Posts filed under ‘lessons’
Have you ever purchased something you couldn’t return and immediately regretted it? It might be something small like a painting or clothing or something as large as a house or car. For me it is the large wooden table pictured above.
One afternoon on my way home from work I saw a going out of business sign on a fancy furniture store. The road was jammed with cars that day so I pulled off the road and decided to head inside to take a look around and wait out the traffic. It seemed like a better way to spend my time than idling on a four lane highway, plus my husband and I were in need of a new coffee table. The poor excuse we had for a table was so old and shabby it would probably have been better used as kindling than a place to set down your drink. We’d continue to use it because all four legs were still connected and it was junky enough to put our feet up and not feel guilty about it.
I walked around the furniture store for roughly an hour and found a bunch of tables that I really liked. Because the store was going out of business you had to haul away whatever items you purchased, so I called my husband and told him to drive over with the truck.
I waited around for an hour for my husband to show up and by the time he opened the door I’d been in that store for over two hours.
I took my husband on a walking tour and showed him all of the tables we could buy to replace the awful one we had at home. He had one excuse after another for not liking anything I picked out. We started to fight, which is something we never do on a normal basis, but ALWAYS do when we shop for furniture together. (I’m actually not sure why that happens, but each and every time our tempers flare.)
By this time I’d been in the store for nearly three hours. I hadn’t gone home, I hadn’t eaten dinner and I refused to accept that the last three hours were a complete waste of time. I was determined to go home with a table. Needless to say my husband and I argued for another hour about this purchase, but after a whole lot of convincing my husband and I walked out of the store as proud new owners of the table you see pictured above.
Unfortunately we found a problem with it the minute we moved it into the living room. It was too big for the space! I refused to admit the error. I was adamant that it would work. I moved other chairs and ottomans around, but there was no mistaking it. That table just didn’t fit! For weeks my husband and I did our best to walk around it. We maneuvered through the living room like an obstacle course. We weaved our way around chairs and tables each and every time we made our way to the couch.
Eventually I had to admit defeat. I shouldn’t have bought the table. Even on sale it cost us quite a bit of money and since the store was going out of business it couldn’t be returned. We were stuck with it.
We kept it in the living room for a few weeks and then I decided enough was enough. I moved it to the sun room where it took up even more space! The sun room is half the size of our living room, but we don’t spend much time there so it hung out unused and unwanted for years. Not days or weeks or months, but years. I couldn’t stand the sight of it, but I couldn’t bear to get rid of it. We’d paid too much and wouldn’t recoup our cost if we tried to sell it. Something about that fact made it unbelievably difficult to sell or donate.
I convinced myself that we would move it to the basement as soon as it was refinished. Unfortunately refinishing the basement is at the bottom of our priority list.
Flash forward five years. Now that the weather is getting nicer I want my son to play in the sun room. It’s the one area in the house with carpet so it’s much softer to set him down on the ground. Of course the first day I carried him in there I realized that awful table was taking up way too much space.
I’d finally had enough! I thought about selling it, but ultimately decided to just take it outside so the donation truck could haul it away. As I carried it down the front steps I took note of how terribly I felt for spending so much money on something we never used. Then I vowed to remember that table. I took a photograph of it and thought long and hard about the whole ordeal. I want to remember how and why I bought that table so I don’t ever make a similar mistake again.
By the way… Once that table moved out of the living room the shabby, old table we’d owned for years moved back in. Twelve years later it’s still the spot where we rest our feet and put our drinks down.
As you wait and watch the ever so turbulent stock market sink lower and lower, keep Warren Buffet’s words in mind… “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” For now, I’m holding tight in the market. I’m not buying or selling, but if prices continue to fall I might begin the search for bargains.
