How Much Time Do You Have?
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I remember my last few months of college being entirely over it—the jumping through hoops, the tests, the group projects. Oh, the group projects! I was eager and antsy to get on with my grown-up life. I was ready to put my hard-earned education to work! I learned all the things! Let me out already! Bring on the real job in the real world!
Except, as it turns out, I had not actually learned all the things. In fact, there were an alarming number of things my expensive college education (for which I would continue paying for many years) did not teach me.
Some lessons I ended up learning the hard way; some were learned over time, through trial and error (and some, just straight up error), but it would feel redemptive if my blind spots could help fast-track another’s post-graduation education. So, here goes:
You have your whole life to be a grown-up. I wish I had soaked up every last precious minute of college. I wish I hadn’t spent so much time and energy always focused on the next milestone. There are things to appreciate and learn in every season.
You might be the lowest man or woman on the totem pole at work, but you are also free of major responsibilities and can go to happy hour on a whim! You may want to be in a committed relationship, but the ability to be selfish and spontaneous are luxuries you’ll cherish in another season—enjoy where you are!
No matter what accomplishments you piled up in school, once you get a job, or move to a new city, or wade into a new relationship, or get a promotion—you will feel like you are in over your head and you don’t really know what you are doing.
Get used to it. There is no moment of finally having arrived. In fact, the older you get, the more you’ll realize your parents really never knew what they were doing either. The best thing you can do is get really comfortable with yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses and tackle whatever it is with confidence.
According to my “research,” not every recent graduate is equipped with this knowledge.
Apparently, if you never change the filter, your dryer won’t work anymore and there will be a faint burning smell in your apartment until your then-boyfriend discovers the vast wasteland that is your domestic skillset.
Bonus Fun Fact: Dishwashing soap and dishwasher detergent are not interchangeable. I repeat—dishwashing soap and dishwasher detergent are not interchangeable.
You cannot determine your happiness or your worth by comparison. In fact, you won’t even figure out what really makes you happy until you take everyone else out of the equation.
It might not be what you thought or what you planned. It might not look exactly like it did for your parents (or maybe you’ll be shocked to find out it does). The sooner you are OK with you, doing you, the happier you’ll be.
I avoided budgeting for a very long time because I thought it would mean I would never be able to buy expensive jeans or eat out and I don’t really like when people tell me what to do. (This truth is almost as embarrassing as the fact that I did not know the dryer had a filter.)
What I know now is that a budget is a tool to ensure you will have money to do the things that matter most to you, whatever they may be. No matter how much (or how little) money you have, a budget gives you the control and confidence to feel like you have enough, without ever losing sight of where you want to be.
Not to be dramatic, but every day you live without a budget is a day you’ll stress and make financial decisions you regret. And the hardest part is just deciding to start. You’ve come to the right place. Here are five easy steps to get you going.
Born and raised the daughter of a TJ Maxx fiend, I was trained, from a young age, to opt quantity over quality. An H&M sale rack binge? Yes, sign me up. Oh, the deals! Let me tell you how much I saved! Except buying 14 shirts that are just, “Meh,” and end up hanging unworn in your closet, leaves you feeling unsatisfied and like you have nothing to wear.
Today, I wait and when I find something I really love, I save up and buy it. Pure joy.
Bonus Fun Fact: Buying in bulk does not always save you money. Price per unit is your friend.
If you get a job in an office, chances are email and chat programs like Slack will be a big part of your daily routine. There is a right and wrong way to email. And the onus is on you to figure out what’s appropriate for your role, your office, your industry.
I didn’t know the dryer had a filter, so, obviously, I did not know how to cook, but I’ve learned that mastering just one or two respectable meals that can pass as fancy-ish goes a long way. You need to be able to impress a date, some parents (maybe yours, maybe someone else’s, maybe both), and someone work-related. One proven dish you can whip up without breaking a sweat can accomplish all three. This investment will deliver ROI in spades.
