Throughout law school, I worked part-time and took out student loans to pay not just the tuition but some of my living expenses. I went clubbing with friends, regularly ate out, and rarely hesitated to buy new clothes, shoes, books, or anything else I wanted. We were never a wealthy family growing up, but we were very comfortably middle class, so I continued doing what I had always done. When money got tight, I asked my parents to make my car payments, and they did so without hesitation. Although my father had always talked about the evils of credit card debt, I occasionally carried a balance on my credit cards during law school. The only time I ever remember saying "no" to spending money was when I opted out of a post-bar exam vacation with my girlfriends, and that may have been because I was starting my new job not long after the exam ended.
Being an attorney wasn't my first full-time job, but post-law school was the first time I felt truly independent. I moved in with my boyfriend, who soon became my fiancé and then my husband. He made approximately the same salary, but thanks to his generous family, he didn't have any student loans.
It was awkward at first, explaining that it would be difficult for me to pay half of the rent, utilities, and groceries, make my loan payments, and have money left over to spend on other things. In essence, my student loan payments made it impossible for me to maintain the same lifestyle he could afford.
That was the first time it hit me: I couldn't maintain the same lifestyle I'd had when I lived with my parents.
It had simply never occurred to me that once I was on my own, I couldn't afford the same lifestyle my parents had given me. And apparently, it's not unusual. Tim Elmore recently wrote about a nationwide survey that concluded nearly half of millenials get financial assistance from their parents each month.
If only I'd realized this truth when I was in law school.
I would have shopped less and eaten in more. I would have made more frugal choices. I would still have had student loan debt, but it could have been tens of thousands of dollars less.
Obviously, this is something I plan to discuss with my own children as they near independence. Here are a few things I want to make sure they understand:
The difference between a need and a want - this crucial distinction will help to prioritize expenses
How to make and live by a budget
How living below their means will help them build wealth
Above all, I think they need to understand that they're not entitled to a certain lifestyle. And that mindset will make all the difference as they make their own way in the world.
What's the one thing you wish you'd known when you became independent?