I have always prided myself on my gift wrapping abilities. Silly as it sounds I want the outside of the package to look as pretty as the gift inside. Whenever I find wrapping paper or ribbons on sale I stock up and I’m ashamed to say I have a closet full of paper at my disposal. Baby showers, birthdays, weddings, you name it I have the paper for every gift giving occasion. I know, I know, all that paper is bad for the earth, but unwrapping a gift is the one moment that makes each of us feel like a child. There’s nothing quite like that moment of anticipation and excitement as you hold the gift in your hand and wonder what’s hiding behind the paper.
This weekend as I was wrapping a gift for a wedding I decided to look online for helpful gift wrapping hints. I came across a great how to guide on the Container Store’s website. For those of you who don’t have the best gift wrapping skills this guide will teach you how to wrap a box and create a basic bow. For those of you who’d like to learn more the guide includes instructions for a number of different bow types.
So I’m sure you’ve seen the pattern in these lessons so far, no rocket science just simple, common sense. Lesson #4 is no different. No matter how badly you want to live on your own after graduation, (after all you’ve spent four years with all sorts of kooky roommates), you should resist the urge.
A few months after graduation I moved into a group house in the heart of DC. The good part… my rent was $310 with utilities split 5 ways. The bad part… a messy house with five roommates, overwhelming trash in the kitchen, and a whole lot of fruit flies. Actually there were other perks. The house was only 5 blocks from my office and 2 blocks from a grocery store. So unless I was leaving the city I never needed to drive my car, which helped me save money on gas and car maintenance. And the size of my room, just slightly larger than a prison cell, was too small to fit anything new, so I had no choice but to save money.
The money I saved on rent went towards my 401(k) and a brand new Honda Civic that I paid off in just over one year. At the time a one bedroom apartment in the city would have cost me at least $1100. A one bedroom outside of the city at least $750. So given the same salary, ($30,000+) and the same age, (22), I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Well maybe I wouldn’t find a house with 5 roommates, but I would definitely share a place with at least one other person.
There is no other time in your life when you’ll be willing to put up with roommates then just after graduation. I had a roommate for 3 of my 4 years in college, so just having a room of my own seemed like an upgrade. Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to live on my own and there were definitely times that I hid in my room just so I wouldn’t be bothered, but suffering through a dirty house and rowdy roommates enabled me to save a ton of money.
Welcome to Lesson #3, in accumulating wealth before age 30. Of all of the decisions I have made in my life interning has definitely been one of the most rewarding and valuable. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I have worked for the same employer since I graduated from college, but as a college student I worked four different jobs and interned in four different positions.
This lesson is closing related to Lesson #2…, which discusses the importance of choosing a college. I have a lot of friends who went to campuses located in the middle of nowhere. Obviously campuses located inside or next to a city will provide you with better options for internships than a campus out in the country. In my case, I was a short bus ride away from a metro stop that would take me into the heart of DC. The city provided a mecca of internships for my fellow students, but only a handful ever took hold of the opportunity. Instead the majority of my friends worked in restaurants and coffee houses or took on-campus jobs in food services.
But internships are a dream job for college students everywhere. First, and most importantly, they enable you to earn college credits without every having to sit in a classroom. I received a total of 9 elective credits through three of the four internships I participated in. To receive college credit you usually have to provide detailed documentation of your work assignments, but you will never have to take a final exam. Second, if the internship pays you will earn a lot more than minimum wage. The last internship I applied for as a senior offered me $6 an hour. I demonstrated my previous internship experience and negotiated $14. (Not only did I receive a higher salary, I also learned a valuable lesson in negotiating for higher pay.) Third, if you and your company have a good relationship with one another, you are almost guaranteed a job after college. Fourth, by the time graduation rolls around you will have a resume brimming with experience. So if you decide you don’t want to work for that particular company anymore you will have a much easier time applying for jobs with ‘real world’ work experience under your belt.
