Financial Literacy

My New Financial Reality in the “Real World”

In many ways, graduating from college feels like freedom. Freedom from pulling all-nighters to finish that research paper. Freedom from assignments that make you ask yourself the question, “Am I really going to apply this in real life?” Freedom from the antagonizing and omnipresent pressures of keeping up your GPA.

But financially, graduating has felt like anything but freedom. It’s the beginning of rent checks, student loan payments and utility bills. It’s facing the reality that you may have to forgo luxuries you previously could have never imagined going without: a gym membership, frequent dinners out with friends, and weekend trips to see college friends whom you’d dutifully promised you’d make time for.

When I graduated from the University of Southern California in May, I had big plans: travel the world for six weeks, sign a lease on an apartment in San Francisco and finally buy a new car.

I did travel this summer – which was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and worth every penny – but the time abroad set me back in my ability to start this new chapter fully financially independent. I started a job in August and was looking forward to reaping the rewards of my paycheck. When I factored in taxes, the amount on my first paycheck went from being exciting to adequate.

The possibility of paying rent in one of the most expensive cities in the world became intangible (at least for now). Suddenly, moving back into my childhood home and saving roughly two thousand dollars a month sounded remarkably appealing. With a loan from my parents, I was able to buy that new car – but it’s safe to say I’ll be paying them back for a long, long time.

Lessons like these are all too real for recent college grads like me as we begin to navigate the financial twists and turns of the “real world.” I won’t pretend that I have all of the answers, but in my few months of post college experience, I’ve learned a few critical things about my money that no textbook can teach. So to my fellow college grads, here are a few pieces of advice:

1. Make a budget and stick to it! I allocated funds for rent, car payments, food, loan payments and social activities. Whatever your costs may be, it’s important to set a target spending amount for each category and stay within those limits, regardless of temptation.

2. Contribute to a 401(k) or other company sponsored plan. It’s free money! Although it might feel strange to put money away that you won’t see for decades, I can guarantee your older self (and your bank account) will thank you for it!

3. Recognize you might not be able to afford some luxuries that you’re used to having, and be okay with that. Remember that almost everyone else your age is in a similar situation, and will want to save money, too. So don’t be afraid to talk about money with your friends! You might just learn something from one another.

4. Get organized with personal finance tools like Mint and Mint Bills. You can understand your spending habits, create budgets, and see and pay your bills all in one place. Now is the time to create healthy financial habits before you have the chance to make unhealthy ones.

No one said life after college would be easy, but taking control of your money now is key to a healthy financial future. Now that’s freedom!

Cecilia Callas is a recent graduate of the University of Southern California working in tech. Outside of making a budget and sticking to it, Cecilia loves international travel and the company of good friends.