Graduation season is winding down, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the college graduates who are now entering the “real” world. The transition from college student to independent adult is mostly awesome, though it does entail some new challenges. All you new graduates out there now have the freedom (and responsibility) to manage many more areas of your own lives, including your finances. Even if you are still searching for that first job that will launch your career, you can and should begin to develop a relationship with money that is healthy and positive.
In the ten years since my own college graduation, I’ve learned a few things about money. I continue to be a student of personal finance, but I hope you will allow me to share with you the most important things I’ve learned so far:
The way you spend your money is a direct reflection of your values and priorities in life. It’s very easy to mistake success for “stuff.” Wearing a tee shirt with a designer logo does not mean that you are successful; it means you are susceptible to marketing. If you looked at your spending as a snapshot of who you are, would you like what you see?
Experiences make you much happier than “stuff.” Experiencing something is truly living. You and your college friends will be separated in the future by time and distance. Spend less of your money on “stuff” so that you can afford to meet old friends for dinner, or even vacation. Remain connected with people you care about by experiencing things together.
You will never, ever regret starting to save sooner rather than later. Albert Einstein said, “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it. He who doesn’t, pays it.” Personal finance can seem complicated, but the most important principal is easy enough for a child to understand: Save as much as you can as early as you can, and you will build wealth. It really is that simple.
If you want to live a free and independent life, avoid debt. You must give up your time and energy to earn money, so having debt means that someone else owns a piece of your life. Sometimes debt is necessary, but be honest with yourself about the significance and gravity of obligating your time and energy to someone else.
You don’t need to have personal finance figured out all at once. Slow and steady wins the race. Small successes in managing your finances will make you feel incredibly proud. Congratulate yourself on every small victory. Use that positive momentum to learn more and to create new goals for yourself. In a very short time, you will feel confident and in control of your finances and your future.
We all have our own definitions of success and our own ideas about what makes for a happy life. Regardless of what your ambitions are, always remember that the lead role in your life should be played by YOU. Money should never play anything other than a supporting role.
Congratulations, 2012 Graduates, and best of luck. Viva la frugal!