It’s a little early to be thinking about college graduations, but they’re coming up in about a month. Last year, my little sister graduated from college and move here to start graduate school. I was thinking on Sunday about what would have happened if she hadn’t chosen to go straight to graduate school and the advice I’d have given her.

1. You Can’t Afford It

Can’t afford what? Pretty much anything. Unless you’re starting a high-paying job you can’t afford to live in a big apartment, buy a house, buy a new car, buy fancy equipment, etc. You won’t be able to setup a home like our parents had and that’s ok. You can find roommates, look for deals on things you really do want, prioritize, earn a little money on the side, and make some things happen. And you can be very happy with hand-me-downs, thrift store furniture, etc.

This applies even to people without debt. My sister and I were both fortunate enough to graduate college without any student loans (and she now has a full tuition scholarship + a job and stipend) but even if she’s not in debt she should be (and is…she’s my sister) careful with her money.

1a. …So Make a Budget

If you didn’t budget during college, this is the time to start. Think of it as a spending plan or a plan for your money if that makes it feel less restrictive. Use it as a tool to prioritize what you need, what you really want, and figure out if you have anything left over to play with.

2. Get Ready for Rejection

Not the direct kind either, the indirect rejection of companies not even bothering to acknowledge that they don’t want you for the job. It’s not personal, they just have more applicants than time.

It can make you feel like you’re invisible. You’re not. Don’t stop trying.

In my case, I had to start with a placement agency and move on from there.

3. Be Willing to Do Work You Don’t Like…

My first job out of college was really boring. It had only about 4 hours of work to do in an 8-hour work day. I worked hard to find and make meaning there, but it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing with my life and I knew it. Since I needed a job, I worked there and I tried to do a good job while I looked for something I liked. Remember that the person who’s your boss is the one you’ll have to use as a reference when you apply for a better job.

It can be easier to apply for jobs when you’re already working. I found that to be the case when applying for the job I currently have.

Even if you do get into a field you’re passionate about, it’s unlikely you’ll get your dream job right out the gate. Use it as a chance to figure out exactly what you do want to do and make connections accordingly.

4. …and Know When to Quit

There’s a difference between a job you don’t like and one you hate. And there’s a difference between one that you hate and one that’s crushing you. Unfortunately, my first job out of college turned into one of those crushing ones.

My boss had started there just like me as an English major fresh out of college. But years of doing it had warped her general outlook on the job and life in general (though I get the feeling she wasn’t ever an optimistic person). I’ve worked for/with people who didn’t like their jobs, but this boss dragged me down in a way no one else ever has. And when she suggested that with hard work I might end up where she was, I died a little.

Micah was the driving force behind my decision to leave. I hadn’t found a full-time job yet, but I had one part-time job lined up and was still figuring out how exactly I was going to make ends meet, but I just had to go and he told me that we could make it work. And it worked.

Whatever you do, don’t let yourself get sucked into a job you don’t like because it’s comfortable. Use the waystation job as a place to build skills and keep sending out applications.

5. Mix-and-Match

You don’t have to have just one full-time job…and sometimes they’re hard to find. For the next year after I quit my first job, I mixed two part-time jobs with freelance work.

Ideal? No, but it gave me a chance to work in libraries and confirm that it was a field I wanted to stay in. If you can’t get a full-time job doing what you want, look for part-time work and supplement it with something else.

6. Or Look Outside the Box

Not everyone has the personality to be an entrepreneur. But you might, or you might be able to make it work while you’re looking for the job you love.

Don’t expect that you’ll get it right the first time when you make an entrepreneurial start. I began by trying to make crafted goods, realized that I just wasn’t interested enough and quickly transitioned to writing/editing. While I could make writing work, it wasn’t something I liked nearly as much as working with WordPress blogs. Don’t be afraid to try. Then learn from how things went as you take the next step.

7. Save for Retirement

Odds are good you’re not going to retire for another 40 years. Actually, they’re looking more like you’re not going to retire for another 50. But that doesn’t mean you can forget about retirement because you’re nowhere near retiring. Even if you don’t yet have a company match, put something away. If you’re not earning much, then this might be a good time for a Roth IRA. You’ll thank yourself later.

If you save up the money to retire before you need to, then even if you don’t want to you’ll be able to if you change your mind or the need arises.

8. Don’t Forget to Make Friends

This is especially hard and important if you’re working multiple jobs. If you’ve moved to a new city, if you’ve found yourself cut off from your college connections, make an effort to meet people. If you can’t meet them IRL, meeting people online who share your interests is a good place to start. And many groups now have an online presence which helps you find people locally.

9. Money Isn’t Everything

When you start working full-time, your life begins to revolve around your work (even more so if you’re an entrepreneur). Just remember that there’s a reason you go to work, and ultimately that’s to finance your life. (Unless you have a job doing exactly what you want to spend all your time doing, in which case—win!)

Money is great because it can buy you time and help you do what you want to do. You can buy project supplies, pay to travel, take time off work without worrying about starving. But remember that it’s a means, not an end. Stuff isn’t an end either. Life is a precious thing and you don’t want to miss it while you’re working for the future.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t defer some things until you can afford them better or shouldn’t concentrate on some things now. Just be sure to do things you love when you can.

My two cents from my own experience.

What would you tell a younger sibling starting out? Or what advice have you given younger friends, family, and coworkers?


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April 9, 2010 at 9:25 pm

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Vicki April 5, 2010 at 11:00 am

wise advice indeed

LenciB: Falling Into Favor April 5, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Good advice. I need to pass this post along to my sister’s friend who is planning on entering grad school. She plans on taking out student loans and not working. That just didn’t seem like the wisest idea to me, because she seems to not have her career goals planned out. Thank you, hopefully this will help her see other angles.
.-= LenciB: Falling Into Favor´s last blog ..The Resurrection of Easter =-.

Ken April 5, 2010 at 8:08 pm

I would encourage them to start making a budget and live within their means. I would strongly encourage not taking any more student loans than absolutely necessary. Lastly, make saving a HABIT FOR LIFE.
.-= Ken´s last blog ..6 Shortcuts to Financial Independence =-.

Laura April 9, 2010 at 8:55 am

Two of your items really resound with me — 1) make friends and 2) Know when to quit. After graduating from college I was lucky enough to find a job where I made real, life-long friends. Sure, the pay was hideous, the bosses mediocre, but I did meet some wonderful people — and it’s important to have support when you are broke, in a new city, and at a unsatisfying job. And know when to quit! Especially if you are a generally loyal/hard-working type person, like most of the people I know who read/write personal finance blogs…

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