Many years ago, I wrote a letter to my nephew Will and godson Alton, outlining my advice on the pitfalls of their upcoming freshman year at college. After his freshman year I asked Will how much of the advice he followed. Being an honest lad, he responded, “none.” I then asked how much he wished he’d followed. Honesty seized him again, and he said, “all of it.”
Four years later, I decided to write another column offering advice on their transition out of college and into the real world. Life’s lessons come from making mistakes, and I felt pretty sure they’d want to make these mistakes for themselves … but I wrote it anyway, as following even one of these nuggets of wisdom would spare them some pain.
I should say some of this advice doesn’t necessarily apply to every kid … some graduate with the skills that companies are fighting for, and bidding on the good talent. My thoughts are largely targeted to the kiddos of 2023 who got a degree in something not as exclusive as engineering or computer fields … something like business, marketing, building science, or the liberal arts. I also based the advice on living in Charleston, where starting salaries are laughably low, and the cost of living is criminally high.
So, if you’ve got a newly graduated kid, feel free to steal-and-paste these thoughts, and claim them as your own.
First, the biggie: If your salary is, say, $40,000, understand you are now living in the horrid reality of “gross” versus “net.” The government(s) take a huge chunk, and you’re going to have to pay for car insurance, car repairs, property taxes, phone and internet access, food, clothing, shoes, rent, utilities and, perhaps, health insurance. You don’t know it, but in college you lived like a millionaire — either via Bank o’ Daddy, or loans you used to pay for tuition — and a nice apartment you didn’t need, sushi, gas for your car, and spring break.
Now you are broke, and need to be prepared for it.
You do not need a new car.
You do not need a new computer.
Do not get or use a credit card.
Do not get an apartment by yourself, no matter how much you think you “deserve” it. You spent four years drinking beer. You don’t “deserve” anything. Roommates divide up the bills. Along this same vein, do not buy a new TV, a new gaming system, or new furniture. One of the dummies you move in with will already have done this for you.
Do not let the amount of valuable stuff you own exceed what you can put in your vehicle. Once this occurs, you don’t own the stuff — it owns you.
Save some money for one good vacation each year. With a total of one or two weeks off for the entire year, you’re gonna need to do something fun. If you put a vacation on a credit card, you have the maturity and intelligence of a six-week-old Irish Setter.
Along that same vein, bachelor parties have gone from a boozy night at a strip club to a long weekend in Cabo. If you don’t have the money to pay cash, tell your friends you’ve got to work. By the time you pay off that bachelor party bill by eating ramen for two months, the next one will come along.
At some point in the next three years, you’ll decide you’re “just not feelin’ it,” and want to go on a walkabout somewhere exotic. Fine. But don’t even think about doing it if you don’t have a job lined up when you return. Interviewers will ask where you’ve been the past half-year, and I promise they don’t want to hear, “I left the people who trained me and turned me from a useless college grad into someone with actual value — but, you know, I wasn’t feeling it.”
No, they don’t “know.”
Maybe your parents will empathize with your feelings when you move into their basement, but the guys doling out white-collar jobs won’t.
Given the above advice, I implore you not to rationalize your quitting with, “Meh, I can always get a job in F&B when I get back.” You can, and F&B is an honorable profession if you treat it as a profession. Most don’t — and think they’ll just do it for a year or two. The problem is the money can be good, the people are mostly young and fun, and nobody knows how to party like the F&B crowd when they get off work at 1:00 am.
The lifestyle can be very addictive, and the “I make $200 a night” boast works fine until you’re 40 — and your college friends are making $200 an hour.
Buying a home is not an investment; it is a lifestyle choice. If you enjoy spending every weekend fixing stuff around the house, go for it. If you want to do something else on the weekend, rent. And for the love of all that’s holy, ask your parents about the hell of being “house poor.” Most people make that mistake at least once.
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If you rent, you are not “throwing money away.” You are paying for a roof over your head and an insurance policy that allows you to sleep like a baby knowing you don’t have to pay to replace the recently-exploded hot-water heater. Or anything, for that matter.
Here is what your boss and your company owe you: Nothing. Anything they give you beyond a paycheck is a blessing. If by some miracle your company offers a matching retirement program, max it out.
As soon as you can, put $1,000 in a growth and income mutual fund. Compound interest is a time-related thing —look it up. You won’t believe what “$1,000 invested at age 25” will grow into after 40 years. Literally, you won’t believe it.
You’ve heard great tales of the new “work from home” world. Forget it. Don’t ask. At this point, you have no skills worthy of working remotely. Just asking will put you at the bottom the pile, just above the kids with Gender Studies degrees.
Unless you are in a drawer with a tag on your toe, do not miss a day of work your first year. If you think you’re going to cough up a lung, wear a lung-colored shirt. You can consider calling in sick after a year.
If you get a DUI in the first five years of your employment, sell everything and join the French Foreign Legion. You have just ruined the rest of your life.
During the first few years of work, know that snow skiing, skydiving, snowboarding, rock climbing and motorcycle riding are done at your own peril. Unless you can add value to your company the day after shattering your hip, missing work for fun-related injuries is considered “extremely poor judgment” by most bosses. Managers don’t believe in “you only live once.”
Do not post anything considered irresponsible on social media again until you are 45. Do a search on “Vodka Sam.” That stuff doesn’t go away.
