residents though that can help stretch your paycheck. Check out low income rent in your area. In Madison, for instance, those making under the low-$30,000s can be eligible for reduced rent. And many times these low income units are within new developments. Developers can collect nice payments for offering a percentage of low income units. They are often the same exact units, but just hundreds of dollars less per month.

Many cities also offer great services like tax filing assistance, which could be great if you have never filed taxes on your own before.

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