Hi all, Tara here! Recently a friend reached out and asked for some advice on how to best navigate post grad finances and “adulting”. Like so many other young adults, he was wondering how start working toward financial success while managing student loans, new jobs, and all of the other exciting, but overwhelming things that come after college. So, we wrote a few different blog posts to answer his questions (jump to the bottom of this post to find the list of these posts).
But his inquiry also inspired me to share my story with all of you. So without any further ado, this is the story of how I started “adulting” and navigating MY finances. Enjoy! And yes, that is me on the left!
I remember when I first graduated college.
I was super excited to start a real job. I had been freelancing through college and interned at a software company. All that seemed like small fries to this new, big job at Xerox Corp! The only problem (and I’m the only one who is going to see this as a problem!) was that it was in Los Angeles. I really wanted to go to the east coast, Boston in particular. Somehow I took a wrong turn and ended up on the left coast.
I was anxious to get started. The week after graduation, I got everything home from college. My furniture consisted of moving boxes, milk crates, plywood, and a foam fold out couch that served as a bed. I lived “ready to move” because I moved a lot in college.
At home, I filled a quarter of a moving truck (I have no idea who was in the other three quarters) and headed west. About a week after graduation, I had moved in with my grandmother who lived in the OC. That was handy. She drove me around looking for a car. There is nothing worse than negotiating a good deal with a car dealer with your grandmother all dressed up in high style and lots of jewels on. We had to explain “No, I’m paying for this. Grandma isn’t ‘helping out’!” I got a Doge Colt with no radio, no air conditioning, and no power anything. But it was CHEAP! and I could pay cash.
I was lucky enough to work my way through college, got a one-year Air Force ROTC scholarship (I just couldn’t sign away six years of my life going into Junior year), and lived like a starving college student. All that effort meant I graduated with the $10,000 that my parents had given me to pay for college.
I would love to take credit for great planning but the fact is the $10,000 was in a Treasury Note (earning about 15% interest, I might add!!! Compared to today’s 1.3% – 2% interest that Treasuries are paying!) I had forgotten about the money my folks were giving me and worked and saved through college. It wasn’t until years later that I realized I had put myself though college (with the help of the Air Force and generous employers/clients).
I was lucky to start debt free.
Starting out debt free was a fantastic advantage to me. Not many parents and students have that luxury today. Although, I find a lot of people end up with more student debt than they intend because they just aren’t paying attention or planning for the future. Both are easy traps to fall into that everyone does fall into at some point in their life. And I say this now just because if you are reading this and IN college or about to go to college (or parents of college students), you still have an opportunity to pay attention and plan (read more in our student loan 101 blog post HERE).
Once I got my car and started my job, about two or three weeks after graduating, I was working a full day and living in a hotel trying to find a place to live. I grew up with a financial planning mother, so I knew I wanted to keep my housing under 25% of my pay check. Not an easy feat in the LA area. And made harder because I just didn’t feel like I had enough time after work and on the weekends to do the research and find a place. I didn’t have the luxury of internet. I was looking through the paper’s want ads and driving around. Today it would be far easier and can have more work done remotely. But I can’t imagine that it’s “easy” even with technology.
I was also having an issue because the places I was renting from wanted a check with a local address on it. And I couldn’t get a local bank account until I had a local address. How is that supposed to work!?!? A family friend in the area helped me out. But I wonder to this day, how would I have resolved this without my network stepping in to help?
Luckily, I had enough money after buying my car to pay for first and last month’s rent. I also had a little extra to buy bare necessities in my new apartment. I was up and running but looking forward to that first pay check to fill my bank account a little more.
The first days of work were filled with filling out paperwork. Today it’s even worse because corporations back then paid for medical insurance, disability insurance, vision and dental insurance, and they had a pension plan. There was no 401k when I first started working. But there were IRAs. My financial planning mom said “Put $2,000 in every year. Buy one stock and in no time you’ll have a diverse portfolio.” I did that and still have many of those same stock in my portfolio today. And yes, they are worth far more than $2,000 today.
What would I have done without a financial planning mother?
I probably wouldn’t have started investing as early. And if I did, I certainly wouldn’t have known what to invest in. I was a computer programmer, not an investor. I did go to a financial advisor when I first started my job. He asked “What are your goals?” I said I didn’t have any. He asked “Do you want to buy a house, have a family, when do you want to retire?” I had no idea if I wanted any of those. I could just as easily see myself staying single and traveling the work picking up odd computer programming jobs as any of that. The advisor said he couldn’t help me. Hmm…
Today my kids and their friends are going through all this and it’s so much harder. Just getting a job today is hard. You can’t get a job unless you have previous experience, but how are you supposed to get previous experience if you never had a job. It certainly takes grit and planning to navigate today’s adulting process. And if you’ve successfully landed a job out of college, kudos to you! And if you’ve taken the freelancing path and have work (maybe not in the black yet, but have work), also kudo for the bravery and hard work to get there.
If you’re still looking for work, you are not alone and do use all your resources: college placement offices, county and state services, networking events, your family and friends. And keep busy, volunteer anywhere or do odd jobs/consulting/freelancing. Show that you can show up every day, meet deadlines, and put in a good day of work. That will take you far. You’ve got this!
Read more from our blog posts on how to best navigate post grad finances and “adulting”:
– How to Calculate your Cash Flow
– Five Steps to Financial Success
– New Job Confusions (What are 401ks, anyway??)
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About The Author: Tara Unverzagt
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