Bird leaves nest: Equipping your graduate with wings

About one month after I graduated from high school, I moved out of my parents' home for the first time. Freedom! No curfew! No rules! I had been waiting for this day for years. “When I graduate from high school, I am so outta here!”

Shortly after moving out, though, I realized I wasn't quite as well-prepared as I thought I was. One of my similarly immature friends was telling me about a minor car mishap with another driver. She hadn't known how to handle it, like the exchange of car insurance information and whether or not the police should be called. Her boss gave her advice, but it made me realize that I didn't have a clue what to do either.

And I quickly realized I didn't have a clue about a lot of things. It gave me a slight panic attack.

By now, most high school seniors have started their last year of high school before embarking on the journey of adulthood. Poised on the precipice of the rest of their life, they can't possibly be prepared for everything they will experience. Indeed, if I had known the challenges that awaited me in my not-so-hard adult life, I probably would have curled up in the fetal position and locked my door.

Ideally, young adults should be given responsibility in increasing doses so they aren't totally dependent on their parents today and mostly independent tomorrow.

So how can you prepare the graduate in your life to face this world?

1. Finances. Do they have accounts set up? Do they understand how those accounts work? Not that anyone writes checks anymore, but supposedly one of my teachers knew someone who thought she still had money in her account as long as she had checks to write. Whether it's true or not, it's still a useful story.

As a newly independent adult, I operated on a mostly cash budget. I had my own credit card; but it had a small limit, so I couldn't charge much. I didn't have a lot of extra cash; but then again, neither did my friends. Our needs were small, and our wants even smaller. To learn to use credit responsibly, you may want to start out with a secured credit card.

2. Cooking/Grocery shopping. I had some cooking skills when I moved out, but it was mainly how to feed my meat-and-potatoes family. While potatoes were cheap, meat was not. I hadn't done the grocery shopping at home, so I didn't realize meat was so expensive. I did my best to decrease my food spending by shopping at stores like Aldi or finding the quick-sale bins at other supermarkets, but if only the $4 a day cookbook had been available then! Print out a copy for your grad.

3. Catastrophes, mostly minor. As befitting my budget, I drove a really unreliable car. It left me stranded more than once, but I'd always had my dad to call. Except now he wasn't in the same city. And when I needed to see a medical specialist, I had to figure out how to handle that too. Now these things seem so easy to handle; but as a newly independent adult, they felt overwhelming. By thinking about which situations may be faced, you can provide your graduate with a list of phone numbers and scenarios. For example:

  • If you get a flat tire on the interstate, whom do you call?
  • What should you do if your car doesn't start?
  • If you get into a minor fender bender, what should you do?
  • If you have an issue with your apartment, how do you get it fixed?

4. A relationship. Hopefully you have made the effort to cultivate a relationship so that when the graduate is overwhelmed and needs some advice NOW, they know they can call you. They will fail, like we all do, but probably with a little more frequency. But that's okay. Being an adult takes some practice and none of us ever do it perfectly. To borrow a line from the articulate, frequent commenter, Beth, on my article on preventing failure: “Everyone deserves someone who believes in them.” If they know you believe in them, they will embrace their responsibility.

Provide encouragement, but always, always be realistic.

Instead of saying, “You can be anything you want to be,” try to explain that you can probably be anything you want to be, but it may come at a great cost (increased stress, time away from friends and family, etc.).

Keep low expectations of what success will come, but still work as hard as you can. After all, the gap between expectations and reality is disappointment. I have never been disappointed by getting more than I expected, but I have been disappointed when I get less than I expected.

I had a doctor's appointment recently and he said something that I hope I never forget. When I explained our new baby was sleeping decently at night, was a good baby, and I was feeling fantastic, he said, “Life is bumpy, but there are always in-between patches that are smooth. When you're in the in-between patches, enjoy them, because they won't last forever. And when you're in the bumpy parts, just hang on because they won't last either.”

I would have appreciated if an experienced adult would have told me that it's okay to mess up, that everyone does. Experience and wisdom come with time. It's impossible for your 18-year-old self to have the judgment of your 40-year-old self. And that's okay. We don't have to be perfect, but the journey is one to be enjoyed.

Did you feel pressure when you went out on your own? What do you wish you had known when you became an adult? Which common mistakes did you make?

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freebird
freebird
5 years ago

No pressure, I enjoyed the feeling of control. At that age I didn’t worry about car accidents and the like although of course I always buckled up and never drove drunk. My biggest mistake was on savings and investment. The savings part I started very early and kept at a high level, that wasn’t the issue. My earliest investments were all short term trades, those were profitable but I kept cash for way too long so I missed out on long term gains. I should have bought mutual funds from the beginning and held them to this day. My advice… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
5 years ago

I still call my mom for advice when my car breaks down, and I’m 33. Even my husband calls her with problems!

Aldo@ MDN
5 years ago

I didn’t really feel pressure when I moved on my own, but I really wasn’t thinking about my financial future either. I wish I knew how to take care of my finances early on and from my parents, but they also didn’t know much about it.

