By: Baylee Alerding
Like a lot of kids, I got my first job in high school. Earning my own money for gas, clothes, and entertainment gave me my first exposure to what felt like independence and control. I guess this was supposed to teach me responsibility, too.
But no one ever talked to me about money. I had no clue how to save, budget, or plan. Habits I developed at age 15 took root and were tough to break. Actual financial responsibilities eluded me.
Luckily, when I graduated from college, I landed a job with FJY, and I started to learn. The influence of people who understood and were confident about money began to change the way I thought about money. Reading our blogs furthered my understanding.
Eventually, I wasn’t so intimidated by money anymore. I gradually gained confidence in myself and my ability to handle my finances. I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve started taking steps down the correct path.
I’m extremely proud to say that I now have a solid budget and a nice cushion of savings. I feel capable of planning for big life events when the need arises. I even have an office full of financial gurus to ask for advice.
Still, it would have been better to know these things before. Basic financial literacy is an important skill that helps anyone to be better prepared for life.
Here are the top three things I wish I had learned earlier:
Throughout college, I worked as a server. But instead of building a cushion, I blew through all my money as soon as I got it. My mindset was usually, “I can spend this money because I work tomorrow, and I’ll walk out with a bundle of tips.”
But I couldn’t depend on the bundle of tips all the time. My expenses, on the other hand, reliably loomed. Those slow nights at work are a little scarier when you have bills to pay that week.
I knew other people had budgets, but I had no clue how to even get started. I didn’t understand the concept, and I didn’t think I had enough money. This blog probably would have helped a lot.
When I did finally learn to budget, the stress in my life diminished significantly. I had to try a couple of different approaches, but I found that using a budgeting app on my phone works best for me.
Once I figured out budgeting, I realized I had spent four years needlessly stressing about bills that I don’t even think about anymore. Now, everything is set up on autopay, and I know I’m covered.
The Importance of Saving
I never had any savings until last year. As I mentioned, my time in college was just about keeping up with my bills. If there was something I needed to save for, I saved up the exact amount and then emptied the account. No one ever taught me about the importance of having a savings, and I thought it was normal to be a broke college kid.
But another benefit to budgeting is it helped me to start saving. One of the earliest lessons I learned at FYJ was to pay myself first and establish a rainy-day fund. I didn’t really get it, though. I thought maybe I’d use my savings to pay for a vacation one day.
Then I needed new tires. My dad had always taken care of the big car expenses before. (Thanks dad!). But now that I’m working, it’s was on me to come up with the $500. That kind of unexpected expense would have normally sent me into a tailspin. Before, this would have meant deciding between buying tires or paying my student loans that month. But now, all I had to do was use some of my savings. It finally clicked. I understood why it’s so important.
This was a whole new world to me. I had always been so stressed about money. Just able to buy tires was a huge deal. I, who had always been terrified of and terrible with money, saved myself an unbelievable amount of stress because I had followed one piece of financial advice: Pay Yourself First.
College was not optional in my family. After high school, you were expected to go to college. Period. I also very much wanted to go to college and start a “real” life. But I had to pay my own way because I’m the youngest of 6. College degrees are not cheap. Now I have some hefty student loans. I knew I would be in debt when I graduated, but I didn’t fully understand what that meant.
It’s not easy or fun to start your adult life with a mound of debt. But if student loans are your only option, take the time to do your research. You should understand how student debt will affect life after college. It may mean living with your parents for a bit. It may mean sacrificing in some other areas. It also may mean postponing some important life events like getting married or buying a house.
I chose to live with my mom because this allows me some extra financial flexibility to travel, shop, go out with friends, and all the other things that make life enjoyable for me.
FJY has taught me that money shouldn’t be scary, even if it’s a pile of loans I’ll still be paying in my 30s. They’ve taught me that no matter how bad you think you are with money that it’s easy to change course if you’ve got the right team behind you. There’s always new skills and new lessons to learn that will make life less stressful and more enjoyable all while setting yourself up for a bright future.