Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Things I Want My Daughter (and the General Public) to Learn

With graduation season upon us, I thought it would be fitting for me to talk about my own life experiences after leaving high school. I was ready to pack up my car and move to college the day after graduation but, unfortunately, I was stuck working a summer job and counting down the days until mid-August rolled around. When the time finally came for me to start the next chapter of my life, I was beyond excited. While I was overly eager to leave the small town that I called home and head out into the world to do BIG things, it turned out that I was vastly unprepared to live on my own.

In high school, I had taken all the necessary college prep courses and passed with flying colors, but none of those classes prepared me for life in the real world. My parents attempted to teach me about managing money and the importance of financial responsibility, but aside from those topics there remained a whole slew of things that I knew nothing about. I realize that growing up in a small school with limited course section probably didn't help, but those were my circumstances and there wasn't much I could do about it. I was a young, naive kid coasting through life without a care in the world, but all of that changed as soon as I was out on my own. Shortly after my next chapter began, life slapped me in the face with a reality check. Wake up, Dorothy, you're not in Kansas any more.

Lucky for me, my first year of college was the easiest. My housing, utilities, and food were all provided and conveniently paid for by my tuition...or my parents...or someone. Herein lies problem #1, I honestly had no idea what was going on or who was paying for anything. I lived in that tiny, concrete dorm room (along with the complete stranger selected to be my roommate) and went to class as I was told. There weren't many things to worry about other than studying and being extremely homesick. Throughout that first year, I made a whole bunch of new friends, adjusted to dorm life, and began to settle into a new normal.

My sophomore year, my roommate and I decided to leave dorm life behind and venture out in search of living quarters off campus. We settled on a three bedroom duplex in a safe neighborhood that primarily housed college students. For the first time in my life, I was able to make my own rules and do as I pleased. Little did I know then that "making your own rules" goes hand in hand with being able to provide for yourself. After all, that duplex wasn't cheap and neither were the stacks of bills we received every month. It blew my mind when I discovered that you actually had to pay for things like water and trash service, both things that no one had ever told me before. 

That first year living on my own was a complete eye opener for me. I was working a part-time job, going to school full time, and struggling to pay my bills every month. I lived on ramen noodles and cereal and called my parents begging for rent money on more than one occasion. Eventually, my parents had enough and told me it was time to grow up and figure things out on my own, just as they should have. Once there wasn't anyone to hold my hand or do everything for me any more, I learned how to be resourceful, manage my money better, and, basically, become a productive member of society. I was done relying on others for help and it felt great.

Now that I'm a mother to a daughter of my own, I know that one day I'll be forced to say goodbye and watch as my daughter leaves to embarks on a journey of her own. Before that day comes, I want to ensure that I inform her of all the things that I was blindly unaware of when I moved away from home. So, being my Type A self, I've made a list of some of the traits and life lessons I want to instill in Taylor before she spreads her wings and flies off on her own. Thank goodness that time is far off in the distant future because it makes me teary-eyed just thinking about it.

1.  The Importance of RESPECT and Proper Manners - If Taylor learns nothing else on this list, I hope she learns how to treat others with respect, because I am constantly amazed at how rude people can be. When I was younger, I was taught to listen to adults and to say "please" and "thank you" when asking for something. I am almost disgusted at how self-righteous and entitled children are today, rarely using any manners and treating adults without an ounce of respect. My child will never act like that (at least not when I am present). Respect your elders and be kind to others, because even the smallest amount of kindness goes a long way.

2. Financial Responsibility - Ah, yes, the one thing that my parents taught me that I actually listened to. Growing up, we lived on my father's minimal salary while my mom went to college and raised two young girls. While we didn't always get everything we wanted, we always had more than enough. I never knew just how little we lived on until I was older and my mom informed me of the specifics. It's crazy how some people can have all the money in the world and never be as happy as we were living on such little. You don't have to make a ton of money to be happy, but you need to manage your money well enough so that you have what you need when you need it. A little planning and a solid budget can go a long way.

3. Responsible Ownership -  I want Taylor to learn the importance of buying and owning a home, vehicle, and anything else she may wish to acquire. During college (and even long after), I rented one crappy apartment after another until Jake and I were financially stable enough to buy our first home. Honestly, there are so many things to consider when buying a home that we didn't really even know where to start. We knew what we liked and disliked, but we knew that our dollars weren't going to stretch far enough to get us everything. We researched loan options and interest rates, but we also should have been thinking about all of the money we would need in order to maintain a home once it was ours. Unexpected costs like replacing a broken lawnmower or fixing a broken air conditioner never even crossed our minds, yet both happened the first summer we bought our house. Home maintenance is expensive but also very important. 

