Updated on 04.24.10

What Do You Really Have to Lose?

Trent Hamm

This post goes out to all of the readers who are about to graduate from college (and from high school, for that matter) and are wondering what comes next (hopefully, you already know and have a plan for it, but if you do, you’re in the minority).

A few days ago, a college student I know was talking about his upcoming graduation. His plans mostly revolved around getting a good paying job, but he also talked about how he might go back to school some day and study a particular branch of philosophy that he truly loved studying and reading about.

I asked him why he was choosing to put a good paying job over a path that he was deeply personally passioante about that might not necessarily earn a great deal in the near future. He pretty much exploded, offering up a rant about how the world revolves around money and the only way he would ever be able to chase the dreams he has is if he has lots of income.

I couldn’t disagree more. Let me explain why.

First, the need for money in the bank comes down to what you’re responsible for. If you’re fresh out of college with nothing to your name but a car, you really don’t have that much that you’re responsible for. You don’t have a house. You don’t have a partner. You don’t have children. You don’t have an established career to protect.

You just have you, your dreams, your skills, and your potential. Nothing else.

Second, you don’t actually have a lot of day-to-day financial need, either. It’s perfectly normal and acceptable for a new graduate to live in a small apartment or a room in a house. Why? The rent is cheap. You can eat really cheap, too – just stock up on whatever fresh produce is on sale at the grocery store.

The big money that many people often believe they need is for stuff that they actually merely want, and it’s those wants that stand in the way of taking a leap towards a dream.

Thus, your income requirements are very low. You’re responsible for yourself. Just you. All you really need is a place to lay your head at night and food in your belly.

If you can’t find a job doing what you want to do, take on an internship. If you can’t find an internship, ask for one directly from the place you dream of working. If that doesn’t work, just start doing and sharing. Whatever it is you dream of doing, there’s an avenue out there to explore it and throw yourself in with your whole heart.

Since you don’t need much income, get a job sitting behind a counter at a gas station at night. Earn minimum wage and sit there with your notebook open, collecting your ideas and thoughts about whatever it is you want to do. Spend your mental and physical energy building the life you want.

There is no better time in your life to just throw caution to the wind and see where your passion will carry you than when you’re young and free of many responsiblities. If it doesn’t work, you’re not out anything much – maybe a few years, at worst. If it does work, you’ve opened the door to a lifetime of doing what you want to do.

What do you really have to lose? Not much. What do you have to gain? The life you dream of.

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  1. Pop says:

    One of my biggest regrets coming out of undergrad was that I didn’t do any of the things you described above. There was a lot of pressure to jump right into the career–almost like it was a race to stay ahead of your classmates. It wasn’t even about the money. It was more about feeling like a success relative to my peers.

    I was winning that race for a while, but the third or fourth year in, I started to realize that it was a race no one won. At the end of my life, I couldn’t take that successful career with me. And it really turns out that all the stuff I love to do doesn’t take all that much money anyway.

  2. Noadi says:

    Or how about do what I did: start a small business. People think it’s expensive to start a business, and sure some are but have very little overhead. Particularly web based businesses. You can have a day job to pay the bills until you’re profitable, I now fully support myself selling sill octopus jewelry plus a few other minor income streams from blogging and article writing.

    I’m not fresh out of school now but still in my 20s, my expenses as a single person with only a dog to look after are pretty minimal compared to my married friends (especially those with kids). My apartment rent is pretty affordable, eating is cheap when you cook for yourself, I’ve even been able to put a little savings away for emergencies and start an IRA. This is a time when you have some freedom to pursue what you love before settling down with long term commitments. Take advantage of it.

  3. Kate says:

    It doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition. Just because he feels he needs to go out an earn money NOW doesn’t mean that will always be the case.

    Taking a sabbatical, paid or unpaid, can actually be really helpful to your career. While I haven’t had the chance to do it yet, one acquaintance of mine and one close boss have done it, and both have found themselves refreshed, renewed, and actually ahead of the game because of it.

    The acquaintance was a doctor in the UK who took 6 months off and came down to Malawi. She consulted at the hospital in the city a couple of days a week and travelled the rest of the time.

    She was a huge inspiration the young me, who thought I had to get it all out of the way as soon as I graduated, because I’d never find the time/get the time off later on. We kept in touch after she went home, and she actually wound up getting a very fulfilling promotion because of her newfound knowledge of tropical medicine! (not from her personal experience, from the local hospital!)

    The close boss had been working for 8-10 years, the last 4 in the same job, and he was feeling burnt out and bored. Wanted to feel like he was learning something new.

    First he got the company to pay for some university courses related to his job, to see if he enjoyed going back to school, etc. At the same time, he started saving up a considerable amount of cash and paring down his lifestyle. Then he was approved for leave without pay to go do his PhD in Philosophy (not at ALL related to his job, but it left him incredibly fulfilled).

    He has come back to work refreshed and renewed, with a new loyalty to the company for letting him take the time he needed, AND he missed out on most of the effects of the recession because his job was guaranteed for him to come back. Now that the company’s expanding again, he’s just gotten his dream posting with them.

