Congratulations to the Class of 2014! What I’ve Learned in Seven Years…


First off, I want to say congratulations to the Class of 2014! My cousin just recently graduated from college (go Aggies!), and I still so vividly remember what it felt like when I finished school off myself, seven “long” years ago. There are many parallels that can be drawn between that time (2007) and now… The San Antonio Spurs are again world champions (woohoo!), the economy appears to be in pretty decent shape, and the overall stock and housing markets are booming.

Just as it was then, it’s a most exciting time to be graduating now… After four long years of overwork and underpay no pay, I’m sure most everyone from the class of 2014 is looking forward to a much “better” life post-college!

What exactly constitutes a “better” life? On the surface, the answer would seem obvious: a flashy new car, swanky new apartment, and all the latest hi-tech gadgets and gizmos… Not surprisingly, many from the Class of 2007 fell victim to this trap (some of my friends), and are paying the price today. The ones who chased after all the glory (and bling) are now slaving away at the 9-5, trying to make ends meet… living paycheck to paycheck. If members of the Class of 2014 aren’t careful, they will be doomed to the same fate and struggles faced by their predecessors.

For someone who has gone through the post-college experience, it’s only human nature to want to look back, and reflect on the decisions we’ve made in our lives. If I could go back in time, here’s the advice I would give to myself, knowing what I know now (these are also the same thoughts I would share with anyone just graduating in 2014)…

Your Degree Entitles You to Nothing

Your college degree… the one you worked so hard to obtain, will mean absolutely NOTHING the day you start working for an employer. In the real world, respect is not given, but earned. If you really want to impress your co-workers, arrive with a humble attitude, and win them over with your work ethic.

In addition, ask many questions, take on tasks that fall outside of your direct responsibility, and be a sponge, soaking up as much knowledge and information as you possibly can.

Don’t bring up where you went to school, and only address it if you are asked. Most likely, no one will even care… However, if you go around publicly announcing where you went to school to everyone you meet (like it’s a big deal), chances are, they’ll all be thinking, “What a snob this person is!” And first impressions stick, so be mindful of that.

Your degree is needed to help you get your foot in the door. In other words, it’s just needed to get you that initial first interview(s). Once you start working, experience is the ONLY thing that matters. And you acquire that, on the job.

Take Care of Your Health

Good health is seldom appreciated until it’s no longer there. I know you’re still young, and you probably feel strong, like you’re sitting on top of the world right now, but just know that things can change in the blink of an eye.

Life is precious, finite, and short. It can be stripped away from any one of us at any given moment. Tomorrow is not guaranteed to anyone, so do your absolute best to always put yourself in an optimal position to maximize your health. Eat well and exercise regularly. Often preached, and even more often ignored… Don’t neglect your health as you push yourself, trying to progress in your career.

Stress is toxic. Avoid it as much as possible. Work will ALWAYS be there later… Do your best, but don’t go overboard, and know when to call it a day. Listen to your body, and never underestimate the importance of rest and relaxation! If possible, try to take one long vacation each and every year. Two would be even better…

Hard Work is Overrated

With that said, hard work is NOT the secret for getting ahead in life, or your career. Some of the lowest paid workers out there are also the hardest working. Regardless of what they taught you in school, you get ahead in this world by being smart and efficient. Networking doesn’t hurt either, but do that genuinely. Don’t connect with people just to connect. Instead, put in the work to build meaningful relationships that go beyond work (business). You can never have too many good friends…

Again, remember: Don’t work harder, work smarter!

The Rat Race is NOT Life

The rat race is a necessary evil many of us have to conquer in order to get to that better life. What exactly is that better life, you’re wondering?

In order to maximize life, we must find a way to maximize our time on this planet. The grim reaper has us all beat, sadly, and every single last one of us will be confined to the same fate — death.

Death isn’t necessarily all bad… Without death, we wouldn’t know how valuable and precious life really is. Because of death, we need to make sure we cherish every last drop of life that we can squeeze out.

And that most certainly means NOT working 9-5, M-F, from graduation until 65… No matter how awesome and exciting the thought of work might seem to you right now, I promise you, it will become routine and mundane. You will get bored of it, eventually… You will want to do something else… especially if you have to work out of necessity, not by choice. And there is perhaps no harsher reality than realizing that you are at the mercy of an employer… Nobody likes being forced to have to do anything! As humans, we all covet freedom, first and foremost.

You have many dreams, goals, and ambitions… Make note of everything you want to accomplish in life, and find a way to make it happen. Money is a means to and end… it should never be the main objective in life.

Want to Be Broke? Keep Up with Your Friends!

Now that you’ve got the job, title, and salary, you’re probably wanting to look for ways to flaunt that off for your friends to see. You’ll probably feel the need to buy something expensive to “validate” your worth to the world… or, to signal your “arrival”, right? Not so fast…

Again, if you’re not careful, and you overindulge on things you can only barely afford, you’ll be setting yourself back many years (if not decades), financially. It may seem counter-intuitive to everything you’ve seen on TV, but some of the wealthiest people out there are also the most frugal. If you want to not only build wealth, but maintain it, you must become an excellent money manager. And the absolute best way for you to make REAL, forward progress is to rein in the spending. This is especially important when you are first starting out in your career and trying to build up a strong financial foundation.