4. Creating Value  -  This one goes hand-in-hand with #4. I'm anal by nature, so keeping my belongings in pristine condition is key, but I want Taylor to learn the importance of value and the importance of taking care of her things. This was a lesson that was instilled in me early on in life. Growing up, we weren't well off by any means, so my sister and I learned to take care of the things we did have. While things are just things, it's important to treat your property just like you'd treat yourself, with love and respect. Maintaining your belongings will extend their life and increase your resale value on major purchases, like a home or a vehicle. Be smart with your money but also learn to take care of the things you've worked hard to purchase.

5. Credit (and why it's necessary) - Unfortunately, credit is a necessary evil in this world. I won't go into specifics on this, because it's always a hot topic for people (and yes, I've read Dave Ramsey's book and know his philosophy), but my take on credit is be smart and use it wisely. There's nothing wrong with taking advantage of credit card perks as long as you pay down your balance every month. You're not gaining anything if you're paying the credit card company interest. However, things like cash back and frequent flier miles come in handy at times so why not use the system to your benefit? Plus, unless you have a sack full of cash, you're going to need a solid credit rating in order to purchase a home or vehicle. My advise is: "Don't buy more than you can afford." Again, this is where a monthly budget comes in handy.

6. How to Balance a Check Book (and why it's important to track your spending) - I have this magical ability to spend money without even realizing it. I can run to Target and spend hundreds of dollars in no time (it's funny how I always need a new tumbler or Taylor needs a new pair of shoes). I can log on to check my e-mail and before I know it I've got 10 items in my Gap shopping cart, but I'm able to do this because I'm financially sound. I have a detailed budget which includes what bills come out of which paychecks, and as soon as my paycheck comes in I pay those bills, put money into savings, and the rest is mine to do with as I please. Jake has his own budget and own system for his potion of our household expenses. I cannot state enough how much I love having separate finances.

7. Common (and Costly!) Household Expenses - Again with the water bill. Blew my mind. And trash, and electricity, and gas, and the list goes on and on. I was super sad when I got my first paycheck from my first full-time grown up job and nearly all of it was spent on rent and household bills. Say what? You mean I don't just get to blow all of this on clothes and dining out? It's expensive being an adult, but being independent sure beats mooching off your parents your entire life.

8. No Summer in the Real World - Let's face it, the day you sign up for your first full-time, big kid job you are kissing summer vacations goodbye. Teachers are the only people I know that get more than a couple of weeks off in the summer, but not everyone has the patience to deal with 20 screaming kids all day which means they probably deserve it. My husband gets 12 days off a year and I get about 15 (that's vacation, sick, and personal time combined). Between taking time off for daycare closures and sick days, we're maxed out, which means our summer adventures have to happen just like everyone else's - on the weekends. So if you're wondering why every place is completely packed on Saturday and Sunday from Memorial Weekend to Labor Day, it's because we're all too busy working during the week to do things like go to the grocery store or pick up our dry cleaning. 

9. Taxes & Insurance (or as I like to call it The Dwindling Paycheck Effect) - When you're extended a job offer and you see your salary on paper, it's an awesome feeling. However, when you receive your first pay check and the amount is about half of what you were expecting, do not be surprised. Taxes suck, but you have to pay them (or go to jail). There's no getting around it, so don't even try. Insurance is expensive but necessary. Be conscious of the benefits offered by an employer when looking at job offers. Sometimes a less paying job with better benefits is more beneficial in the long run, because trust me you're going to want good health insurance when it comes down to it. Life is always throwing curve balls so it's best to be prepared for anything.

10. The Difference Between Winners and Losers (and why both are important) - School systems and athletic programs today like to emphasize that "there are no winners and losers." Well, let me tell you, that's crap. There most definitely are winners (the ones that come in first) and there are losers (the ones that come in last). And in the real world, both are acknowledged as such. Do you think that if I'm not doing my job correctly my boss is going to say, "It's okay, you tried your best?" No, she's going to fire me and hire someone who can do the job right. By telling our kids that winners and losers don't exist, we are setting them up for failure.  I'm not saying we should push them past their limits or go to extremes to ensure they are the best at everything, but we should prepare them for the future, a future that does, in fact, consist of winners (they guy who gets the promotion, the girl, etc.) and losers (the guy who doesn't). It's also important to acknowledge that there are some things that they're just not going to be good at, but with a positive attitude and a great deal of effort they can get better. There have been many days when I'd much rather walk out the door than deal with another aggravated customer, but I stick it out because there are other days when I absolutely love my job. We need to teach our kids to take the good with the bad and learn how to overcome obstacles rather than letting them quit at the first hard thing that presents itself. After all, life isn't easy - the struggles are real - and kids should be made aware of these things before being subjected to life in the real world.

And for being such good sports and reading this extremely long post, here are some photos of my sister and I when we were little. She's going to hate me for this, but oh well. Enjoy!