Lastly, internships provide you with the opportunity to explore career options with absolutely no risk. I interned as a museum tour guide, an aide for a state senator, and in marketing for two very different organizations (one large, one small). But I interviewed with at least eight other organizations before choosing these particular jobs. Interviewing gave me an opportunity to see what my degree in English Literature could buy me in the real world. I asked questions not only about the internship but about the job growth and potential of each position and organization. Before working as a senator’s aide I considered getting a second degree in government and politics. After being dismayed by what I witnessed and experienced during my internship, I decided I never wanted to work in a position related to the government. My internship was the deciding factor in not pursuing an additional degree. Thankfully I was able to make a decision before spending money on a degree I never would have utilized.
If you have already graduated from college then obviously this is one of life’s lessons you will not be able to change, but if you have children or niece’s and nephew’s attending college I urge you to talk to them about internships. My internship experiences were far more valuable than my experiences inside the college classroom.
One of the largest factors in determining your future wealth begins well before you set out on your career. It occurs when you choose which university to attend. In an ideal world, you should aim to pay the least amount of money for the best possible education. If a private institution will provide you with scholarships and financial aid packages that cost less than a public university, then by all means attend one. For the rest of us, a state college or university is probably the best bet.
One may argue that private schools provide a higher level of education than state universities. Having attended a state university only, I cannot debate this point. I can tell you that in my experience most employers care about the degree, not the institution that issued it.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Some occupations certainly do place a higher level of significance on the prestige of one’s alma mater, so those pursuing a career in law or medicine may need to attend a private institution for further career advancement. But for those looking to start their careers without the burden of enormous debt I urge you to consider a public university over a private one. In essence, a degree from a state college will give you a head start on life. While graduates of private universities are paying off their debts you can start saving for your first down payment or contributing to your Roth IRA.
When I discuss this topic with graduates of private universities they often say, “it doesn’t matter where I went to school. My parent’s paid my tuition.” Unfortunately, those individuals fail to realize that most of us will inherit the wealth our parent’s leave behind. And hundreds of thousands of dollars left in the bank would do you a lot better than a degree that could have been earned for half the price.
Last week after discussing the topic of net worth a few folks asked for the secrets of my success. This post will be the first in a series detailing the decisions and events in my life that have led to that large number.
The truth is I don’t have any secrets. I have taken a simple, common sense approach to saving money. I do believe a number of childhood events framed the foundation for my achievements, but I took the early lessons in life and applied them to my decision making processes all along the way. Some of the decisions took place in high school and college, and for those you’ll be well beyond changing your past, but the lessons are still worth noting.
So without further ado… Lesson #1… Get Your First Job Early in Life
At age 15, I went to work at the only place I could… a daycare center within walking distance of my home. I worked eight hour days, Monday through Friday, for the entire summer. In the beginning the job was fun. I was a teacher’s assistant in a 3-year-old classroom, which meant I got to play games like a kid all day. But by the time fall rolled around the job totally changed. I began working after school from 3:30 until 6:00. All the parents were supposed to pick up their children by 6:00, so if I worked any minute over 6:00 I didn’t get paid. Instead, the parent’s were supposed to pay me $5 for every 15 minutes they ran late. (This was to discourage parents from arriving late.) But wouldn’t you know the parents that consistently ran late always seemed to forget to bring cash with them. So more often than not I worked from 6:00 until 6:30 or 7:00 for free.
But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part came when the center decided to cut costs by firing the cleaning service and asking the lowly teaching assistants to clean the center every evening. So now, instead of watching children from 3:30 – 6:00pm. I watched them from 3:30 – 4:30 and then spent the last 1 1/2 hours vacuuming carpets and scrubbing toilets. Within months of the job description change I received my driver’s license and with that a new job at a day care center down the street.
At age 15 I learned three very valuable lessons that many people don’t learn until much later in life. First, in a low-paying job, it takes a lot of time to earn enough money to buy the things you want. Second, employers can, and often will, totally disrespect their employees. Third, if you are unhappy, find another job that pays more money, and is more enjoyable, then quit.