19 Lessons on Money and Life for 2016 Graduates

May is a wonderful time full of the fresh faces of new high school and college graduates ready to embark on this journey we call life.  First off, congratulations to all of you that have completed this phase of education and are ready to move onto the next phase.

Words of Wisdom

I know it's sometimes hard to take advice, but I wanted to impart a few words of wisdom that I've learned over my 30+ years.  After all, it's much better to learn from others' mistakes instead of repeating them for yourself, although I know it's tempting to do so.

First a quick note to all of the high school graduates.  When deciding on your major don't pigeonhole yourself into a very specialized degree.  Look for alternative ways to get into the industry you like.  For example, every company in the world uses technology in some form so if your passion is say health care you, but your natural skill set is for coding you can still work in the health care industry with a coding/IT systems degree.  Also, in your freshman year of college try to get in contact with people doing what you want to do to get a feel for what the job is really like.

Live Below Your Means

Now that you have a shiny, new income don't go out and spend all of it.  Try as hard as you can to still live like a broke college students' budget.  You'll thank me later!  Your income, or rather savings, is the fuel for your financial life.

Spend Consciously

Resist the urge to go buy a fancy new car or buy that new 60" 4k high-definition tv or whatever else catches your eye.  That doesn't mean I suggest that you hoard all of your money, but rather spend consciously.  The stuff that you buy will quickly lose its luster, but do

Spend On Experiences

Do spend your money on experiences.  One of my biggest regrets is not doing more travel with my friends when I was still single and my expenses were ridiculously low.  You won't be telling your grandchildren about that tv you bought when you got your first job; however, that trip you took 30 years ago with your friends to the middle of nowhere and had the time of your life.  That's priceless.

Stay or Become Debt Free

College is expensive, but if you were lucky enough to come out the other side debt free congratulations because you have a huge leg up on those that weren't as fortunate.  If you find yourself in the latter group then that's the hand that you have to play with.  So live below your means and pay off your debt as fast as you can.  Find out every debt that you have and develop a plan to get rid of it.  Do something simple like pay the minimum payments on all of the debts and then every extra dollar you have goes toward the one with the smallest balance.  Once that debt is gone move on to the next smallest debt.  Before you know if you'll be out of debt.

Invest for the future 

Now that you're out of debt continue to live below your means and invest the difference.  That can be through a workplace retirement savings account like a 401k or 403b or Traditional/Roth IRAs or a plain old taxable brokerage account.  Each account has its own pros and cons, but don't let that deter you from getting started with investing.  If you aren't sure what to invest in get started with a simple whole stock market or S&P 500 index fund while you learn the ropes.

Compound Growth Takes Time

Get started investing as quickly as possible.  It's much better to let time do the heavy lifting to build up your nest egg.  If you invest $5,000 once and earn 7% per year it would grow into $19,300 20 years later.  If you wait 10 years to invest that $5,000 you'd only have $9,800 at the same 20 year mark.

Take All The Free Money You Can Get

Many employers provide matching funds to your 401k that might look something like this.  Employer matches up to the first 4%.  So if you invest 4% of your income into your workplace retirement savings account they add 4% too.  That's got to be the easiest way to double your money.

Strive for Financial Independence

Financial independence is gaining in popularity but it's still a long ways from being the norm.  In case you don't know financial independence is getting your investments (stock market, real estate...) to provide enough income to cover all of your annual expenses.  When reach financial independence you have the greatest thing you can have: options and flexibility.  That doesn't mean you can't work, but it means you don't HAVE to work.  You can take bigger risks with your career or move into a completely different industry that you have a passion for and gives you "emotional" income.  The worst case scenario of going for financial independence is that you change your mind 10 years down the line and have a nest egg with hundreds of thousands of dollars in it.  That's a great position to be in.

Your boss will never care about your job as much as you do

Don't rely on your boss to take care of you and your career.  You have to take it into your own hands and control your own destiny.  It's important to remember that your bosses job is to pay you just enough to keep you a happy and productive employee.

Invest in yourself by starting a side hustle

Start a side hustle TODAY!  The internet is a huge opportunity for you to get started by either blogging/writing or building up an online storefront.  Or you can go a more traditional route and do something like mowing yards or just about anything else.  The opportunities are limitless and the rewards can be huge.

Learn to Cook

Cooking for yourself has so many benefits.  You save money.  It's healthier than eating from a restaurant or a box.  And it's impressive to the ladies.  Do it!

Give to Others

Make sure you're giving to others.  You can give to your church or the homeless guy on the street or any number of great charities.  If you don't have room in your budget, remember that you can always give your time.

If You're Going to Do Something Give It Your All

Don't do anything half-assed.  Your job.  Your relationships.  Your side hustle.  Anything.  Whether you're successful or come up a bit short, you'll be much better off in the long term knowing that you did everything you could.

Always Be Learning

Your formal education might be done, but that doesn't mean you stop learning.  Find something you want to learn more about and seek out knowledge.  Also, read books!

Take Care of Your Body

Your health is the most important thing that you have and you need to always be looking for ways to improve it.  Our society constantly tells us that we need to go, go, go all the time but you always need to set aside time to take care of yourself.  Health issues usually don't pop up overnight, rather they slowly creep up on us over time.

Keep Your Family Close

Family is another one of the most important things in your life.  Spend time with them.  Talk to them.  Keep them in your life.  Life is so much better when you get to share it with others.  Also, family doesn't mean blood related.

Come up with 5 year plans

5 year plans are essentially guidelines for where you want to be 5 years down the road.  It could be financial or career related, but come up with plans so you have a guidebook for how you'll get there.  And do at least one thing every day to move you towards your goal.

Don't Be Afraid to Fail

Within your lifetime you're going to fail thousands of times.  Failure isn't the end, rather it's the beginning of your journey to success.  Don't believe me how about a quote from one of the greatest fail-ers of all time, Thomas Edison.
"I have not failed 700 times.  I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work.  When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work" - Thomas Edison
What other words of wisdom, financial or otherwise, do you have for all of the recent graduates?

Image provided by iosphere via FreeDigitalPhotos


  1. Read one chapter out of the Bible every day, and when you read it, ask yourself, "What is God trying to say to me?"

  2. Nicely said JC. Very comprehensive. I don't know that I could have come up with that many bullet points on my own. I would add that they should take the time to know themselves, and what they want out of life. We're bound to be disappointed and left feeling empty if we live our lives the way others think we should. Instead, we each need to determine what we want out of life.....what we need to feel fulfilled......and pursue that lifestyle.

    I hope your week is going well so far.....and the weather doesn't get too bad in your neck of the woods

  3. Great advice for all of us, not just graduates. I will share this with my 3 college age daughters.

    DGI Novice


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