Despite only having recently graduated from high school, I’m lowkey obsessed with personal finance. TFD and Money After Graduation are two of my most-visited sites, I maintain a stock portfolio on Yahoo! Finance, and I recently downloaded Mint. And I love it. I’m not entirely sure where all this came from, but it’s led me to reflect on how my peers and I deal with our (and our parents’) money. Here are some of the things I’ve realized. (Also, a quick note: I’m going to attend a four-year college. A couple of these points are specifically about that, but I realize many recent high school graduates are not going that route.)
1. You and your parents may not be on the same page about money. Over the past few months, I’ve had a rude awakening about the fact that my parents and I don’t share identical opinions, and that also applies money. This realization will be important down the line as I make significant life decisions; I can’t just defer to my parents anymore. What I’ve been doing, and what I really hope works out long-term, is weighing my parents’ advice and going with my gut.
2. Think for yourself. While your parents probably know your financial situation better than you do, your neighbors/friends’ parents/teachers/the friendly cashiers at the supermarket probably don’t. They all have some hard-earned, irreplaceable wisdom about money by virtue of being adults. However, I’ve realized that most everyone views situations only through the lens of their own experiences. Well-meaning adults are likely giving you advice that worked really well at some point in their own lives. It needs to be taken with a grain of salt—just because it worked for their kid two years ago doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you now.
3. The amount of time between now and major expenses seems shockingly short, considering the amount of income you can bring in. The average semester abroad costs $31,270 (?????????????????). Moving into an off-campus apartment entails first and last month’s rent, a security deposit, furnishings and housewares, a bunch of rental fees, and probably other stuff I don’t even know about right now. And when I graduate? Maybe relocation costs. Maybe a car. Maybe savings to live off of in grad school. Those couple of years of years seem far-off in terms of life experience and self-discovery, but in terms of saving for these things, two or four years is not a long time. Especially considering my main source of income will probably be tutoring and working at Starbucks. Buuuuut…
4. This is one of the few times in your life when you have some earning potential and close to no expenses, if you’re lucky. I will preface this by saying that my dad works at the school I will be attending, so I am insanely lucky and get free tuition. Plus, my parents can afford to cover room and board. However, this applies to any college kid who lives off of a combination of loans and parental support. For the next couple of years, I’ll have no serious expenses—no rent, car payments, health insurance, nothing. Also, a lot of things that are hella expensive in the real world are dirt cheap in college.
For example, I like hiking and camping, and to do that as an adult, you need expensive gear. But at my school, there’s an outdoor club that organizes $25 outings several times a semester and lends you gear. I love that kind of stuff, and it will eliminate a #balling weekend once in a while where I blow a ton of money on weed and fat sandwiches. (Yeah, that’s #balling at Rutgers.) Therefore, the bulk of what I bring in can go straight to savings. Obviously I’ll have my fun and take advantage of #collegelife, but I’m hoping that the proportion of income going to savings will be relatively high.
5. Finance With a Capital F doesn’t have to be scary—if there’s no pressure. I’m slowly learning about finance. I read the blogs. I peruse the business sections of newspapers. I follow Marketwatch. I can’t imagine the pressure of having to figure out, say, the minutiae of American tax code when you’re already in trouble with the IRS. That’s something so many #financialconfessions posters have had to do. It must be so much more overwhelming when there are serious consequences involved. I hope that if have base knowledge early on, I can tackle the more complicated things that come up with less dread.
6. If you’re still in high school, do as well as possible in school and on standardized tests. There is so much scholarship money out there. GPA and SAT/ACT score have a lot to do with who gets it. (I mainly applied to large state schools, and that’s especially true for them.) Some schools even have minimum requirements—as long as you have such-and-such GPA and such-and-such test score, you’re guaranteed a certain amount of money. Don’t show up to the SAT hungover and not bother to retake it! You might be leaving a lot of cold, hard cash on the table.
7. I’ve already made mistakes. It’s so silly, right? I’ve had so little responsibility with money, what could I have done? Beyond the sour “well, that just wasn’t worth it” aftertaste of many a minor purchase, I’ve made a few more serious mistakes. I didn’t know that the income I brought in 2014 for my firstever job was low enough to be taxexempt, so I screwed up my W2s. (I got it all back in April, but still. Why did I fill out the forms blind?) Also, for my camp job last summer, I signed a form called something like the “Declaration of Intended Employment” that had a later end date than my boss and I had agreed upon. What I didn’t realize was that it was my contractcontract, so when I left on the date I had discussed with my boss, it was if I left a week early. I lost a seventh of my summer’s income. After these incidents, I thought about how surprised I was by these errors. You mismanage your money in unexpected ways. I’m curious to see what my next mistake will be.
Hallel Yadin is a college student majoring in public health. You can follow her on Tumblr.