“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” John Quincy Adams
In his book, Leadership Gold, John C. Maxwell addresses a complex topic. He dedicated a chapter to “The Toughest Person to Lead Is Yourself”. You can imagine the joy that comes with the freedom of truly being on your own after graduation. But along with the joy comes some fear and apprehension. You have to lead yourself well through challenges you have never had to deal with before. Expenses like groceries, rent, and gas were not your responsibility. Suddenly they are now yours.
Do you ever wonder what it’s like for someone experiencing such huge changes? I was curious. Two post-secondary students willingly shared their time and their perspective of life after high school. I am grateful to Abbey and Karina, two young women who explained their challenges. They walked out of the doors of high school for the last time and left the security of their parents’ home to venture on their own. My main question, as students, how did they manage their money? These young women were an inspiration to me; and I know their stories will be to you.
Abbey shared, “Leaving high school was exciting but it was also an awakening. It’s like jumping right into the deep end (of a swimming pool). And you aren’t fully prepared.”
The greatest challenge is accepting the responsibility of managing the expenses. The desire to do “stuff” is always in the back of your mind when you are out and about with your friends. The advantage is the peer pressure is not a factor when your friends are also students. Their situations are similar. Their budgets are similar. Students simply understand and feel the same about their inability to spend freely. They tell it like it is: “I can’t afford to…”
Abbey confirmed she is an avid goal-setter. She plans her day. Scheduling her school assignments encourages her to complete them well in advance. Her progress pays off. This skill carries forward in the way she manages her finances over the school term. When she works during the summer months, she saves money, knowing she will need it down the road.
The most effective way Abbey deals with buying impulses is picturing herself five years from now. She tells herself I only want to pay for the things I need today to get me through my studies. She considers her purchases very seriously and fully understands that if she buys furniture and text books, she does so because she needs to use them now. Her willingness to forfeit a new pair of jeans shows that her priorities are crystal clear.
Karina also confirmed that being friends with students certainly imposes less pressure on their fun activities. As a university student, her advice is to find that personal balance between fun and study/work. Having hard conversations with yourself are tough but necessary. She asks herself, “Is this actually necessary?” Karina finds she analyzes the difference between a “need” and “want” all the time. She appreciates having a bank app on her phone. Karina strategizes, “My bank account can make the decision for me.”
On occasion Karina has been known to self-diagnose herself with “buyer’s guilt”. After a mini-shopping spree, she has a sickly feeling for spending more than she has given herself permission. Obviously, this is a warning signal to tread with caution.
One significant change Karina noticed was items magically appear when she lived at home but didn’t when she was on her own. The obvious, everyday household items like toilet paper and Q-tips were now musts on her shopping list.
Karina works part-time while she attends university. When she is working, she finds she is more relaxed with her money. But when her income is irregular, she finds this to be quite disturbing.
Both women attribute their money habits to the values instilled by their parents. During Abbey’s high school years, she worked at numerous jobs. Her father’s advice was to take part of what she earned and put it away for the future. She was free to do what she wanted with the rest.
Karina also shared that her parents always reminded her to live within her means. This advice resonates with her. Karina ensures the money is in place before making a purchase. And when she does, the purchase is based upon quality and usefulness over the long term. This is smart shopping on her part.
They both attested that they are getting close to the end of their studies. Abbey will soon complete her dental assistant program and Karina will have acquired her Bachelor of Education and Arts degrees. They hope to be earning a steady income. No matter which way you look at it, whether there’s a light at the end of a tunnel or they’re running their victory lap, this part of their journey is in sight. Living as a student certainly means living on a tight budget when the income is limited. So the question is whether these sound money management skills continue into their futures? Abbey wasn’t certain. Right now she admits students’ situations are so similar. Later when everyone is employed, they may not be as transparent about their finances.
Of course, my concern is the more money we make the more we will be prone to spend and borrow. Then we begin to see our regular pay cheques as oil wells which will never go dry. On the other hand, I wouldn’t expect everyone to live like “a student”… but I hope we would remember what the feeling was like so we never want to live under that kind of pressure again.
In the chapter previously mentioned, Mr. Maxwell refers to leading ourselves as the biggest challenge simply because we tend to be our own enemies. Leading ourselves well applies to every area of our lives. These young women’s stories are impressive. They took their first year away from home in stride to figure things out on their own; and once they did, they settled into a new way of life. Their life jackets, their support from family and friends, were always nearby but their solid values were their mainstay. They have obviously used their solid values to successfully leading themselves.
Are you a student pursuing a post-secondary education with some words of wisdom to share? You may do so here in the comments below.