7 Tips for 2017 Graduates

5 July 2017

I LOVE that there are college gals and grandmas alike who read Em for Marvelous, since I love learning from people both younger and older than me! I was tickled pink when one of the requests I received in my survey earlier this year was for a post about my advice for new college graduates. Since our 2017 graduates are just beginning to settle into life off-campus, I thought now would be a perfect time to offer a few thoughts. Here goes, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments…

1. Start now. At 22ish, your adult life is in many ways a blank slate, so fill it with as many good habits as you possibly can. It is SO much easier to start well than to have to break a bad habit later on, whether the habit is drinking soda every day, being a couch potato, or racking up credit card debt.

2. Join a church. This tip is mostly for folks who are already Christian (but if you’re not Christian and curious, I would definitely recommend visiting a few churches to see what you think!). Instead of waiting until you have kids to find a church home, find one now! It is so important (and can also just be so fun and lifegiving!) to have a church family, especially if you are far away from your actual family. Churches in general have a bad rap on programming for young adults, but from what I’ve seen many of them are really trying to turn that reputation around with a greater focus on and cool ideas for 20 somethings. Give the local church a chance. I loved Val’s thoughts about this here, and wrote a bit more about finding a church myself.

3. Revel in your scrappy season. I recently looked back at a few photos of our first apartment and was reminded how frugally we lived in that season. We didn’t have a washer or dryer. Our mattress was on the floor. There was more than one table made out of a cardboard box :) But it was fine! Your early twenties are the PERFECT time to live below your means, because your peers are mostly doing the same (which means less pressure to keep up with the Joneses).

And don’t just tolerate this season, but EMBRACE it! Get fired up knowing that you are getting ahead by living below your means now. Buy things off Craigslist when you need them. Learn to cook a few cheap and healthy meals. Pack your lunch. Seek out free entertainment. And remember this:

People think of whatever they were raised in as the baseline for a decent life. In other words, they think they are supposed to start where their parents ended up. But your parents took decades to attain the lifestyle that you now think you’re supposed to reach in your mid-30s at the latest. (Megan McArdle)

4. Don’t be afraid to find your mate. Friends, I’m not going to go all Princeton Mom on you. But as someone who was happy to get married at 25, I guess all I’m trying to say is if the right person comes along, don’t be afraid to get serious. And perhaps don’t just “wait until the right person comes along,” but spend time actively pursuing that right person. Being married to John is the greatest blessing of my life, and I’m glad we’ve gotten to grow up and experience so much of life together.

5. Start saving money. If you haven’t already read my thoughts about the magic of compound interest, go do so now. Time is the most powerful part of the building-wealth equation, and it’s the ONLY part you can never make up. Wealth gives you freedom – freedom to give generously, freedom to retire early, freedom to visit your family, freedom to travel the world, freedom to save all the pets, freedom to _______ (fill in the blank with whatever matters most to you). It’s a good thing.

6. Learn how to use money. If your history with money is rocky at best and I’m making you nervous with all this money talk, know that you can flip the script inside your own head right this minute. Decide you’re going to be a smart money person from this point on, and then do something about it! (Trust me, few things feel as good as feeling in control of your financial situation.)

A few places to start? Consider signing up for Financial Peace University* (or read Total Money Makeover). Learn how to spend money. Pay off credit card debt and never get it again. Sign up for eBates. Work to get the three big purchases right. Read this post by Ben Carlson. Read all of my past Marvelous Money posts :)

7. Don’t think you have to move away. Or at least, place a value on living near your family like everything else as you weigh options for your post-college life. If you haven’t read this post yet, you might find it a bit chilling – I did. I think our generation is so transient, mobile, and “connected” that we sometimes forget that settling down near our families and/or where we grew up is a worthy option — after all, even if we live across the country, we can still FaceTime, right? It seems like a no-brainer to follow an opportunity, and that giving up an opportunity to stay near one’s family might be looked down upon. To be honest, I didn’t think much about the long-term possibility of never living near my family again when I moved away at 22. Would I do it again? Almost certainly. But I don’t think I thought about it quite enough at the time, and I want to make sure you have that option.

Is anyone surprised that three of my seven tips involve money? No? :) Friends, I would LOVE to hear if any of my thoughts resonate with you, or if you have any piece of advice (big or little) for our new grads or early twenty-somethings! I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

*If you’re curious about FPU, sit tight! I have a post you will love coming soon.

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July 5, 2017 9:23 am

All of this is such excellent advice! Especially the bits about money and considering your hometown as a valid option. I live away from my hometown, but in my husband’s, and the in person time he has with his oldest friends and family is something I’m always jealous of. I’d add a bit of career advice-now is the time to work hard and build your skills and reputation. Depending on your workplace, the decision makers (and issuers of promotions and big opportunities) may have some preconceived notion about young folks, and you may have to work twice as hard to show that you’re not a lazy, entitled millennial (I know I felt like I had to, even though I feel like that notion of my generation is unfair). Show up early, stay late, ask questions, and take every opportunity that comes your way. Build relationships even if you know you’re not in your dream job just yet-it will always pay off!

July 5, 2017 10:21 am

As someone who felt strongly (at the “mature” age of 17) about leaving my home state to venture far away for college and to remain far away after college, I really appreciate that you included #7. New England is now home for me because this is where my husband and I have settled down and where he has always called home, but I will always love Ohio and wish for the more affordable, less trafficy, and friendlier lifestyle in the Midwest!

July 5, 2017 11:30 am

As always, such a great post with tons of wisdom! I especially love #4 as a welcome change to lots of advice I’ve read/heard/received that says the opposite and that serious relationships or marriage before a certain age signals loss of independence. Done correctly, marriage is a wonderful blessing, allowing and encouraging the other person to grow, learn, flourish, and become fully who they were made to me. I think you and John model this principle so well.

July 5, 2017 10:27 pm

I love these tips! Even if I’m not a graduate. :) Your hometown tip is a great one. My husband and I live 5 hours from our families, and that has been one of the hardest struggles for me. We love where we live, but it’s definitely difficult at times iving away from our loved ones. Like you mentioned, I don’t think I’d change where we are now, but wish I would have given that more thought. My tip would be to give yourself grace to try new things and to fail. I was so fixated on trying to do “all the right things” and got hung up when my plans didn’t work out like I envisioned. In hindsight, I wish I spent less time worrying and more time trusting the Lord’s plans were going to be much greater than I imagined! I’m so glad things turned out different from what I planned! God’s plans have been far more rewarding.

July 6, 2017 10:49 am

Oh I love this! Thank you for sharing!

Carly Totten
July 7, 2017 12:02 am

Oh, Em. The article from Wait But Why made me cry. I still live in my hometown, and I’m fortunate to spend so much time with my parents (I’m an only child, and we’re best friends if I’m really honest!). I struggle with staying or leaving, but I try to keep in mind what this season is: precious. The article makes me want to stay in a big way! I know without a doubt I would miss them terribly. Thank you for the sweet reminder. xo

July 10, 2017 3:38 pm

Thanks for including the link to our post! This was such a great read and I’m so past college but such good advice Em!