My youngest cousin graduated from college last week.
It got me thinking about my own graduation a few years back. I’m 25, so this was not long ago at all.
When I graduated from college, I had no idea what I was doing. I graduated with honors from a bougie school but had no idea how to adult. How much was I supposed to spend on rent? Groceries? Going out? I felt like I was pulling numbers out of thin air.
I thought it would be fun to review my money wins and fails at 22. For younger readers, hopefully this will help inform your own money decisions!
Good: I saved a lot of money.
Growing up, I saw my grandparents struggle with money. Grandma #1 had less than $2,000 to her name. Grandma #2 got handouts from her children, which never were enough.
I wanted to never become like them. So, I saved money.
I Googled “how much money should I save.” I found a Financial Samurai article. I worked backward from there.
First, I contributed to my 401(K). I couldn’t max it out, but I got the full company match.
Then, I set up automatic transfers at my bank. Every month, Citibank made a small transfer between my checking and savings accounts. I never touched this money.
I saved money even though my starting salary was low for my industry.
I saved money even though a Senior Vice President at work said that I shouldn’t bother.
Little by little, the savings piled up. After a year, I had saved thousands of dollars.
Bad: I didn’t have a prescriptive budget.
I targeted a savings rate but didn’t care about how I got there.
This may work for you, but it didn’t work for me.
What happened? Certain items (read: eating out) blew up so much that I ran out of money for things I needed. Like real food.
Guess what I did when I ran out of money for real food? Instead of busting my target savings rate like a normal human, I skipped meals.
Don’t do that.
I’m a fan of aligning your spending with your values. I wish I had sat down and figured out how much I wanted to spend on different items.
Good: I tracked my spending.
I didn’t have a perfect system, but I still give myself credit for this.
My thinking was that if I had to track it manually, I would be less motivated to spend.
Sometimes I skipped a day. But I roughly knew what went to rent, food, and concerts. And I knew I was cash-flow positive every month.
Bad: I assumed I couldn’t afford travel without looking into it.
For some reason, I thought that travel was for rich people. Want to go to Europe? It’ll cost $15,000, my mom said.
I blindly believed her. So when I had a month off between school and work, I did… nothing. I moved to New York early and decorated my tiny apartment.
And when I had unused vacation days at year-end, I just did a staycation.
In retrospect, I should’ve gone somewhere. Anywhere. I could’ve backpacked through Eastern Europe. I could’ve gone to Asia. I don’t know when I’ll have a month off again.
I thought it would’ve been too expensive, but honestly? Most flights would’ve cost less than my Manhattan rent. And many destinations are cheap once you land. (This is proof.)
Good: I didn’t spend money to please others.
I was bullied as a kid. It sucked, but it taught me an important lesson early on:
Doing or having things won’t make other people like you.
Knowing this was freeing. I said no to events I wouldn’t enjoy. I lived in an old walk-up apartment because it suited me just fine.
A date once told me that my place was a dump. Rude. But joke’s on him, because I saved 3x what he did!
Bad: I rarely cooked.
I ate out all the time. That was bad for my wallet and my health.
There was one week when I had $1 pizza every day for dinner. Yeah… That wasn’t OK.
When I didn’t eat pizza, I bought $8 falafel sandwiches. Or I had a $25 restaurant meal with friends. If you do that every day, it adds up fast.
I wish I cooked more. I probably would’ve been healthier and happier. I have more energy now that I eat properly.
I wish I bought an Instant Pot (affiliate link)! That would’ve made meal prep so much easier.
Good: I worked smart.
This might be controversial.
Many people work hard. I don’t think I was special. At the office, I wasn’t the first one in or the last one out.
But I worked smart. I had a low tolerance for BS and questioned how things were done.
Something that surprised me post-college: large companies are really inefficient! My coworkers used this program that crashed every 15 minutes. They spent hours on a report that could’ve been automated.
I was not afraid to point out these issues, then solve them myself. I improved my coding skills, even though they were not in my job description. I got top reviews and a healthy raise at year-end.
What was your life like right out of college?
Did you have any major money wins or fails?
Does this time of year also make you feel old?