Terrell and I have had the great privilege of leading small groups of college students for the past few years in weekly discussions about life, friendships, relationships, graduating, getting jobs and growing up in general. These years were some of the best years of our lives for certain because we made some amazing friends, learned so much and got to share the tiniest bit of knowledge that we have with them.
I have compiled a list of the questions they tended to ask over and over again and wanted to share our answers with you. These are honestly applicable to anyone at any point in their lives, but in that strange in between time between graduating from college and becoming a well-balanced adult with a mortgage and 401k (we have neither of these and feel we are very well-balanced, but you know what I mean), there is a lot that happens and a lot that you must figure out. I hope that these things will help make that time easier for some of you and will give you a general idea of things you should be figuring out. Our answers are not the best, but they are what have worked for us and for those who are close to us. So, please find what works for you, use these as a starting point.
Budget. Sorry to start with the most non fun one, but this is the one that I want you to get. As much as we all want free love and passion: MONEY WILL RUIN YOUR LIFE if you don’t get a hold on it now. We are a social worker and a teacher, we have no ambition to be millionaires or to drive fancy cars, but we do plan to take nice vacations, buy the things we need and retire at a normal age. As soon as we got married/graduated from college we began using the envelope system from Dave Ramsey and used the Debt Snowball to get out of debt, while we were still in grad school. Its possible, just ask us. We did it and continue to practice financial responsibility every day. It is HARD. It is TIRING. It is FRUSTRATING. It has CHANGED THE DIRECTION OF OUR LIVES. Take a class, read a book, sit down with someone who is good with their money and have them go through and set a budget with you. Keep it every month. Reevaluate it constantly. Never, ever stop. Set yourself up now when it is just you, a small paycheck and no big real responsibilities. Practicing this skill now will make it so much easier when there is pressure and other people involved. Please, please. Please.
Don’t use credit cards. And on the same note. If you can’t pay for it, you don’t need it. Seriously. I don’t care if it is a repair for your car. Carpool, ride the bus, bike until you can save up the money. Don’t, just don’t.
Quit buying stuff. This is how I answer the question, how do I save money/budget/etc? Quit buying stuff. Seriously stop. In college I bought stuff because it was funny, like a stuffed crow that would sit on the counter and be used in pranks (great investment btw-at that time), but not anymore. Try a month of no spending and see where your money is really going and how you don’t actually need those things. To curb this habit setting a budget is a great start and then asking yourself a list of questions like ‘do I need this’, ‘will I still want this in a week’, ‘how long will it last’, ‘can I buy it cheaper somewhere else or make it myself or use something I already have”, etc.
Go to sleep. Honestly, I don’t need to tell you this because after your first day of working full-time at your new job you will be so exhausted beyond anything you ever thought possible. But as you get more used to it/angry that you are just tired everyday at 7pm, the temptation is to just stay up and watch TV all night just to keep the dignity of your youthfulness. But if you really ask your friends, they are all going to be at 9 or 10pm too. No shame friends.
Don’t be trashy & Don’t brag about it. It’s no longer cute to come into the office hung over and talk about how drunk you got last night (on any night) and how you made out with some random guy. The people in your office are either 2/3 married and don’t care and spoiler alert don’t want to live vicariously through you. Or they are also single and having their own thoughts/issues surrounding their love life and don’t need your bad influences and silly stories to pile into the already confusing mix.
Dating. Dating should be easy (not you, YOU should not be easy, dating should be easy). Too many times I have had coffee with girls/guys (no matter their) age who have complained about how complicated and difficult and confusing dating is, but they are staying in this boring, annoying relationship because ‘I mean I guess I like him and maybe it’s just something we need to work through’. The answer to that is no. The first 1-5 months should be fun! and easy! and all about hand holding! and secret kisses! and pet names! and texting all night! Obviously, you will have issues, but if you’re complaining to your girlfriends in the first month or two, that’s your gut saying ‘this one isn’t the one, don’t waste anymore time on them’. Get out now while emotions and expectations are low, don’t drag out the misery, you, him and your friends will appreciate it. **This is probably the most subjective tip I have, but we all know relationships are hard, but can you imagine how much harder a really hard one-month-in relationship is going to be 5 years from now? Follow your gut people (and those side eyes your friends are giving each other when you talk about it).
Dress like one. I worked in a large hospital and a large school district and we had interns constantly. I would cringe as they walked in for interviews and then for their, sometimes entire stint of working with us, when I saw their outfits. I have no idea how my bosses were able to look past it and ‘hire’ them. The worst part is that I think back on just 5 years ago when I was the intern, and worry if that is what I looked like?! We understand you are a struggling college student, working here for free, while simultaneously pulling late night shifts at bars to pay rent (been there, done that). But ask for some ‘grown up work clothes’ for christmas. Go to a cheap department store and grab a few nice tops and cardigans you can mix and match. We wont judge you for recycling the same 4 outfits but we will judge you for wearing your too small, too low-cut, thrift store, shabby chic, not matching clothes. Trust me, its hard enough to be the intern, try not to look like one. Making the choice to finally buy new clothes when I started my new job that were what I deemed ‘grown up’ and comfortable but still fashionable made all the difference for me. I didn’t necessarily feel a big change in the way people treated me, but I felt I could carry myself with more confidence, I was literally way more comfortable (yes, I shed a tear the day I bought the ugly shoes because I knew my youthful recklessness was over because hospital floors are hard and hurt your feet), and I wasn’t asking my husband/friends do I look like a hooker in this? ehhh, could I get away with it at work anyway though?…. Moral of the story: Buy the ugly shoes.