Slackerjo
Slackerjo
5 years ago
Brian @ Debt Discipline
Brian @ Debt Discipline
5 years ago

My parents prepared me fairly well, we are trying to do the same for our 3 children, but with a better emphasize on finance.

getagrip
getagrip
5 years ago

It’s amazing how much intelligence your parents gain when you start living on your own. One problem I’ve seen over and over is based on expectations, both mine as a parent and the kids. At many Mom’s and Dad’s homes the kids grow up with a lot, spacious rooms, comfy furniture, bigscreen TVs, a continually stocked refrigerator and pantry, cars where they grab the keys and go, the highest speed internet, cable premium channels, activities with no costs (to them), magic housekeeping, and finally the bulk of their income is able to be spent on wants. Even if they are… Read more »

Prudence Debtfree
Prudence Debtfree
5 years ago
Reply to  getagrip

“They may see you do something a hundred times, but they often don’t understand the reasoning behind it and often assume you just do things that way versus you are doing it that way for a good reason.” That is so true! And yet how boring it would be for us to explain everything we do. I think the best strategy is to coach our children when their money is at stake. For example, if my child has an allowance and has to buy a birthday present for a friend, I can walk her through the decision-making process with more… Read more »

Cookster
Cookster
5 years ago

My kids knew all the basics of cooking, cleaning, budgeting, and fixing things. When they moved out, we bought them basic supplies (ie tools, laundry detergent, Windex) and they were also given things that I had saved for them over the years like silverware and dishes. The 2 best gifts were an AAA membership for 5 years and the tool box. I thought I had all their skills nailed until one night I got a call at 3am concerning a break in at our daughter’s apartment. I had forgotten to tell them to call 911! I guess I thought that… Read more »

Dennis Frailey
Dennis Frailey
5 years ago

The thing I knew the least about was investing, primarily because my parents didn’t know all that much either. I wish I had been told a few of the guidelines I’ve learned over the years, such as: – Take the time to learn the basics of investing. Read John Bogle’s “Common Sense on Mutual Funds” as a starting point. (This would be a far better – and cheaper – graduation gift than a car.) The more you know the less you have to rely on others who may not have your interests at heart or who may not always be… Read more »

Prudence Debtfree
Prudence Debtfree
5 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Frailey

I’m putting John Bogle’s “Common Sense on Mutual Funds” on my “to-buy” list. Thanks!

Lola
Lola
5 years ago

I remember wondering how adults just knew how to do stuff and I thought I would magically know how to handle stuff when I became an adult. I was 17 when I moved out (the first time, haha) and there was definitely some anxiety about knowing how to do things when I was out on my own. I learned pretty quickly that if I swallowed my pride and admitted I had wasn’t sure what to do in certain situations, people were very kind about helping me and explaining things to me. However, I wish I had known more about finances.… Read more »

Prudence Debtfree
Prudence Debtfree
5 years ago
Reply to  Lola

Although people always say, “Start when you’re young,” and although it is certainly best to do so, there is another truth: “It’s never too late.” There are many people in their 40s who are not asking the right questions. I was one of them. Now I’m in my 50s, and I’m getting on the right track. I can see the difference already. It’s not too late : )

Dennis Frailey
Dennis Frailey
5 years ago

I agree that it’s never too late. But that should not be used as an excuse to put things off. The longer you wait, the deeper the hole you have to dig out of.

Prudence Debtfree
Prudence Debtfree
5 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Frailey

I don’t think “It’s never too late,” is ever used as an excuse to put things off. It’s an acknowledgement of the fact that while it’s way better to be financially wise at a young age, it still makes a difference to gain that wisdom later in life. When I was being foolish with money, it never occurred to me to say “It’s never too late” because I didn’t even acknowledge there was a problem with what I was doing.

lmoot
lmoot
5 years ago

To be honest I don’t remember how I grew up. It all happened so gradually and seamlessly I guess. Usually it started with me calling my dad or grandmother about an issue I’ve never dealt with, and the next time it happened I remembered how to deal with it, then eventually I learned how to problem solve and deal with new issues by myself. There are still days I sit here at 30 in wonderment with a mortgage, a paid off car, a degree, a job. It feels like just yesterday I was eating pizza in the backyard with friends,… Read more »

Stephanie Ko
Stephanie Ko
5 years ago

Having that panic attack and learning all these things at 18 is better than learning them at 28… parents mean well in sheltering their kids but in the end its hurting them

Millionaires Giving Money
Millionaires Giving Money
5 years ago

Excellent post, I remember the time when I first left home. I soon got a taste of real life and while it was bumpy prepared me for later life. I can really relate to this post thanks for sharing.

Prudence Debtfree
Prudence Debtfree
5 years ago

When I was still living with my parents, I rarely listened to their wise advice. One of my children is just like I was. I suspect that she, like her mother, will learn the hard way. Once she’s out on her own, she’ll realize how little she knows. Advance advice has limited effectiveness for people like us. I’ll aspire to be as gracious about her rocky road as my parents were about mine.

Mike Goodman
Mike Goodman
5 years ago

Money matters are one of the things we should educate our children about. Living within their means, managing their credit cards and knowing how debt can impact their future.

Marie
Marie
5 years ago

Teaching your kid how to cook can end up being USELESS depending on your cultural norms. I was taught to cook super-rich Dutchy food: tons of red meat and butter. My husband comes from a long line of heart patients, living on vegetables and skinless chicken breasts. I had to relearn everything, or risk giving my husband cardiac arrest in his 30s. Cooking lean meats with unsaturated oils is very different from cooking beef with lard!

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