My mom went through a scrapbook phase while I was in high school. It started out as a fun way to document my and my brother’s journeys through those treacherous 4 years but ended as a type of torture that was considered borderline cruel and unusual punishment for her. However, both Neal (that's my bro) and I ended up with some damn good documentation of our sports highs and lows, proms, homecomings, and academic achievements and can now prove to our future children that we were, in fact, people before we became moms and dads.
Flash forward 9+ years, and there I was at my parents’ house flipping through those old scrapbooks, thinking about how at 18 I had no idea yet what the world was about the throw at me. I read over my valedictorian speech, the one where I was supposed to dole out all the wisdom I had gathered through my teenage years, and I realized that, at that point, I really didn’t have a whole lot of wisdom to share. There’s so much more I wish I could have told not only myself but my friends about what they were about to encounter out there beyond the confines of the small town in which we grew up. So I’m giving myself a second chance, an opportunity to tell all those newly graduated ladies (and I guess gents, too) what they need to know about money and life in general before cutting ties with their parents and starting on their journey of independence.
1) Life is not going to go the way you planned
At 18, I thought that by now (at the age of 27) I would have a great career, husband, and be one year away from motherhood. And you know what? I’ve got one of those, and it sure as heck isn’t the last two. To be frank, though, what you want for your future at 18 isn’t going to be what you want at 20 or 25 or 30. I gaffe at the thought of being a mom right now – 4 hours of sleep per night and poopy diapers? No, thank you. So don’t be worried when your life plan doesn’t follow the course you originally set or the life paths of your friends – the unexpected twists and turns are what make it interesting, and you just have to enjoy the ride while you’re on it.
2) Don’t be afraid to be you
I feel like so many of us think we have to act a certain way, be a certain person. I know I’ve been there – and honestly, I sometimes still battle with who I’m “supposed” to be and who I really want to be. But the fact of the matter is, when you follow your heart, you usually end up 10x happier. Don’t dumb yourself down or sit on the sidelines or pretend to be someone you’re not just to impress someone or because you are too scared of looking like an idiot. Loving yourself and your life is way more important than making sure others love you.
3) Student loans are not your friend
Here’s a little FYI: Student loans are not free money. Wait 6 months after graduation and then you have to start paying those babies back with interest, whether you have a job or not. So that $10,000 you used senior year to pay for that awesome apartment, nights out at the bar, and the Christmas present for your boyfriend has suddenly bloomed into 5 years of payments that total $12,000. The reality check? Student loans are an investment in your education, and you should be making sure you’re getting a good return on it. No one needs a Harvard degree (or the high tuition bills that go with it) for a degree that will only net you $30K a year. Be smart about choosing your degree and your school, and you will be thanking yourself later.
4) Someone will break your heart and you will get over it
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you’re anything like me, it will get broken more than once, too. Some guys just aren’t ready to bask in the rays of your awesomeness, and even when everyone is telling you you’re better off, it still sucks. But you know how they say time heals all? Well, it really does. I’ve learned that after you stop wishing for things in the past, you can finally start seeing all there is for you to take advantage of in the future. And trust me, this world is full of great people – so take time to grieve for what you’ve lost and then put it in your past. You don’t want to cloud your mind so much thinking about your ex that you miss the one who’s actually a keeper.
5) There is a time and place for partying
I am a firm believer in the phrase “Work Hard, Play Hard” – when I’ve busted my butt to accomplish something, you better believe I want to celebrate it just as eagerly. However, the key to this phrase is this: work comes first. My four years in college were some of the best of my life, and trust me, I did my fair share of partying; however, I never did it at the expense of my school work or commitment to my soccer team. Homework was always finished prior to any Thirsty Thursday celebrations and partying had to be held off until Saturday nights during soccer season. And even though I had those limits on me, I never felt like I missed out. Find your balance between school work and your social life, and you’ll have a great college experience (and one you won’t regret later down the road).
6) Credit cards are your enemy
Get ready for it – once you celebrate that 18th birthday, the one that magically transforms you overnight from a child to an adult, you will get bombarded with credit card offers. I still get a few every month or so. My best piece of advice? Throw them in the trash the moment you get them. Credit cards lure you in by thinking you now have a vehicle to afford things that you otherwise couldn’t. But guess what? You still can’t afford them. If you don’t have money in your bank account to pay for the items you are charging to your credit card, then that means you’re going to be paying interest on that purchase. And a lot of it. You want to graduate college with as little debt as possible, so just skip these guys until you are financially stable and go with a debit card instead.
