The Mandatory Graduate’s Guide: 10 Practical Tips for Life After College
Photo: Erin Patrice O’Brien (Getty Images)
Commencement isn’t just the end of your education; it’s the beginning of your real life. We were there once (and kind of wish we could go back). Adulthood isn’t easy, but those of us who have survived the tumultuous transition from college graduate to grown-up can help ease the sting with these simple life hacks.
This is America: Let College Kids Run Free In Their Underwear
You need a roommate (but only until you can convince a woman to shack up with you).
Rent is likely going to be your biggest expense; the more roommates you have, the less cash you flush down the toilet. While you might crave solitude (especially if you lived in a dorm throughout college), the first few years post-college are a prime time to save money for the bachelor pad you really want. If you meet a woman you can imagine living with, by all means, cohabitate. (Beware, though, that doing so increases the risk you’ll end up an unwed dad.) Bros before, well, you know.
Use public transportation as often as possible.
A car is one of the biggest money sucks in a budget. These are the lean years, when you must live frugally. Use public transportation. It’s not forever, it’s just for now. Your future (richer) self will thank you when you can finally afford that Maserati.
No, you can’t afford anything organic.
Hey, you, in the Whole Foods produce section. Put it down. Yes, the avocado, too. Locate the exit and get your ass out of there. The only way you’re allowed to come back is if they hire you.
Always accept free food.
Beggars can’t be choosers. If you’re invited to a work or social event that offers free food, put it on your calendar. Every meal you save on today means more money for a better meal tomorrow.
Yes, you need health insurance even though you feel invincible.
If there’s one thing we know about bodies, it’s that they break down. You don’t know when it will happen, but it will, so you need health insurance. Anything, even with a high deductible, is better than nothing. There’s nothing dumber than ending up penniless because your appendix went apeshit and had to be removed.
Student loan payments come due faster than you think.
You get a six-month grace period until your student loans payment start. That sounds like a long time now, but it will come quicker than you think. If your starting salary is small, ask your loan service provider (who you will get to know intimately over the forthcoming years) about your options. Income-based repayment can be a godsend until you start moving up in the world.
Stay away from credit cards (unless you have a parent willing to bail you out pre-bankruptcy).
If you can’t pay for it in cash right now, you can’t afford it. Period. While 0 percent APR and cash back credit card offers sound tempting, they’re just marketing tricks to get you in the door – and in debilitating debt. If you can’t pay off your credit card balance in full every month, you’re in for a world of hurt later (in the form of obscene interest rates), and possibly bankruptcy, which will haunt you for the rest of your financial life. Be smart and stick to those dolla dolla bills.
Now is not the time to start your own business.
Chances are you’re not the next Mark Zuckerberg. But if you’re smart, you already started applying to jobs pre-graduation. Take the best of your options (or the only option you’re offered, if that’s the case) and plant some roots. You can continue your job search on evenings and weekends, but for the first year after donning that cap and gown, your focus should be acclimating to the full-time working world. Once you have a solid financial base (like several months’ salary in savings), then you can consider risky business ideas.
Network, network, network.
This is the time to kick butt (metaphorically speaking) and take names (literally). Every professional function is an opportunity to chat up your superiors, collect business cards, and share your enthusiasm and ideas with your employer. If there’s someone whose work you admire in your industry, invite them to lunch and ask about their career trajectory. You just might get some pro tips without looking like you’re trying to steal their job from under them (which you totally are).
You will never again be as young and responsibility-free as you are right now. Yes, you might be broke, but everything else in your life is essentially flawless. You haven’t fucked up yet! Celebrate that fact. Save at least one day a week to do absolutely nothing (or something incredibly stupid). Someday, you’ll look back on this period of your life and feel wistful for it.