10 Lessons For New Graduates That They Failed To Learn In School

Congratulations on your graduation; welcome to life.  For the last several years you’ve been insulated from reality by the protective cocoon of a college or high school campus.  While you’ve toiled with academic duties, chances are you’ve done little toiling with many of life’s harder lessons.

In the coming decade you will be faced with challenges and hardships that you probably have been ill-prepared to handle.  That is more of a condemnation of our overall “wussification” as a society than a knock against educators, who for the most part do a good job of working within nearly impossible restraints. Despite their best efforts, there were a few things that were left out of the syllabus on life.

I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve made my share of mistakes.  It is my hope that by sharing them here at Frugal Dad at least a few of you will avoid repeating them.  So on this graduation day, a day of celebration and reminiscing, keep the the following lessons in mind.

10 Lessons For New Grads

1. Your diploma is worthless.  It is a piece of paper.  It will soon be mounted in an expensive frame and proudly displayed on a wall somewhere in corporate America. It is the knowledge that you gained, and the experiences you’ve collected, that are invaluable.

2. It’s OK to lose.  You are too young to remember keeping score.  When I was a kid we had winners and losers, champions and second place.  Now everyone gets a trophy just for participating.  Losing teaches humility.  Embrace it, learn from it, but don’t make it a habit.

3. You cannot borrow your way to prosperity.  Sure, some have borrowed money to start something and had success in spite of leveraging their future, but most people crash and burn.  Go slow.  Save your money and build your idea with your own cash.  You’ll spend smarter with your own money.

4. It is time to take better care of yourself.  No more all-nighters. The time has come to take care of yourself.  Take it from someone who has largely ignored his own advice for the last decade, putting other priorities ahead of his own health.  Make taking care of yourself priority one.  Trust me, you’ll save money on insurance, health care, and enjoy a better quality of life.

5. Save for sunny days. By now you’ve had the idea of saving for a rainy day beaten into you. It’s good advice, but don’t forget the sunny days, too.  Save on purpose. Whatever that purpose is – a hobby or skill you’d like to learn, or a trip you’ve always wanted to take – save for it and pay cash. Remember, life is meant to be enjoyed.

6. There is nothing wrong with renting. Resist the temptation to run out and buy a house. There is no shame in renting.  In fact, there are many advantages to renting.  It makes sense for new graduates unsure about where they plan to work and live, and who they might plan to share their lives with going forward.  When you have a huge emergency fund saved, and the time is right, buy a modest home and pay it off quickly.

7. Save half your income. I don’t have regrets, but if I could do one thing over in my life I would save 50% of my income from the first day I entered the work world. Doing so ensures one year of freedom outside of the work world.

8. A used car does not always represent “someone else’s problem.” Despite our automotive advances over the last thirty years or so, I still routinely hear this excuse for avoiding used cars. There is nothing wrong with a good used car. Have a mechanic check it out, buy it, and drive it until the wheels fall off.

9. Some people will earn more than you for doing the same job. Now that you have a degree you probably feel like you should be at the top of the salary scale. Wrong. There are people who have been out there hustling since you were in diapers (or before), and even though they don’t have a degree, they have decades of real-world experience.  Don’t resent them; learn from them.

10. Stand behind your beliefs, especially when they are unpopular. You are an individual, with an individual set of beliefs.  Never let anyone take that away from you.  It is not popular these days to stand up for what you believe in, but unless you stand for something, you will fall for anything.

Extra credit:  You are not finished learning.  Learning is a life-long endeavor, and to quit now would mean short-changing yourself some sixty or seventy years. Continue to read books, study subjects you are curious about, and challenge yourself to broaden your horizons. Formal education is now behind you, but a world of opportunity to learn more is now in front of you.

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  1. You’re so right about the “wussification” factor. It’s a shame that these new grown ups will have to learn about it on the fly as adults. It’s not going to be pretty…

  2. I worked with an accounting grad on a non profit project. I thought she was some sort of high school intern because she could not apply real world concepts, income and expenses to the bookkeeping our accountant had assigned to her. To my profound and utter shock, she had a “diploma” on her office wall.
    “Your diploma is worthless…” is PRICELESS!
    Great post!Real world experience STILL RULES

  3. Re: renting – I agree with you there. I wish I’d gotten that memo. My husband and I purchased a home when I was 23 (and when we were both graduate students!), and it hurt us financially in the long run.

  4. OH MAN…excellent writing…excellent points. You know what, even though I’ve been pounding these ideas into my kids’ brains….it’s never said often enough. This goes out to my kids today!!!!!

  5. Great advice…I just counseled someone today who has finished college with $100k in debt but no job. Life is harder when you start in the red.

  6. Actually the diploma is worth some things to some people. It depends on the hiring manager and job. For example a good BS in Business or MBA will get you more money at most large corporations, if you choose to do a stint on the dark side.

    But by all means take this advice!!! Don’t get caught up in an American dream powered by debt. You’ll just get chained to the job you’re about to compete for. Live like you did in college, borrow no more money, work to be debt free first, live frugally, and then one you’ve mastered all that consider every financial decision like a well thought out business decision.

    You don’t have to learn these lessons the hard way, like the rest of us.

  7. You’ve alluded to it, but let’s just say it:

    Get over your attitude of entitlement!

    Not all young workers or recent grads have it, but far too many do.

    They are not willing to start at the bottom, for the most part, and pay their dues to use the trite-but-true phrase.

    More than that, many seem to think that anyone over 40 should just shove off and get out of their way. (Plenty of online blogs, etc. on this. If you’re over 50 or 60, they want them to just die. Period.)

    Accept grunt work, learn and work as if everything you did mattered. Because it does.

    All work has value and this is something that a lot of kids/recent grads don’t accept.

    I’m tired of these interns who come in and want to run the company. In the meantime, they can’t even learn company policies and procedures, run a photocopier or fix a printer. Come on.

    And while you have ideas and opinions, get that you are NOT going to get the same respect, response, etc. as someone who has successfully been contributing to a company. EARN your way into your job by doing it well.

    If you look to the histories of the CEOs and others who have started and/or run companies, you will generally see a history of working their way up, through.

    It’s not an overnight thing. So finally, BE PATIENT.

  8. “Save for a sunny day.” I absolutely love that tip. It’s so true, and as many of your tips point out, the small financial decisions you make when you are young really can effect your future. It’s like the book, THE POWER OF SMALL says, “our smallest gestures have outsize impact in our lives.”

  9. Did my mom write this article? Sounds just like everything she has ever told me. 🙂

  10. Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that a degree is worthless but I agree that there are other factors that will be considered pertaining to graduate careers. The classification and discipline of your degree may be factors but experience, personality and skills are going to come into it too. If someone with a 2:2 can offer the relevant soft skills, experience and a suitable personality, they’re a better candidate than the guy with a first and no clue about anything.

  11. This is so painfully true! I just graduated this year and thought I’d walk into my dream job within a month…maybe not! Luckily there are lots of people out there in web land willing to help us gain a little perspective, and hopefully a job too.
    I’m now working as a temp for a company which specialises in finding people like me graduate jobs, and they offered me the job to help boost my CV whilst job hunting. I really recommend finding advice online, as a degree alone won’t help much in a recession! (www.grb.uk.com) I hope all that hard work at uni will pay off in the end, but as soon as I’m earning I hope I remember the advice to save 50% of my pay slip!!
    I’d love to add a link to help all those other struggling graduates out there if that’s OK?

  12. I think having a degree is certainly worth doing; the knowledge, experience and time away from home is invaluable. I will definitely be trying to save 50% of my pay check next pay day and see how I get on! Next stop, a graduate job.