  4. Rowenna says:

    I am graduating from college in two weeks, and I wish this applied to me, but it just doesn’t… I DO have a partner, and I do plan on marrying and having children in the very near future. I need to put all the money away I can, so I really DO need to find a job that will pay for things. I think assuming all college students are completely without strings attached when they graduate is naive…

    Trent often writes about finding the thing that you feel fulfilled doing, and putting all your effort into that, but what should you do if having a family is that thing you most want to do with your life? All I want to do is stay at home and start my family, but I can’t afford a home or kids without some (more likely A LOT) of money….

  5. John says:

    I would definitely chase my dream now if I knew my dream was.

  6. Jennifer says:

    This is what I’m trying to convince myself I have the guts to do. A little over six months ago, I had too much to lose to follow my dreams. Now, through a series of,well, unfortunate events, I have a car and my stuff and my pets. I’m trying to realize my dreams… I hate that I’m here, because of all I’ve lost, but I’m excited to have a chance at the things I thought I’d missed my shot at.

  7. Gretchen says:

    Good thing this generic person has a car, because on minimum wage (which is what I assume one makes at a gas station), you’d have to live in it.

  8. Steve says:

    This is a feel-good post, but I would also make sure someone understands the other part of the story – compounding on your savings.

    By getting a decent job young and starting off saving right, you can put more into savings than you can with the extra commitments. Saving early is always better than saving later in terms of compounding interest. Thus, there is still an opportunity cost of pursuing your dreams young vs. later. In addition, the experience you gain in a job (depending on job) can help you understand what you like/don’t like. It’s easier to quit when young than it is when you’re supporting a family.

    The point is to try out many things while young rather than locking yourself in to only one path which you may regret later in life (either the “pursue your dream” path or the “only work focus” path).

  9. Leah says:

    I have to say that I more-or-less did what Trent suggests. I’ve always followed my interests and just gone with the flow. I graduated college in 2005 and did two years for an MS in ecology (paid for by a TA position). So, it’s been 5 years since I graduated, and I’m still working seasonal, low-paying jobs. I currently make $11.50 an hour with no benefits, tho I do pay for my own health insurance.

    I have to say this: it would be interesting to make more money. I’m jealous of some of my cousins and friends who made different choices and have plenty of free income for traveling. BUT, I actually have done some traveling since college (3 weeks in New Zealand was my longest stint, and I’ve also gone to Spain, Florida, Maine, and more). And I am pretty darn happy with my life. I have tons of flexibility and can pretty much go/do what I want. I really enjoy my current job, but I know I can always switch fields if I start to feel unchallenged.

    I think everyone has to decide what’s the right path for them. I make things work by being frugal, but it’s certainly not the only path in life. For me, this has been right — I couldn’t sit at a desk all day — but each person has to make their own choices.

  10. Johanna says:

    You also need to pay for health insurance, since the gas station probably doesn’t provide it and you don’t have a spouse with a real job that provides it. If you’re young enough, you can mooch off your parents’ plan (assuming they have one) but you can’t do that forever.

    And you probably have a pile of student loans – assuming that your parents took Trent’s advice and left you to “make college happen” on your own without any help from then – that you’re going to need to pay down eventually.

    Trent, we get that you’re happy with your decision to make less money rather than more money. That doesn’t mean that it’s the right decision for everybody, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the best possible life is the one where you make the least possible money.

    I’d really like to see you draw up what you think a monthly budget would be for this hypothetical person working at a gas station.

  11. lmoot says:

    Isn’t this supposed to be what college is about? Finding yourself? learning to be a free-thinker, to dream, to prepare. Sitting in a gas station writing in a journal? What a huge let-down at the pinnacle of the “real life” preparation. Thank God I didn’t do what you suggested. I already feel like I’m not where I wanted to be monetarily and experience-wise at my age, and time is quickly passing.
    Us recent grads (two years ago for me) are not all care-free wind in our hair, no responsibilities breed. I’m sorry, but I think 4 years is plenty time for someone to find themselves. I agree don’t jump into an unsatisfying job just be cause it pays big, but I’d rather be in a big paying job that I don’t love, than a gas-station attendant that I would surely hate and that would likely pay much less. What is it with people thinking your job has to be your passion? I understand that you have been able to find a job that incorporates your passion, but honestly my passion is traveling, being with friends and family, dancing, doing, living…very little needs to be associated with work.
    Does your friend even want a job in this particular branch of philosophy? Are there even jobs available utilizing such an obscure topic? Can’t he start an in-home library, and join philosophy discussions online or IRL, or even take classes time to time.
    Just because a job doesn’t incorporate all of your life’s passions doesn’t mean it’s worthless. If that’s true then I’m shoot out of luck because I don’t know where I’m going to find a job that requires me to go scuba diving in the keys, partake in family cookouts, have international vacays, all while letting me collect exotic cultural items to take back home and lavishly decorate my house and yard a la HGTV. Yes, I know people have jobs that involves them doing this, but I also know that realistically that’s not likely to happen to most people. It really does take a certain focused and passionate person to do this, plus sacrifice, plus a little luck.