Earn More, Save More

Here’s a new concept: As you advance in your career and earn more money, you should aim to save an even higher percentage of your paycheck. The mainstream news outlets and magazines will tell you that you are doing a fantastic job of saving if you’re putting away 10% of each paycheck…

However, you should easily be able to do better than that. Remember how we preached about the importance of time and how short and finite life really is? If you want to get to the good stuff early in life, put in the effort upfront so that you can enjoy much more of it later.

The money magazines will all be telling you that the new retirement age keeps going up. Your generation will no longer be able to retire comfortably at 65, they say, but 75 is a more realistic target. Pretty soon, they’ll be saying 80… and then 85… It’s all nonsense! There is another way… A better way.

Early financial independence. Why retire when you are old and grey? Why wait to get to the good stuff when you can barely walk and travel? Wouldn’t you rather maximize life during your peak years? Don’t follow the herd mentality way of thinking. There are pioneers out there who are retiring at 30… 35… 50… well, well before 65.

Sound appealing to you? Well, if you really want to get ahead financially, aim at saving much more than 10%. You achieve what others don’t by doing what others won’t. The folks who are most serious about reaching early financial independence will regularly put away 50% or more of their earned income each month. If you can get to 80%+, you’ll be in elite company.

When you were in college, you became a master of frugality. You learned how to successfully get by on an empty wallet each and every year. Why throw away such practical, and useful knowledge? What worked then can still work now! Life is about the experiences and memories you create, as you learned in college. Material possessions are not the path to sustained happiness. You’ll just end up accumulating junk that you’ll have to figure out how to store or give away later… Also, if you don’t give in to lifestyle inflation, you’ll be able to save up a surplus, which will allow you to…

The Best Time to Start Investing? Yesterday…

Invest… The TRUE secret to becoming wealthy and financially independent is to invest as much of your money as possible into acquiring income producing assets. You want to own assets that become increasingly more valuable over time (stocks, bonds, real estate, etc.).

Income producing assets are the best type of asset; not only do they appreciate over time, but they also return a portion of income to you on a regular basis. Whether it’s monthly, quarterly, or yearly, income producing assets help supplement your earned income to help you become more wealthy.

The best time to get started with buying assets? Yesterday… Compound interest is a powerful ally that has aided so many others, like you, and helped them create massive wealth. The effects of compounding become more evident over the years, so you want to get started on your journey to wealth creation (and financial independence) as early as possible. Not long from now, your family, future generations, and even your future self will be most grateful that you started as early as you did. What starts off supplementing your income will one day snowball into something so grand that it will likely replace, or exceed your earned income. If you can get to the point where your investments out-earn your expenses, by definition, you will be financially free!

The freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want? Maybe it sounds like a pipe dream, but if you stay committed, you can make this your reality. Impossible is nothing!

Be Happy!

Do you want to live a better life? Focus on being happy. Life is 20% what happens to you, and 80% how you react to it. Keep things in perspective, and don’t sweat the small stuff that will ultimately not matter at all in the end. Appreciate what you have, and you won’t fall into the trap of always desiring more.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

The universe will take care of the rest.

Fight on!

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Joe Saul-Sehy
6 years ago

Great speech. You should give commencement addresses!

What’s sad is that while most people, in your words, become “masters of frugality” during college, they forget those traits the second a paycheck begins coming. People are all-too-eager to enter the rat race…..

Jason @ Islands of Investing

Inspiring stuff FI Fighter, and some great advice which you just can’t hear often enough. I’m a big fan of your comment that ‘80% of life is how you react to what happens to you’, but I like to think it’s closer to 99%. The trade-off between hard work and being happy can be tricky sometimes – we want to work hard now to reap the (FI) benefits later, but for some, being happy might involve working less –> saving less –> delaying FI. It really comes back to having a good grasp of your own values and figuring out… Read more »


Great post and a must read for all new graduates! I remember new graduates who felt entitled even BEFORE they graduated. They had splurged using their student loan money assuming it would be easily paid off once they started working. I’m glad that I saved immediately after I got my first job…had an IRA and contributed to my 401k (should have contributed more!)…while FI at 35 (next year for me) is not possible but I think we’re in great shape…and yep, I’m not down to get into the rat race!

Mr. Frugalwoods
6 years ago

Wow, this post is a keeper! You’ve neatly distilled what I usually spend 45 minutes talking about with new grads. Stress is indeed toxic, both mentally but also physically. Not enough folks consider the affect of chronic stress on their life. I didn’t realize it until almost 10 years into a career that is known for high stress! As financially nice as it is to be able to roll over vacation days from year to year, I almost think it’s better to have them expire. Then people would feel like they needed to use vacation or lose it… and hopefully… Read more »

Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life

I think my advice to new grads would be to keep their eyes open to opportunities, even if they’re not in line with the future they originally anticipated. I think people get so locked in on one way of what they think their lives are going to be and miss chances right in front of them.

No Nonsense Landlord
6 years ago

It has been many years sine I graduated from college. Most of my net worth has come from RE, not my job. But my job did allow me to invest in RE, which increased my NW exponentially.

6 years ago

A must read for all new graduates or even those of us who have been lost in the “rat race” yet know there’s something more, something better out there.

Two inspirational posts in a row, any reason in particular?

A Frugal Family's Journey

Great article…I agree with everything you said. I think you’ve covered the topic well. Any graduate, high school or college, should benefit greatly from the tips you have provided in this post. On behalf of all the recent graduate out there, thanks for sharing!

Best wishes. AFFJ