When I began writing this, I started thinking about my graduation commencement speech. Truth is, I graduated only five years ago and I could not tell you a single thing that the speaker said. Commencement is a big deal; it is one of the few things in life that works every time. No matter what happens you will always remain a graduate.
So congratulations, you are now an adult! Welcome to the world of student loans. You think they are nice by giving you a whole six months to start paying them back but in reality you could use like six years. Not to mention the payment is as big as what you would pay for a car and you don't get the benefit of new transportation. Oh and remember how your parents used to pay your car insurance and phone bill- that's not happening. You thought you were broke through college when you could only afford Natty Lite and $5 pizza from Little Caesar's? Wait until the only thing you are eating is spaghetti and water from tap is the only thing you have to drink. I don't mean spaghetti like grandma makes with sauce, meat, and her secret ingredient; I mean cold spaghetti noodles with a hint of sauce drizzled on top. Now, I am not saying you will all be forced to live in a box with no electricity eating cold spaghetti and washing your clothes in the tub, but I am saying this is the reality of the real world. It is tough and you will fail. That sounds pessimistic but it is true. I know everyone always told you if you put your mind to it anything is possible, but that is just not how things work. You can't wish and poof, partner at a law firm. You have to fail and you have to struggle, but failure is a good thing. If you never fail in life then you lived too safely, and by default that makes you the biggest failure in the room.
If someone at my graduation would have told me I would fail multiple times in the next few years, I would have thought they were crazy. There is something about graduation that sticks you in this optimistic bubble. It makes you feel invincible and like nothing is out of your reach. By telling you that you will fail, I am not telling you not to try. True, you will probably fail more than you succeed, but struggle is what gives you character. Most importantly, struggle is a part of the process. When you struggle, you appreciate so much more. I have through my journey learned a few things that may help you along the way. I have struggled, succeeded, and learned a whole lot in the last few years.
When I graduated from college, I thought that I was never going to get by. My husband had not had a job for six months and we were struggling. My parents hadn't supported me since I was 16, so I knew that I could not rely on them. My husband's mother had two young sons and was not much better off than we were. We literally only ate spaghetti noodles for about a two months- tomato sauce was a treat when we could afford it! My husband was offered a job and that meant moving two hours away. It also meant that I needed another job but it was a relief to have more money coming in. Two months later, as soon as I began thinking we would be okay, my car completely broke. Who has the money for that? I had a credit card that I got in order to build credit, and I literally had to max it out just to get by. What were my choices- either not have a car, not work, and not pay any other bills; or put myself in debt and use a card I always swore was just to build credit. With that we were back to square one. Credit cards are NOT money! Credit cards use future income. The more money you use, the less money you will have in the future. Credit cards are debt machines, and I fell into their trap
Through my struggles I have learned a few things that will help you better navigate your way. When it comes to food- change where you shop, how you shop, and how you prepare. First make a list and stick to it. No impulse purchases! Second, grab a paper and bring the inserts that have all the sale prices for your local grocery stores. Third, grocery shop at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has low prices on everything you need and will price match. Learn to cook! I'm not talking Emeril status; just know more than how to boil water.
For all of your other purchases don't be impulsive! Don't buy something the first time you see it. Make thrift stores your best friend. Don't worry their Banana Republic top is the same as one from the store, and no one will know where you bought it. If anything, wear it with pride- you paid a quarter of what everyone else did! A great rule of thumb is to only use cash. How are you going to overspend when you have a set amount in your wallet? Pay your bills, get your gas, buy your food, and then take out your spending money. This way you avoid the overdraft fees, missing bill payments, and you won't use payday loans. Stick to what you have in your wallet and you will be fine.
Money controls more things than it should, yet it is so unpredictable. It controls where you dine, the clothes you wear, and the activities you do. When you have enough money, you can relax and it brings happiness. When you are short, the stress somehow seems to ruin your life. Your work suffers, your relationships suffer, and you might have to choose between food and paying your bills. The real world preys on the insecurities that money brings. It preys on the innocence of our generation and on our impulsive decisions. Society has many traps meant to dig us into a financial hole. Save! Save! Save! It doesn't matter how much, just do it. If you only have five bucks, save it. If you have $100 that's even better!
After college you are thrown into the real world. You will transition from a child and a student to being an adult, professional, father, mother, citizen, bread-winner, community leader, etc. You have to find a job, feed yourself, pay your bills, but you also want to have fun. You will want a car, eventually kids and a house. All of the decisions you make now play a role in obtaining the future you want. Actions have consequences and don't forget that. To be truly successful and happy, you need to be smart with your money.
While I do not remember my commencement speech, I do remember the memories I have made, the obstacles I have overcome, and the lessons I have learned since then. In the last five years I have struggled, succeeded, failed, and learned a whole lot. I learned that air mattresses can function as a bed for quite a while, and that if you rotate rice and pasta you don't get bored as fast. Most importantly, I learned that struggle is a part of the process. When you struggle you appreciate so much more. I wish I could tell you all the dangers to avoid, the secrets to make things easier, and the joys you should experience to get through these transitions, but you need to find your own way. Just remember, "The struggles make you stronger and the changes make you wise... And happiness has its own way of taking its sweet time (Gary Allen)."
This speech was written by Bryanna Rose, Louisiana FCU Marketing Assistant, as part of our submission to NerdWallet's Gen Y Credit Union Contest.