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Every Breath You Take: Advice to My Former Self Thumbnail

Every Breath You Take: Advice to My Former Self

By Sarah Carlson, CFP®, CLU®, ChFC®

My daughter, Sue, is starting her career in Chicago and recently asked me for advice I would give my younger self at her age. Since I was 22, so much has changed, but more is still the same. The internet gives us information on demand, but so much of it is advertising and not relevant. Drinking from the information firehose can be challenging.

My advice to my former self cannot be broken down into one word or one category, but rather it is focusing on the balancing act that comes with a new position or career. So dear recent graduates, listen to this advice not from a financial advisor or a boss, but from a mother. A mother who has seen her four children battle the same obstacles that you find present in your path.

1. Prioritize self-care:  If you don't have your health, it is challenging to be a good partner, parent, friend, and employee. It does not take a lot of resources to take moments to decompress, such as meditation or a walk to unwind, but it is so important to take breaks throughout the day so you can focus when you come back to your tasks. Sleep is vital to have a rhythm and honor your sleep cycle; it is essential for your brain and physical health.

2. Live your life for you:  Having integrity, above all, is life advice that will allow you to live authentically. Never compromise your integrity for anyone, especially not for a love interest. True love embraces and supports your values; any relationship that asks you to relinquish your integrity is not worth your time.

3. Expressing yourself:  Another important life lesson is the power of words. How you express yourself verbally and in writing will be critical in your career regardless of industry. Investing in good writing skills and being willing to get feedback on your communication will only help you grow.

4. For financial health, understanding the proper place for insurance will serve you well. As a young adult, it becomes insulting to realize how expensive insurance is and not knowing why it is essential to reduce liability. An unspoken rule for insurance I wish I had known as a young adult is to have insurance cover the big stuff, not the small stuff. Self-insure through an emergency fund the little stuff, such as a device being lost or stolen, and save a high deductible and high limit for the big stuff, such as an auto accident that totals your car.

5. Find your Tribe:  An important step when a young person goes from being financially dependent to being self-sufficient is to have a system to understand where their money comes from and where it is going. If you use credit cards, review those expenses ideally at least weekly and not less than once a month. So many expenses people make are impulse buying, whether at a restaurant or another pair of black shoes. A system to reflect on those impulsive purchases will help you learn from your mistakes.

6. How to Afford the Lifestyle You Want: Taxes, yes, I remember being amazed at how much of my paycheck went to taxes, whether it was to Uncle Sam or Social Security. It's how our system works, and there is a saying, "The two things you can count on are death and taxes." You can earn more or spend less if you need more cash flow.

7. How To “Side Gig” in a Professional Work Environment: To make more money, do it outside your current employment agreement of hours committed, whether building knowledge or having a side gig. You and your employer have agreed to your work schedule. A future opportunity may be dependent on the recommendation of a past manager. My advice is that those past connections are important.

8. Pay Yourself First:  As you earn more, pay yourself first. Commit to an automatic savings program, whether to a savings account through your bank or your employer's retirement program. Understand your group benefits and take advantage of any matching contributions.

Every adult goes through a transition during their first years of being independent. The education of adulting is priceless, and lifelong habits and success will help navigate the change ahead. Money is like oxygen in that if you have more of it, you can only consume so much with each breath, and more oxygen does not mean more health, but on the other hand, if you don’t have enough of it, it can be suffocating and limiting. There is no “How To Enter Adulthood” checklist; however, there are things you can start doing now like budgeting your expenses, finding out what kind of work-life balance you want, and what activities feed your soul that can begin to help you navigate the new world of post-graduation.

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Important Disclosures:
Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.
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