Graduating from university is one of the scariest moments of your life. Your life that once had meaning and a purpose now is a blank slate - now you have to fend for yourself, make your own decisions and of course make some money. A very scary time indeed.
On your Own
When I graduated from Manchester University with a bachelors degree in Computer Science in 2005 no sooner had I finished my course than I was worried where the next pay cheque was going to come from and how the heck I was going to afford rent or even that imminent mobile phone bill I owed. I was so desperate not to go back home and live with my parents that I borrowed money off my friend to pay the rent and got a job lined up at a local Dominos pizza store. At least for now I was okay. I thought it's better to put bread on the table and roof over my head, risk it, live in a big city where there are plenty of tech jobs, than live back at home jobless with few opportunities.
Like most people, I'm not lucky enough to have parents who are wealthy and could afford to bail me out. They could support me a little sure (and for that I've always been eternally grateful) but I was too full of pride to ask for anything more, time to stand on my own two feet.
Whilst cutting pizza's part-time I went in search of a job. Thankfully my risk paid off. It had only taken me three months to secure a job and I only had to borrow a single month's rent off my friend before I was immediately offered a role (which I gladly accepted at the time) at a well known local family-run software insurance business. At the time I thought I was doing pretty well getting the gig I had straight out of university. It didn't pay a huge salary but this was more money than I'd ever seen, plus this was an opportunity to get some experience and I wasn't in a rush to go anywhere anytime soon.
Addicted to Credit
After landing that first job I thought I'd won the lottery. This offer letter was the exactly the evidence I needed to secure a loan and pay off my debt to my friend. I marched down to the bank, letter proudly in-hand. There was absolutely no way they could turn me down right? Guess what, they didn't. They saw me coming a mile off. The bank manager sat down opposite me smile and giant-ass grin on their face, pleasant as pie and sold me down the river. You need that PPI right? Because you need security to cover the loan in case you lose that first job you got (way to play on any insecurities I might have)?
OK I'll admit, I was majorly naïve here. I took the graduate loan (the rate wasn't terrible to be fair especially given my circumstances). They convinced me to borrow enough to cover my student overdraft, any credit card debts I have plus enough for that 'dream' car I'd always wanted and the sucker that I was thought: "So, where do I sign?".
Herein lies the issue. We think a loan will sort our problems and debts out but in reality we're just papering over the cracks. Problem #1: We need to change our behaviour not feed the habit.
Paying the Man
Over the next 7 years or so I spent much of my early twenties with roughly the same attitude except that I was doing fairly well in my career and progressing quickly. I'd almost trebled the salary in my first job in just 7 years which I thought was an incredible result and my disposable income was higher than it'd ever been. Again, problem #2: The more you earn the more you spend. I'd gotten in a habit of spending more on holidays, cars, mobile contracts, rent, going out and socialising. That extra bit of salary my job earned me was completely going to waste - I had nothing to show for it except negative equity.
Like many people though, I got to a point. A point where I was tired of the 'rat race'. Tired of always paying the man. Tired of being at the whim of employers, living pay-check to pay-check and having nothing to show for it. My saving grace at the time was that I had a fiancée I loved dearly, a successful job that was progressing well and a beautiful baby daughter on the way. The problem is money holds you back. The thing is it's not about money. It's about the freedom.
When my partner told me she was pregnant I was overjoyed but one thing hit me. I'm now responsible for another human being. How in seven hells am I going to afford a child, another one of me?? I need to grow the hell up.
For me this was the epiphany. A moment of extreme clarity. It didn't matter just about us anymore there was more than just 'us' to think about. I had no choice but to cut costs and make sure I could make ends meet. That meant getting streetwise about money, how things work and most of all getting a hold of everything so you can afford things should the worst happen.
The Holy Bible to Money
In my search to dealing with the Frankenstein monster of debt I looked for advice. I didn't have a mentor to rely on so I stumbled across the book Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicky Robin. This book literally transformed my relationship with money. The central concept of the book is that anyone, and I mean anyone, can be financially independent within 10-15 years even with debts.
So, what does Financial Independence mean?
It's actually a couple of things. It means understanding when 'enough' really is 'enough'. Learning to say 'no' when you wonder whether to buy something or not. Making those money saving choices in all aspects of your life and getting money to stretch that bit further. What this engenders though, isn't miserly, niggardly behaviour. If anything it's the complete opposite.
Imagine if you could quit your job tomorrow. Make enough passive income from your savings to cover your concept of 'enough'; just your living expenses. What opportunities could that present you with? You could afford to be more generous with your time. Helping out with worthwhile causes. Working on something you want to work on - your real life passions. Beholden to no-one except yourself.
For me that's Financial Independence. If the thought of that isn't enough to spur you into action. Nothing will.
I'll blog more about this topic in future posts. Please feel free to follow me if you'd like get more updates and thanks for reading!