7) Not all friendships are meant to last
Thought break-ups were just for boyfriends? Think again. I used to have a friend who was just toxic – it was like she was surrounded in a cloud of drama of her own creation, and anyone she came in contact with was sucked into it. After 6 months of dealing with it, I realized that it just wasn’t worth it, and that was that. Did she take it well? Not necessarily. Am I glad I did it? Damn right. Just because someone has been in your life for awhile does not mean that they deserve a spot there forever. Things change. People change. You are the decision maker regarding who you surround yourself with, and take it from me, you want it to be people who bring you up, not pull you down.
8) Once in a lifetime experiences should never be missed
One of my biggest regrets during my college years is never studying abroad. Never again will I have the chance to spend 3 months in a foreign country, immersing myself in the culture and food and language. It’s an opportunity that rarely presents itself, and I cannot tell you how often I’ve wished I could go back and make a different decision. Learn from my mistake: if you’re presented with the same opportunities, I urge you to take them. They may set you back a semester or a little bit of cash, but in the grand scheme of your life, those things mean very little. So spend your summer in Spain instead of padding your bank account with a minimum wage job back home, take that spring break vacation that may leave you broke by the end of the week, and stay out partying until 4am on a Wednesday night. It’s all so worth it.
9) Be open-minded
I’ll be honest – I grew up in a small town full of German-Catholics who thought it was weird if someone was Methodist or Baptist. Throw a Jewish person in the ring, and people were all in a tizzy. However, the moment I went to college, I realized that the entire world didn’t live inside the same bubble that I had grown up in – there were new ideas, new perspectives, and different opinions, and it was WONDERFUL. You are finally out from under the thumbs of your parents where you can actually start forming your own thoughts, and it’s a great time to actually discover who you truly are as a citizen of the world. No, you won’t agree with everyone’s beliefs about politics, religion, or whether or not the Egyptians really did build the pyramids, but being able to have those discussions intelligently and with an open mind will take you so much farther in life.
10) Guys want what they can’t have
If you think that by giving it up freely, guys will find you more alluring and want to be with you, well, you are an idiot. Guys like the chase – they want to pursue you, find you mysterious and frustrating, be on edge about whether you want them or not. It’s the competitor in them, and that’s cool. We, as women, just have to realize that. What am I getting at? If you want to be desired, stop being a slut and be a tease. Playing hard to get really is a thing. It’s as simple as that.
11) Learn the art of small talk
I cannot stress to you how undervalued this skill is. Being able to hold a conversation with a complete stranger puts you at a great advantage in all aspects of life – whether it is in job interviews, on first dates, or when you’re meeting his family for the first time. If you learn to do it correctly, you will leave people with the impression that you are educated and easy to get along with, both of which are great attributes to have in your arsenal (especially in the working world!). So get practicing, ladies – talk up your professor, the cute guy in your econ class, or the kid sitting next to you while waiting for the bus. The more you practice, the easier it becomes.
12) Make healthy habits a priority
Everyone hears the horror stories of college: late night study sessions fueled by pizza and coke, the freshman fifteen, binges that lead to beer bellies…the list goes on and on. Well, unfortunate as it may seem, there is some absolute truth lying in all those rumors. Let me tell you, it is easy to let your health slip by the wayside when you have all of that temptation thrown in your face. But now is the time when you start developing habits, good or bad. So skip the soda, find an exercise routine that you enjoy, and start finding balance in your diet. Your future self will thank you later if you do.
13) Don’t be afraid to be single
I was with my high school boyfriend for four years before we broke it off at the end of my sophomore year in college. It was strange not to have someone constantly by my side (literally and figuratively), but at the same time, I 100% loved it. I now had the opportunity to do what I wanted when I wanted with whoever I wanted. I had no one to answer to but myself, and in the process, I met a ton of new people, had some great experiences, and developed some lifelong friendships. And yes, there were times that I was a tad bit lonely, but giving up my independence for that reason alone didn’t make sense to me. So know this: there is absolutely nothing wrong with being single (and being single for a long time). You have all the time in the world to meet your future life partner – enjoy being single while you can. You’ll have the time of your life, I promise you.
14) Get experience
I was on the recruiting committee at my previous employer, which meant that for any internship or first-year position, I was the one looking over the resumes. Do you know what I realized? As much as your parents and professors push getting good grades, the real edge is when you have quality experience listed. Yes, I’m talking internships. Without one (or better yet two or three), your resume gets quickly looked over. Give yourself a fighting chance and start applying for these as soon as you can – and make sure they’re meaningful.
15) Live it up
Take risks. Kiss some boys. Make lots of new friends. Eat Taco Bell on a regular basis. Take a class in Greek mythology or bowling. Do things you normally wouldn’t do. Make mistakes. Learn how to play beer pong really well. Basically, just have a great freaking time. You’ll never get these 4 years back, and I’m here to tell you, you’ll miss them.