Every email you send will, one day, be read by the person you wrote it about.
Your boss will walk in the moment you are posting on social media.
Within a year, you will wonder how your company ever got by without you. If you want to find out, start voicing that opinion.
Tips are now 20 percent.
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Ask every person you know about their car mechanic. When someone loves their mechanic so much they get choked up discussing the topic, you’ve found your man.
You never knew this, but going to the dentist costs money. Do it anyway. Along those same lines, people with bright white teeth look successful. Pay your dentist to professionally bleach yours.
Write thank-you notes for gifts, meals, and kind gestures. Email does not qualify as a thank you note. Be a grown-up and get some stationary with your name on it, then use it. You cannot imagine the positive impression it will make on those older than fifty. Even though people over fifty aren’t cool, they matter — because they run the world and everything in it.
Taking your lunch to work all year will buy you an all-expense paid trip for you and your lady-friend to a 4-star resort in Mexico. Do the math and you’ll find I’m right.
Join AAA and carry jumper cables in your car.
Read the essay “A Message to Garcia.” Print it out. Reread it 1,000 times. Get it tattooed on your arm if it helps. Then live it.
Buy a gun for home defense and get trained on it — even it’s just a double barrel shotgun, which is so easy and safe to operate even Joe Biden can operate it. Take an on-line course on how home defense works. The odds are 99.9999 percent you’ll never need it, but it’s better to have a gun and not need it, than to need a gun and not have it … especially when you have a family you are responsible for.
Be creative when thinking about the path you’re going to take into the future. The current CEO of Walmart started as a bag boy, and has never left the company — they paid for every level of his education as he climbed through the ranks.
Remember as well very few of the people worth ten million bucks earned that money in a sexy job — chances are they found the un-sexiest business niche possible, got a job in the field, and after a decade started their own business. Everyone wants to work in the “creative fields, but who’s rich? People who own chains of refrigerated warehouses. People who own dumpster businesses. Middlemen, who find a way to make money by simply being an effective go between. Sure, it’s not cool to talk about refrigerated warehouses at a cocktail party — but it’s a lot easier when the cocktail party is on your private jet.
Remember to say prayers every day for our men and women in uniform.
Keep in mind that life is not fair. In fact, much of “adulting” sucks. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.
Finally, remember this: Don’t hoard your money, because wealth in and unto itself is pointless. Money does not buy happiness.
However, money does buy the freedom to make decisions down the road when you’ve earned some. Freedom to give generously. Freedom to come and go as you please. Freedom to send your kids to college on Bank o’ Daddy to the extent you choose. Freedom not to worry about many things that can crush the human spirit.
I’ve had times in my life when I earned good money, and I’ve had times when I’ve been poor. Having money is better.
So … good luck, and Godspeed. Remember, on their deathbed, no one has ever said, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.” In the same vein, no one has ever spent their last 20 years on their earth penniless, and said, “I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m glad I didn’t think ahead.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Prioleau Alexander is a freelance writer, focusing mostly on politics and non-fiction humor. He is the author of two books: ‘You Want Fries With That?’ and ‘Dispatches Along the Way.’ Both are available on Amazon. He hopes to have another title published soon, but that would require his agent actually doing his job, so it may be awhile. Oh, and if you want to see his preferred bio pic? Click here …
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Alternative viewpoint: You do deserve to have things. Things like affordable higher ed, affordable healthcare, affordable housing, affordable transportation. You deserve guaranteed vacation and sick leave. You deserve paid maternity/paternity leave. You deserve a living wage. You deserve to eat, to drink, to have electricity, internet, and be able to have entertainment.
All of these things actually can be provided to you, easily, without society so much as breaking a sweat. It isn’t as difficult or expensive as any of these guys are desperately trying to make you think. Higher ed isn’t expensive once you throw out all the wasteful spending most administrations have become addicted to. Many medicines, if sold at cost, would be so cheap that most people could afford them, and if they couldn’t, society could take care of that cost and not even bat an eye. Housing is only expensive because of profiteering and market manipulation. Transportation is only expensive because we’ve designed society around the automobile, and by extension fossil fuels, and have fought tooth and nail to prevent better city designs and robust public transportation because, well, that stuff doesn’t make certain people lots of money.
How many countries fail to guarantee their workers sick leave? Maternity leave? How much vacation time is normal in other countries? What about their minimum wage? How do you think they “afford” it? Wanna know the dirty little secret?
The people there demanded it, so they got it. Because it was fair of them to ask for that much. Because it is fair to expect society to provide for society, because that’s the whole point of civilization. Because they didn’t sit there and let sad little trolls tell them that living in squalor isn’t just something that happens should not only be expected, but accepted.
I’m sorry things are harder for you than they were for guys like Prioleau. Let’s fix that for the next generations. Never forget what they took from you.
Paying rent is still stupid. My house has doubled in value since I purchased it and it’s paid off–thanks to making a payment and a half to double payments each month (pro tip kids–do NOT buy at the top of what you qualify for–then you can pay more on the rent as you’re able and will eventually pay your mortgage off sooner). It will also serve as a retirement asset for you later. Renters? They have no equity or assets if they pay rent all their working lives–it makes for an ugly retirement scenario.
I concur with most of this advice. Beyond your God given rights, you “deserve” nothing. As a business owner for 42 years now, I’ve experienced a lot of changes in employee attitudes, few of them good.