Uh-Oh! I’m Cut Off?!

Featured Article,Planning & Saving
September 12, 2013

A bright yet financially clueless recent college grad cuts her teeth on all-things-financial and shares her lessons-learned along the way.

Woman with shopping bags
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When I told my dad I was starting a personal finance blog column, he reacted just as I expected him to: He laughed.

“I’m serious,” I said.

“I’m sorry, honey,” he said, stifling a chuckle. I could imagine him sitting in his office, cradling the phone to his ear, shaking his head in half-amusement, half-disbelief. “I mean, no offense, but you know nothing about money.”

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Exactly, Dad. I know absolutely nothing about money. I am definitely not qualified to be conferring financial advice to the web masses. And that’s why I’m perfect for a column like this. Hear me out:

I am a 22-year-old recent college graduate who was immediately thrust into the so-called “real world.” In May, with graduation right around the corner, I felt like I was on Cloud 9. My life seemed to have fallen seamlessly…miraculously…into place—while many of my peers were still floundering in the job market, I had managed to secure an awesome job doing something I am passionate about, in a city that I love. I had recently signed a lease at an apartment complex located in a trendy urban area. I was young and single and starry-eyed, perched on the edge of something both uncertain and exciting. The future loomed ahead of me, full with possibility.

But then, right before heading back to Nashville to start my new career, my parents gently announced I was officially “off their ticket.” As in, I would be paying for it all—rent, gas, car insurance, groceries, electric bills, the whole shebang. My excitement quickly turned to panic. Oh, crap.

In college, personal finance was something that had never really crossed my mind. I had terrible spending habits; I didn’t think twice about shelling over 4 bucks for a Starbucks drink or buying ridiculously overpriced sliced fruit at Whole Foods (aka “Whole Paycheck”). In the back of my mind, I knew that I would someday have to support myself, but I adopted an “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it” mentality. Throughout college, my parents occasionally supplied ominous little hints about what was to come.

“You know you’re going to be paying your own cell phone bill someday, right?” my parents quipped one night at dinner, watching as I texted some boy underneath the table.

“Yeah, yeah,” I mumbled, unconcerned, the prospect of graduation seeming like a distant and faraway thing.

So it didn’t really come as a surprise when I was cut loose after college. My parents had graciously put me through school, and the time had come for me to go off into the world and “spread my wings,” so to speak. But I still wasn’t prepared to face my new reality, in many ways. An English major, I completely bypassed Econ 101 in college, opting to cram my class schedule with creative writing workshops and classes on Chaucer. My English degree left me with a nuanced appreciation for the English language, but it didn’t necessarily position me for, you know, reality. I could wax poetic about the use of symbolism in The Great Gatsby, but I couldn’t balance a checkbook to save my life. I was, for lack of a better term, a financial idiot.

I had always envisioned my young 20s would be a glamorous time, the type of fast-paced cosmopolitan existence you see in romantic comedies and TV shows. I fancied myself a fashionable Carrie Bradshaw a la Sex and the City, gracefully hailing taxi cabs while teetering in a pair of sky-high stilettos; meeting girlfriends after work for a round of stiff martinis; dancing in dimly lit nightclubs and coyly eyeing tall, swarthy men. What those romantic comedies don’t show are the less-than-glamorous realities of being a young professional. You know, the real-life things, like grumbling about electric bills and clipping coupons and haggling on the phone with Comcast (hereafter known as “the evil empire”) for hours. Collapsing on the couch at 9 p.m. in your PJs, too pooped to go out and be social. Doing a triumphant little fist-pump on payday. Deigning to buy generic toilet paper for frugality’s sake even though the good stuff is so much better.

In this column, I will pen all of my frustrations, insights, setbacks and triumphs as I navigate the daunting world of personal finance all by myself. I may be starting out this journey slightly financially clueless, but they say the best way to learn is through experience, right? My hope is that I will be able to smartly manage my finances so that I can make the most of my “yuppie” years and live the cosmopolitan life to the fullest—but in a realistic “I’m-on-a-shoestring-budget” kind of way, not the lavish Carrie Bradshaw way. Because seriously, when was it ever explained how she was able to afford all those pairs of Manolo Blahnik’s on a writer’s salary, am I right?

 

Read more of Anna’s Adventures in I’m Cut Off: The Series.