My nephew is graduating high school this year. I was about to write in his card some uncle advice on saving money and creating a budget, but the thoughts in my head became too long winded that I ended up writing a post about it. Besides, what 18 year old is going to remember what’s written in a greeting card anyways? If he’s anything like me when I was his age, he’d just open the card, look for the cash/check/gift card and be done with it. So this one’s for you Abel, the kid that dragged me to the movies and made me watch the classic movie Sharkboy and Lava Girl when he was young.
The following are things I wish I knew when I graduated:
1. Save Money
It’s such a simple concept, but a lot of people don’t save. After I’ve been out of college for a few years, I spent money like it was water. All I had to show for all my hard work was a car payment and stacks of video games and DVDs, none of which I still own today. If you’re not saving for the future, you’re just treading water. Sure, I had some good times spending in my youth, but as I think back, I can’t remember where most of that money went. So it couldn’t have been THAT fun. If I saved a little more money earlier, my family would have been so much better off today. We probably would have had a bigger house, gone on more vacations, and had a lot more in our retirement accounts.
2. Budget, Budget, Budget.
Contrary to popular belief, budgeting isn’t simply checking to see if your bank account is positive. Budgeting is about priorities. When you budget, you’re telling yourself what is important in your life through your spending. Whether you make $20k a year or $5 million a year, everyone should have some sort of budget. I know it can be boring for people to keep track of your income and expenses, but it’s the reason why I don’t worry about money anymore. I budget for more important things like retirement, my daughter’s college savings, and even a car for my 1 year old daughter that she’ll need in 15 years. I’m not saying you need to give up fun things like going to the movies or eating out, but just be a little conscious of how much you’re spending so you can be better prepared for the future. If you’re not budgeting, how do you know if your money is really doing something worthwhile?
3. Open a Roth IRA
Most people know when they start working that they should open a 401k with their employer, but a lot of people don’t know about the magic that is a Roth IRA. As soon as you start making income you can open up a Roth IRA with a broker such as Charles Schwab or Vanguard. A Roth IRA isn’t attached to an employer, but something you set up on your own. This is great for people who have jobs where their employers don’t offer retirement or those who work part time.
Unlike a 401k where you’re taxed when you pull out your money in retirement, the earnings in a Roth IRA grow tax free so whatever is in your balance is exactly what you have. I opened a Roth IRA when I got my first job out of college and it’s one of the best financial decisions I made for my future. Shout out to my cousin Annabelle for setting me up with this about twelve years ago. Currently I have around $35k in my Roth, but if I saved just a little bit more each year the number would be closer to $100k. I spent the first few years with that account only putting in $50 each month.
Another awesome thing that’s great about a Roth IRA is that you can use it as a hidden emergency fund. Any contributions you put into the Roth IRA can be pulled out penalty free. While doing that isn’t something I’d recommend as you would be compromising your future earnings, it’s good to know that I can pull out money if I need it. Since I’ve discovered that awesome tidbit I’ve been maxing out our Roth IRAs yearly.
4. You’ll Figure Out Your Job Situation Eventually
When I was a kid, I asked my dad if he knew what he knew what he wanted to be when he was younger. He would tell me that he always knew he wanted to be an electrical engineer. This was a crushing blow to a kid growing up that didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up. Being an Asian kid who wasn’t very good at math and science didn’t help things either.
I never knew growing up exactly what I wanted to do. Hell, I’m not sure if what I’m doing today is what I want to do 5, 10 years from now. I think what’s most important is that you’re trying new things in an effort to find what you’re looking for. You might not be like my dad who knew what he wanted to do since he was a kid, but at least you’re eliminating what you don’t want to do. I have a nice job now because I wasn’t afraid to try different things in my career and go out on a limb whenever new opportunities arose. I have my wife to thank for this has she has always given me the courage to believe in myself.
5. Dream Big and Take Risks
You only live once, so live it up! Visit foreign lands, act in a play, read a book, play less video games. Do something every once in awhile that terrifies you. Spend those early years after graduation taking risks in your career – you can afford to make a few mistakes while you’re young. Especially if you have a decent amount of savings. Things like this get harder once you get older and the responsibilities of having a family makes your decisions more conservative. Once you get married and have kids – it’s all downhill from there. KIDDING. Just be sensible about it – you don’t want to get in crippling debt because you just HAD to go to every single Taylor Swift concert. The future is now. What you do today will affect your future.
I’m sure growing up I’ve been told some of this advice in some form or another, but for whatever reason it didn’t resonate with me at the time. It was probably because I was a lazy kid who didn’t worry too much about the future. I’m 34 now with a great life, great wife, and the most beautiful baby ever. So I don’t think that I did too bad for myself :). There are just times that I look back and wish I could’ve done a few things differently.
Happy graduation nephew. The world is your oyster. Whatever that means.
cover photo image credit: Suzi Walker