This article was originally included in our email newsletter on May 13, 2010. It may have been edited somewhat from the version that was originally emailed, so be sure to sign up so you get the newsletter hot off the press!
It’s finally here! Your son or daughter has finished with exams, sold a final round of textbooks, and is donning a cap and gown to walk across the stage to get that college degree. You should be very proud. After all, they’ve put in a lot of hard work and patience to get there, and you have put in a lot of hard work, patience, advice, and support as well.
But you know your job’s not over. Chances are, your kids will still need some help and advice after college. This is particularly true in the area of personal finance. Let’s face it: the real world looks a little different than the green grass and stone pillars of campus, with its dormitories and dining halls and credit hours and semesters. People can pick up a lot of bad financial habits during college and in the couple years that follow. Sometimes these habits cause mistakes that take years to fix.
To help avoid these mistakes, I’ve put together a few life lessons the commencement speaker might not have covered. Some are lessons I had already figured out by graduation. Some were passed to me later as advice. And, unfortunately, some have been learned the hard way. I hope they help you get the conversation started with your kids.
Lesson number 1: Your Words and Deeds Will Come Back to You
Ah, Facebook. Remember that rant about that rival college and their football team? Those pictures from that all-night party? (And the after-party?) Hopefully you’ve kept your nose clean on this one, because a recent careerbuilder.com survey reveals that 45 percent of employers use social networking sites to screen applicants. So before submitting your resume, take a look at your Facebook privacy settings and clean up anything you might be embarrassed to show a potential boss. You might even go a little goody-two-shoes and join a couple networks that responsible adults would be part of. You can find some more details here.
Lesson number 2: You Need a Job
As an adult, you will be expected to pay for things you may not be used to paying for: food, housing, transportation. These expenses will require some source of income. Note that your degree does not entitle you to an income–it might not even get you a job. But you need to find a way to cover basic expenses before enjoying any extras.
Here’s how you can afford some of those extras: Negotiate your salary. Here’s an article from the Washington Post to get you started. Google “negotiating salary” for hordes more. Do some research, and find out what a job pays for someone with your skills. Don’t take a job you know you will hate, just because it pays more. It will encourage you to spend more, which will keep you on track for a career you hate.
Lesson number 3: You Need a Budget
Your expenses need to be in-line with your income. For the sake of your wallet and your health, you shouldn’t eat out every night. You probably won’t be able to afford living arrangements as nice as the house you grew up in, right off the bat. And you need to consider a reliable, probably even used, car to start.
In addition to food, housing, and transportation, you will need insurance. Health insurance. Car insurance. Possibly even life insurance (to pay off jointly-owned debt, for example). Shop around, and compare prices.
Your employer will most likely not be checking for brand names on your clothing. And the size of your television and stereo should not exceed a reasonable portion of your living space.
Regarding investing: fund your retirement account first–the money you put in now will make twice as much as the money you put in ten years from now. Don’t invest all your retirement savings in your first employer’s success. And anyone who advertises their investment in late-night infomercials isn’t making money off that investment, they’re making it off their investors.
Lesson number 4: You Need to Take Care of Yourself
You need to maintain your health. Remember that broken bones cost money now. Don’t drive stupid. Don’t live too hard. Get to know your doctor when you’re healthy (that is, get a physical), so you will know who to call when you’re sick.
Protect your reputation. Remember that Facebook lesson? And don’t mix money with friendship. That means don’t cosign on loans with your buddies or boyfriends or whomever. It’s a good way to ruin a friendship and a great way to ruin your credit history.
Okay. Those are the basics. I know on the surface it seems like a bunch of don’ts. But I also remember that when I was a kid, I was always arguing with my parents for control of my own life. They may not know it yet, but your children have been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. These fundamental lessons can help set them up for success and independence.
Next time we’ll delve a little deeper into the question, “You want to buy WHAT?!” and offer up some tips to help your new grad shop responsibly.