Find a Church. Don’t know how you feel about religion? Now is the time to find out. Church is a great way to find community, a mentor, friends, (dates) and get plugged into a group of like-minded people to serve and be a part of your local community. Never underestimate the power of a local support system.
Learn some grown up skills like cooking and cleaning. (I’m looking at you too men) You don’t have to become Martha Stewart, but you are going to have to attend events now like baby and wedding showers and you need to have some kind of easy to make appetizer type food skills. You also will be expected to host these things, so you will need to own things like non paper products or star wars plates and your guest will expect to not have to move your pile of half-clean, half being worn out of pile of clothes off the couch to sit down. Learn a few tricks and stick to them if you don’t want to go full on Susie Homemaker. Seriously, its ok (and kinda great) to be known as the person who brings the really great cheeseburger dip to the parties!
Take care of things. We are quickly coming to the point where we can’t call daddy anymore when the car makes a funny noise. I am in no way saying learn to fix a car, but find a mechanic your daddy would approve of and call him when the car makes a noise. Again, this is not about acquiring crazy new skills, it’s just about knowing how to solve the problem yourself and acting on it when it needs to be done, not next month.
Use a planner. You are an adult and your friends are too, so now you guys have adult things to do. You can’t just ‘text me when you’re bored and ill walk over and well hang and maybe get food later’. Your friends now have legit events that are planned and coordinated. You will likely be driving long distances to do things. You will be asked to help plan and expected participate. You need to use a planner, even if its the calendar app on your phone. This is the first step to becoming a reliable adult.
Take care of yourself. You must now shower, eat well, exercise, be on time, pay your bills, get enough sleep, buy toilet paper, get groceries and so much more on your own. It’s no longer communal and it no longer comes in the form of a care package. It no longer is your 4 roommates yelling ‘were leaving and going to the gym, so get in the car’. Its you remembering, planning and going to do all these things on your own now. So, please take care of yourself. You need all those things.
Say no. Welcome to the wonderful world of saying no. You can say it whenever you want. No, I don’t want to be friends with that person just because my other friends are. No, I don’t want to go out to a bar on a Tuesday night. No, I don’t want to be on that committee. No, I don’t want to eat where everyone else is. You can assert your independence and preferences and protect and schedule your time however you would like. You are no longer at the mercy of your professors or parents or roommates or frat bros. It may be the best part of being a grown up…
Sit at home. Remember in college how if you stayed in on a friday night you were the ultimate lame-o? Now if you stay home on a friday night you are a celebrated hero. All your friends will be posting their Netflix and take out on the couch Friday nights on Instragram. Remember how in college you slept till 4pm and napped all the time? It’s because you were exhausted the whole time (which is how it should be if you ask me). But now you have a job and your body will literally reject you. No more naps, no more options to skip class when you’re just not feeling it. You will relish every minute that you get in bed before 10pm, you will crave time alone to just decompress and catch up on laundry and just not have to answer anyones questions or use your brain at all. Seriously, stay home sometimes, actually I advise you schedule at least two-three days/nights at home with nothing to do. This will serve you so much better than you could ever expect.
Go do stuff. Now, go do something! Quit being so tired and watching Netflix all the time! You’re becoming a shut in! Confusing right? It is so easy to move to a new place post college, get a busy job and just veg on the weekends. You must now start to plan your weekend events and going to the grocery store doesn’t count. Find a local group of whatever you like to do to get involved in. Set a goal to go on a hike every Saturday in the summer months, etc. You must find more creative ways to get out do things than the ‘just walk outside your dorm room’ motto in college. But again, YOU get to be in charge of these things! Learn something new, push yourself, branch out, drop those bad habits by replacing them with new good ones. You get to choose and that is so exciting! You will now be a ‘hobby-person’ and its so fun! Your free time is your own now, no more papers. Go have fun!
Be thoughtful. Unfortunately you no longer get to just ‘show up’ at events. You are now expected to buy a gift for the family birthday party you are attending, you should bring a side dish for the family dinner, you should mail cards. Every family is different, but these are general expectations for most family/friend groups. You are no longer the poor college student tagging along with the fam, you are a grown up. Welcome to our world.
Get Organized. Even it is just a shoe box, designate one spot to toss all your important documents in. Because, believe me, when it comes to doing your taxes (for the first time or every year) already having these forms in one place will literally make all the difference. Even if you are unsure about it, toss it in the box now, sort it out later, be really glad you did.
Get a mentor. This doesn’t have to be all karate kid level. But find someone who is in one or two life stages ahead of you. Maybe they have graduated and have a great job and are settling into adulthood well or maybe they just had their first child or just got married. Whatever you feel is in your future, but isn’t like 40 years away. Hang out with them. Learn from them. Ask them questions. Listen to them. Observe them. Just watch what they are doing. Make sure it is someone you respect whom you feel is doing things the right way. When they bought a new car did they save up for a few months to a year and then buy a medium priced car that has a long-lasting value? Ask them how they did it, what they looked for, how long they planned it, who they asked questions too. Again, this is not a ‘person who has all the answers’ but rather a person ‘who is figuring it out and doing it well and willing to share what they found to be true and best’. This person should be level-headed, available, a friend, but not in your friend group per say. Just be their friend and you will learn so much and they may even cook you dinner…
These are the things that we get asked the most, preach from the rooftops and pray and hope for each person in a place of transition in their life. Please forward this on to someone who is approaching the upcoming transition season of graduation. And please add in the comments which of these things you did that was most helpful for you during your time of transition. Share any tips I missed that were really important for you and any resources you find most helpful!