For me, it was unpaid parking tickets in Seattle. They sort-of-mostly disappeared, until they came back with a vengeance, having grown in strength and numbers over three years, at which point their combined total was large enough to take your breath away. The same goes for credit card bills, student loans, medical bills or whatever thing feels too overwhelming (read: expensive) to face.
Resist the temptation to bury your head in the sand, because these types of things only get bigger and more expensive. And more importantly, what no one tells you is: everything is negotiable.
Asking makes the difference. Could you be put on a payment plan? Could you get an extension? Could the interest rate be lowered? Could the late fee be removed? Could you talk to a manager? You will never know—and you’ll pay in full—unless you ask!
We spend a lot of years taking math classes, but most of us, graduate without knowing anything useful about the fundamental numbers that will affect our lives.
You need to know about your 401k, if you have one. A 401k is an employee-sponsored retirement plan that allows you to contribute money pre-taxes. If you do nothing else, when given the option, contribute to your 401k.
Which brings us to the next important set of numbers: compound interest. The smallest difference in an interest rate has a big, cumulative effect over time. This can work for you when you are investing and against you when you’re incurring debt. So, pay attention to interest rates!
Which brings us to your credit score. If you don’t know what it is—find out. This number has a huge influence on what interest rates you will qualify for in the future (see aforementioned caution about interest rates). But don’t worry, no matter what anyone tells you, you will never use Trigonometry ever again. For anything. Ever again.
Early on in my career, this was depressing to think about, because I didn’t feel like I had much control over my (small) salary trajectory. But the older I get, the more I know this to be true, and the more it influences my everyday decision-making.
For instance, I’m not even tempted to mindlessly fill up my cart at Target with stuff I don’t really need, because those dollars represent hours I’ve spent away from my kids, making money for our family. And my time is worth more than that.
And on the flipside, every two weeks we have someone come clean the house, which allows me to be more relaxed and present on the weekends, and in this stage of life that is incredibly precious time. For me, it is worth every penny.
I’ve grown to appreciate the value of my finite dollars—and time—and I want them to be spent well, on things that really matter. How you spend your money will add up to how you spend your life. It’s kind of heavy, but worthwhile. Think about it.
There is a difference between being busy and productive. In school, you could wait until the last second, stay up all night cramming for a test, and come out on top, but your boss may not appreciate that approach.
Invest in learning how to manage your time well, committing to consistency, and imposing the rigor and boundaries you need to be effective and efficient. In my humble opinion, the ability to manage your time effectively will influence your work-life balance and overall quality of life more than nearly any other single factor.
Looking back, I wasted a lot of time terrified I’d make a mistake, and when I inevitably did, I’d waste more time beating myself up, dwelling, and obsessing ad nauseam.
I’d spent so many years (16+) trying to get the A, that I couldn’t remove myself from the hamster wheel—and real life doesn’t work like that.
Today, the most grown-up version of myself knows that I’ll make mistakes and that I will learn far more from those mistakes than the unforgettable times that I “succeed.” Any given day, I make the best decisions I can make with all the information at my disposal, and should the information change or a decision prove to not work out as expected, I make the next best decision I can make.
What I’ve learned the hard way, is that we only have so much to give, and if we don’t give our best to moving forward, we’ll get stuck going nowhere.
In conclusion, here are some bonus thoughts, on the house:
A) There is little-to-no justification for getting custom rims on your car.
B) Be judicious when you name your children. Someday they might apply for a job at a law firm.
C) Be nice to everyone. You never know which intern or mail-sorter will end up working at a hot start-up and suggesting you be hired as their boss because they remember you being nice to them when they were an intern/mail-sorter.
E) Before tattooing anything on your body, consider what you might have tattooed on your body ten years earlier, and if it makes you cringe, abandon the entire endeavor immediately.
Remember, budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. You can do this! Today. Right now. What do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress. (Ok, so kind of a lot.)
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