I graduated from college in 2004 which makes me a Millennial, an older version, but a Millennial none the less. Millennials tend to be highly educated, independent, and laden with student loan debt. I was ready to conquer the world in 2004. Armed with my degree and a crazy amount of ambition I got my first job and made a good living. I got married and my husband and I rented an apartment close to his grad school. My path could have gone a couple of ways. I was supporting both of us and we were living below our means. Our 1993 Camry was on its last leg, we had never taken a vacation together. We could have lived a pretty fabulous life in those early years of marriage, but instead of upgrading and living large we chose to continue to live like college students for a couple more years.
I was fond of college life. I didn’t have much but I did have everything I needed and I was still able to enjoy myself. Being that it was an enjoyable existence it wasn’t too much of a stretch to continue that lifestyle after graduation. In essence, I didn’t know what I was missing.
Millennials have learned form their parents, both good and bad. We have seen how living a life of excess and living outside of our means can lead to working well past retirement age and not having much to show for it other than stuff. Millennials as a group are fiscally conscious, as a group they want to pay off debt and save, as well as have a career they can control. But, as with any generation, the allure of living a glamorous life is appealing. With a substantial paycheck burning a whole in your pocket it can be difficult to keep things as they are.
Here is what my life looked like 1 year after college:
- My husband and I lived in a one bedroom apartment within walking distance of my husband’s grad school.
- We had one car, a 14-year-old Camry station wagon.
- Our furniture was given to us from family, or gifted to us for our wedding.
- We cooked our meals at home.
- We cleaned our apartment building once a week in exchange for discounted rent. (my first side hustle!)
- We had no cable and basic prepaid cell phones.
- Our entertainment consisted of walks around our cute little town, dinner out at an inexpensive pub, and anything we could use a student discount on ($5 baseball tickets etc.)
- We worked a lot. I was at my job and hubs studied.
We had a goal in mind. We wanted to buy a house after grad school, we wanted to buy a car because we were pretty sure Jakey ( yes the station wagon had a name) was not going to make it much longer. We wanted to pay off my relatively small student loan. I married a like-minded man, we are goal driven and like to conquer what’s in front of us.
After 4 years here is what we were able to accomplish:
- We bought a beautiful but modest house in our price range, well below what the bank approved us for, with a sizable down payment.
- We bought a new car, our first new car ever! We timed it right and got a 0% loan for 3 years on a $20,000 car.
- We paid off my student loan. I was lucky enough to have less than 20K in debt coming out of college.
- I had amassed roughly $10,000 in a 401K through my employer.
What did we learn? What can you take away from our experience?
A lesson in compound interest. Choosing to live large and make minimum loan payments right out of college will hurt you in the long run. If you have a loan head over to bankrate and play around with this calculator. Depending on the loan some interest will compound quarterly, monthly, even daily. Simply put, the sooner you pay off a loan, or make more than the minimum payment, the less interest you will pay.
Delay Lifestyle Creep. This is a situation in which your standard if living increases as your income increases, or costs decrease. The problem? You become a costumed to a certain way of life and you need this to be happy. Lifestyle creep is bound to happen, but the longer you delay it the less of an effect it will have. Living like a college student for those 4 extra years pushed off the lifestyle creep for us.
6 years later we now have 2 kids and a bigger house. My husband is the one working and I am home with the kids. We still live well below our means and continuously set goals and work together to conquer them. Living like a college student for those 4 years set the tone of our marriage and created a solid foundation on which to build our financial future. I wouldn’t change a thing.
I liked college, I liked my little dorm, instant mac and cheese, and free entertainment. I lived within my means and graduated with a degree and student loans, not consumer debt. Continuing to live below my means, as the college student in me once did, still serves me and my family well and ultimately will allow us to make decisions not based on finances but rather on what we truly want out of life.
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