Ask a Guide: What financial tips do you have for me as I transition into the “real world”?
Oh, the post-graduation blues. I remember them well. That’s a very stressful time, particularly with all of the life-changes that are happening– and the added stress of figuring out how you’re going to pay for all of those changes.
Some of this stress is inevitable. I wish it weren’t, but transition is hard. However, how you handle your situation can either add more stress, or take a lot of it away. Personally, I didn’t do a great job of this. But that’s why I’m here, to help you avoid my mistakes!
So, how do you do better than I did? The standard banker / investor advice that you’ve probably already heard a lot is: “Start saving ASAP! Einstein said that Compounding Interest is the most powerful force in the universe, and you’d be a fool not to listen to Einstein. The earlier you save, the more growth and compounding of interest will happen!” These people are very smart, and they’re totally right… saving ASAP is super important.
… But when you’re just getting started (or going through some big changes), it’s not quite as easy as that. When you become financially stressed, you become paralyzed, and start questioning what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. Before you know it, nothing gets done!
At least, that’s what happened to me. The questions and topics that freaked me out the most?
Saving (How much is enough? Should I save differently for different goals? How important is my interest rate?)
Investing (Where? When? How much?)
Intentional Spending (I’m great at spending money… but am I being smart about it?).
These things freaked me out when I got into the “real world”… so I just avoided them. That didn’t work out so well. The bad news is… ignoring them didn’t make them go away. So, instead of compounding interest, I was just compounding my stress.
Sound familiar? Perhaps you have found yourself in a situation similar to where I was, 20 years ago: paralyzed by financial stress or uncertainty. If so, I’ve developed three mental practices that have worked well for me, and I’m more than glad to share them with you!
#1: Tackle It or Toss It
It’s not healthy to spend time worrying about what may happen. Just as importantly, it’s not healthy to just wing it and see how it all turns out. Always worrying about everything and never worrying about anything are equally bad options. Deciding what was in my control and what wasn’t was the first step. That enabled me to toss aside the worries outside of my control aside.
#2: Meet the Challenge
Whether it’s tackling debt or not knowing how to save, waiting for the stress to disappear sure doesn’t help. Attempting to solve the problem as soon as it surfaces may seem difficult at first but, it’s not– and it sure beats the alternative!
For example, the thought of saving enough to purchase a new car, was stressful by itself, but I decided to rise to the challenge and started paying myself for what I guessed a car payment would be, every month. As it turns out, I realized that buying a car wasn’t actually my top priority… so I used that “car payment” to build up a rainy day fund that covered several months of living expenses. After I completed that challenge, it was on to the next: I successfully planned & saved for a few vacations, and shortly thereafter, it was finally time to save for and purchase a new car, for real this time. My point is, take a challenge head-on and you’ll build up habits that will serve you well, whatever your goal is.
#3: Enjoy the Moment
That’s the whole point, right? There are a lot of steps that you can take, but one thing that I’ve realized is… the stress never completely goes away.
While I’ve finally figured out how to remove most of the stress that comes with being out in the “real world,” there are always more changes ahead and, as you’re experiencing right now, changes are stressful. For me, I’ve added three kids and three college funds in the mix! How did that happen? That stressed me out just saying it!
What I’ve learned, though, is that it’s possible to enjoy where you are… even if there is more you can be doing, or more you need to learn. Celebrate what you’ve already accomplished: Seriously. You just graduated! Think of all the work that went into that… and you finally made it! Way to go! Plus… No more homework or exams! Unless you decide to do grad school, but you get my point.
Enjoy where you are!
While I was slow to embrace my own principles outlined above, one of the best lessons I’ve learned is that each of them can apply to any challenges you are facing, not just the financial ones. Tackle it or toss it …Meet the challenge… Enjoy the moment. Do all three of these on a regular basis, and you’ll not only make the transition into the real world… you’ll be ready for all the changes that life brings your way.
Jason Young is our go-to guy for all things personal finance. He’s spent 14+ years in community banks, leading teams focused on digital transformation and customer support. He’s heard many of our pain points and worked on building solutions to meet them. Now he’s sharing what he has learned to help you. Plus, he likes gaming, social media, and new tech so he speaks our language!
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