“What is your advice for new graduates?” asked a reporter friend who was writing a recent newspaper article.
“Learn how to budget money and be kind to people,” I replied.
On its face, that is really great advice. I know the value of this advice because, God knows, I’ve ignored the heck out of the first part since I first heard it over 30 years ago.
“Learn how to budget.” Yep. Just go learn that … somewhere. If I had a dime for every time someone threw that little tip at me, I wouldn’t need a budget! It is so easy to make a well-meaning suggestion without giving any sort of direction.
My father desperately wanted me to know how to manage finances. Every week, he handed me a stack of envelopes, stamps, checks and bills, and told me to address and mail them. I think he just desperately wanted to avoid doing that time-consuming busy-work himself.
I did learn something. I learned that electricity and water are really expensive. I remember thinking, “Shouldn’t these, technically, be free?”
I learned that there are bills to pay, and that they should be paid on time. Unfortunately, I left home without a single clue about budgeting. I had a “Monopoly Money” view of finances. It never occurred to me that I would have to write checks or would need a bank account with enough money in it to actually fund what was written on those checks.
There was an incredible phenomenon happening when I started college, as well. When I got to campus, I was immediately barraged with offers of “free money” (aka, credit cards.) How wonderful those were! I had $250 to just … spend! Credit reports and bill collectors were the farthest things from my mind. Not one of the people at those booths in the student union mentioned anything about how to use them responsibly. Interest rates? Late payment fees? Huh?
Once I started at Louisiana State University, I took quite a few courses that had nothing to do with my field of study, but were required to be completed before I could officially graduate. Not one of them had anything to do with budgeting.
To be clear, I’m not blaming anyone but myself for my bad choices or early mistakes with money. I do, however, think we need to back our worldly advice to young people with some truth and direction. Yes, there ought to be a course or two – or ten.
According to the American Psychological Association, money problems continue to be a major source of stress in this country – health and relationship-threatening stress. This fact is based on the economy to a great degree, but is also based on an even bigger issue that a lot of people seem to have: lack of money-management skills.
Many people are suffering because they are drowning in debt. Sure, they dove into the pool; but maybe if they’d known how to swim beforehand, they’d be able to stay afloat. (Yes, I did just use that very corny analogy.)
Ironically, my second bit of wisdom for new grads was to “be kind.” Perhaps one of the kindest things we can do, when telling someone where to go, is to give them a map or, at the very least, point them in the right direction.