What I Wish I Knew When I Graduated from College

It’s hard to believe it, but this month marks five years since I graduated from college. FIVE! I’ve been through a lot and learned a lot since that May in 2013, but it wasn’t so long ago that I don’t remember all the details of what that first year post-grad was like. So since this time of year has graduations galore, I thought I would share my wisdom and what I wish I knew when I graduated.

Best Gifts for Graduates

It's hard to believe that I graduated from college 5 years ago! Since this is graduation season, I thought back to the first few years after I graduated and pulled together a list of things that I wish I knew when I graduated.

No one knows what they’re doing – The older I get, the more I realize that adults generally don’t know what they’re doing. Sure, as you learn new things, you get better at stuff, but everyone is just trying their best. Don’t feel like you suddenly have to know how to do everything just because you’re a ~real~ adult now. Growing up, I thought that I would know how to do certain things by the time I graduated from college. Yeah, I knew that there would things that I wouldn’t know how to do because I had never dealt with them before, but I thought I would have a grip on this whole adulthood thing. Spoiler: I barely did, and most people I knew barely did.

TV shows and movies don’t accurately show post-grad life – Movies and TV shows don’t show the struggle to pay student loans and eat healthy, or the terrible mess that is apartment searching, or the stress of starting life almost from scratch. I felt like like a failure because my life didn’t look like the images I had of post-grad life and I was way more stressed than it felt like everyone else was.

It’s likely that your paycheck won’t go as far you think it will – Unless you’ve lucked out and gotten a high-paying job, it’s likely that you’ll be surprised at what your paycheck will and won’t cover. Part of this is because you may not have worked a job full-time before while also paying for rent, food, student loans, and more. Part of this is because your take-home paycheck after taxes and deductibles like insurance might be lower than you expected. Because of my health issues, when I was teaching, I had health insurance and short-term disability insurance in addition to federal and state taxes. This meant that my take-home monthly pay was lower than I thought it would be, and it took me a bit to adjust my expectations and budget accordingly.

Just because you have 6 months before you start paying your student loans doesn’t mean that you can’t start paying in that 6 months – What’s very kind is that you have a 6 month grace period before you have to start making student loan payments. But you don’t have to wait until that 6 months is up before you start paying! In fact, if you start paying earlier than 6 months, you can make your overall payment (the total you’ve paid once you’ve paid off all of your loans) smaller due to interest. So if you can afford it, it makes sense to start paying them off before.

Self-care is so important, and it’s more than just wearing a face mask – No one will take care of your mental health except you, and you have to be proactive about it. If you can avoid it, don’t schedule yourself to be busy every hour of the day so you don’t burn out. Make sure you spend time with friends and your support system. Cut out toxic people in your life. And yes, maybe some nights light your favorite candle and put on a face mask. But take care of yourself more than just that stereotypical view of self-care.

9 things I learned about life after I graduated from college.

Furnishing an apartment is expensive – Holy moly was I shocked at how much I ended up spending on my first apartment. I lived in the dorms for my entire time in college, and those came with a bed, desk, and bureau, so I had to find these for myself. Plus, I had to buy cleaning supplies and kitchen staples, among other things. At the end of that first week that I moved in, I was so surprised when I looked at my bank statement! Plan ahead for this, and if you can, spread the costs out so that you’re not paying for it all in one paycheck.

If you haven’t already, make sure your public social media is clean and professional – Okay, so I did technically know this before I graduated, but it’s still good to include here. Most of my social media was private, especially because I was a teacher and a) wanted to keep my private life relatively private and b) didn’t want students to find anything remotely questionable. (Not to say that I did anything questionable, but I didn’t want them to find even a picture of me drinking a margarita with friends.) But that school year was when I really got into blogging, and as a part of that, I needed to have public social media. I started using my public Twitter more, and then made the Facebook page, and then opened my Instagram to public. With these public pages – and the blog as a whole – my personal rule was that I had to be okay for my students to read everything. But a version of this is a good practice, even if you’re not teaching. For example, be aware that as a part of the hiring process, most companies will do a Google and social media search of you. Would you be okay with an employer or a potential one seeing your content? No? Go on private.

Save save save! – This is so hard when you’re just starting out in the world. Trust me, I know! But it’s so necessary. Even if you just save $10 a month, that’s something that you can use later. You need to do this for a couple of reasons. 1) You never know when something bad is going to happen. This could be anything, such as car trouble, a family emergency, or your computer breaking. 2) Maybe you’re not living paycheck to paycheck, but you still want to have more wiggle room! Whether you want to travel, buy your family nice Christmas presents, or whatever, having some wiggle room can make a big difference, at the very least for your stress level.

If you can afford to buy something of a higher quality that will last a while, buy that and not the cheaper version – This is another tricky thing because when you’re starting out in the real world (and spending money on your new apartment or paying student loans) you tend to lack disposable income. But there are some things that you really need to spend more money on if you can. This will save you money in the long run, but definitely don’t go into debt in the short term to fulfill this. Some examples of situations in which you should do that are tires, snow/cold weather gear, or health items. I had a really terrible March in 2014, which included two flat tires within a week. When I told my boss, she semi-seriously told me that I should have spent the money on new tires earlier in the year because this was costing more than it would have then. But I didn’t have the money for that due to a first-year teacher’s salary, my healthcare costs, and student loans. If I had, I definitely would have dealt with that earlier when I dealt with other car issues.

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