I have graduated and embarked on my work life for almost a year. The transition from a student to a full-time employee is not always as smooth as I have imagined it to be. When I was in my third year at LSE, I was very eager to start working and envisioned several fantasies of what it would be like being a working adult. I almost believed of graduation as a “switch”: I thought once I started earning my own income, I would have immediately immersed myself in the adult life style that I designed in my head.
I couldn’t be more wrong. Fast-forward a year later, I am still in the process of learning how to be a working adult. There are several things I wish someone had told me about growing up into a working life.
1. Managing Finances
To be frank, this is probably one of the considerable struggles of mine. Learning how to manage one’s own finance is one of the most important life skills that are not taught at school. My parents haven’t been near me since I was very young, so I had to learn how to do this myself. I am very generous with others and myself; hence my wallet suffers constantly – although I had a relatively high starting salary.
Personal Finance is a whole extensive topic for discussion on its own, but I will focus on my experience and what is currently working for me in term of managing my finance. If you know you constantly go over your budget, you have only two choices: either you spend less, or you earn more. For me, I have always been a big spender, so my solution at university has been to work more and more to increase my income. However, as I now have a fixed monthly salary, I need to learn how to spend less. The following are some methods I use:
• Try to use cash more often than card: I find the hassle of using cash makes me more conscious of my spending.
• Wait until tomorrow to buy something: This works wonderfully to eliminate impulsive spending. Tell yourself: if you really need that new gadget, or that item on sale, your need will be the same whether you buy it tonight or tomorrow. The difference is, with impulsive spending, the urge for the purchase greatly reduces once tomorrow comes.
• Set up a direct debit to put away a portion of your salary into saving account, as soon as the salary is received: Having lower bank balance makes you more conscious to spend less.
• Have considerable amount of savings or rainy day funds: I can’t stress enough the importance of savings. My immediately saving goal is to save for 6 months of income if I am unexpectedly out of work (rainy day funds). My longer saving goal is for more significant investments, such as a deposit for a mortgage.
Ultimately, managing finance is about self-control over material desires and balancing generosity with disciplines.
2. “You are not a student anymore…” / the importance of having better tastes
Focusing on quality instead of value is a lesson I have learnt in adulthood. The difference between being frugal and being cheap, is that: being frugal means you focus on getting the most quality for a certain price tag that you can afford. Being cheap is to focus on the price tag itself i.e. on getting the item at cheapest price tag as possible.
Someone taught me about the importance of having great tastes of consumptions. She told me “You are not a student anymore…” when I told her about my spending habits. As a student, it’s almost typical to consume instant noodles and fast food, buy cheap clothes, and go to noisy bars and messy clubbing places. As a working adult, the focus should be on quality i.e. having better “tastes”. You don’t have to spend a lot, but once you do, get the most quality for what you can afford. For example, with the same amount of money, I learn to buy 3 times less clothing items, but each item is 3 times more expensive than what I would originally buy as student. Same applies for experiences: I now go out less, but every time I do, I go to places with the most pleasant environment, with greatest services and wines.
Having better tastes is a way streamline your consumption to what’s most necessary and delivers most quality. For example, one of my great investments lately is on a really expensive but high quality mattress. I therefore cut down on all unnecessary spending on other furniture. I know many people who spend a fortune on general house furniture but only purchase an average-quality mattress. My thought about it: Practically, I spend 1/3 of my life on the mattress and probably less than 1 hour on my couch or other furniture – hence the budget should reflect this relative importance. I now have high-quality deep sleep and very much looking forward to my bed every day, which I think is well-spent money. If you spend less but on higher quality items, you’ll develop slowly an appreciation for quality, and won’t go back to the days of unnecessary spending on items that will only clutter your house.
Having better tastes is also a way to gain more respects from other people. If you go out less but each time to more expensive places, for example, you’ll learn more about the appropriate behaviours in such expensive environment. You will learn more about wines, cuisines and dining/ drinking etiquette. These are all helpful skills and great practice for when you are put in a more practical situation in such environment, such as in formal dinners for work. In addition, when you bring other people out, the places you choose has a great reflection on you. If you bring me to a cheap noisy bar, it says something about the kinds of things you value, and you yourself. “Having tastes” is like setting a standard for the high quality that you won’t go below. If you introduce people to your pleasant and high tastes, they will see the high standard you set for yourself and pay you their respects.
3. Taking care of myself
I never paid attention to my physical health when I was at university. I consistently sleep less than 8 hours a day. I didn’t focus on the quality of the food I eat. I didn’t take care of the health of my hair, my skin and my body as a whole.
I watched beauty videos on YouTube about “Evening skincare routines”. I found these videos very foreign to me. Why do I need to take an hour every night for these pampering routines when I have other more important ambitions and goals?
I couldn’t be more wrong. Over time I realised, when I don’t have sufficient sleep, my brain is less sharp. In turn, my learning process is slower and it’s harder for me to focus. When I don’t exercise and eat unhealthy food, my feelings are negatively affected as my mood changes due to hormone levels. There are many other occasions when I realised I am not at my best, because I didn’t develop a system, a routine or a habit to take care of my physical self.
Fast forward, now I even have a sticker on my desk saying, “Drink water” – to remind myself to drink enough water. In the end of the day, I need to co-operate with my physical body, to execute tasks to get closer to my goals. Before I can take care of the bigger problems in world, I need to take care of myself. If I don’t treat myself right, no one else can.
I have a few more ideas on “growing up” but this article has reached quite a length – I may consider writing a follow-up post. This piece is mostly on experience sharing and not much philosophical as the rest of the posts on the website – which is an experiment for me trying out a new writing style.
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Illustration by my friend Karl –
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Thank for your useful tips 😀