  12. I disagree to an extent, and my latest blog post pretty much covers the exact opposite of this argument. I think you should make as much as possible in your 20s when you don’t have a lot of day-to-day expenses so you can save like crazy. You’ll have longer time for your savings to earn compound interest, so get the high paying job now and work when you have the energy for it in your 20s. Then when you have a family, you’ll have the experience and savings under your belt. If you chose to later go back to school for something you love, at this point you will know what you need financially out of life.

  13. Steven says:

    Post-secondary education is not for everyone, especially majoring in something with no clear goals. Plenty of people now go to school thinking that just because they graduated from college, the new doors will open for them and things will resolve on their own. A degree alone doesn’t mean much, let alone one from a degree mill. Especially with the recession, many people went back to school for the sake of doing something, so the market with be loaded with plenty of degree bearing applicants, lowering the value and advantage it once gave.

    Also, a degree in philosophy is not directly relevant to most occupations, so why attend school full time if it’s only a hobby/interest? Take courses part time or audit the classes of interest if it’s the interaction between classmates and the professor that you seek.

    Otherwise, why not read up on it on your own at your own pace? I’m an engineer, and just because I graduated and have a job, doesn’t mean I stopped reading. I’m also looking for relevant articles, patents, and textbooks that are in line with what I do at work. I’m lucky because what I’m interested in is what I do for my living. I spend a lot of time outside work hours doing the background reading while I do the “experiments” and implementing ideas when I’m there.

    It’s great that you’re in an established position Trent, where you have the major things taken care of, and you can take a hit in earnings.

    And I’m sorry, but the world DOES REVOLVE AROUND MONEY. Even you talk about money saving tips, being frugal, investing, socking away money to cover the lean months, and etc all the time.

    I’m all for awesome experiences, but what if he was to become a poker player? Play video games in his parent’s basement full time? Collecting every DVD ever made?

  14. lmoot says:

    Also, the last thing I want to do after rooming with 3 other girls for 4 years and rent a room in someone’s house. Nope, I bought my little bungalow ASAP. And the car that I had when I graduated that was the “only thing” I was responsible for? Died. What did I have to do? Get a new car? With what money? My less than stellar job that pays the bills, because even when I was living at home, I still had bills, and I was certainly not buying *stuff*. Two years out of school, I bought a house, I bought a car (that will be paid off less than a year after purchasing), and I have a decent chunk of savings, a Roth IRA, a 401k (which my “worthless” Employer contributes 4 1/2% to) and my health insurance costs $50/month.

    I, too would like to see the budget (including savings) of this college student. I wouldn’t mind seeing where he might be 2 years from now as well. My advice, is simply being interested in going back to school to study a branch of philosophy is not reason enough IMO to stop all progression in every other area of life. If he is working in an internship, or professorship, or already contributing to the field of his “passions” in some significant way, then it may be a sign that going back to school could be a good investment. But, come one…there has to be a more concrete goal for me to believe that this is anything other than lalaland reasoning.

  15. marta says:

    I get what you are trying to say: follow your dreams before you are too bound by real life responsibilities. It’s a nice sentiment but not very realistic for most people.

    A college graduate in the USA will most likely have student loans debts to her name. Health insurance will be a concern as well, because you are still pretty far from an universal HC system. She has a car, okay. That carries a lot of costs. Ditch it and move somewhere with a mass transit system? Okay, that’ll mean a higher cost of living (even with roommates).

    She can cut your costs all you want, but there are things she just won’t be able to skip (not if she’s being truly independent), and at 7 dollars an hour (whatever minimum wage is) she won’t have a lot of breathing room.

    Wouldn’t it be better for this hypothetical college graduate to get a decent/good paying job (not that easy in this economy) and try to save quite a bit? Sure, you can get too comfortable in good job, but it’s easier to pursue dreams when there is some money in the bank. And that money will hardly come from working minimum wage jobs.

    You, for example, say you have fulfilled your dream of being a writer. How did this happen? You went to college, took some student loans, got a good paying job… blahblah consumerism blahblah meltdown blahblah blogging about PF, which led to full-time blogging/writing. How would you have got there if you hadn’t gone through all of that? Is it realistic to think you’d be able to make it if you had been writing fiction or whatever after college, while working at your gas station, MW job? Good luck with that!

  16. Mel says:

    I’m with Gretchen: unless one has zero student loans, a working car that’s not about to break down OR good public transport, and free rent (living with parents, maybe), minimum wage will not support a recent grad. Especially if they want health insurance, or even basic health care (annual checkups, dental cleanings, etc.) At least not *one* minimum wage job, and I don’t know anyone who would work two soul-sucking minimum wage jobs when they could work on slightly-less soul-sucking job that will pay the bills by itself.

    I think this makes a lot of assumptions about college students, and it’s kind of bizarrely romanticizing minimum wage jobs.

  17. Amanda says:

    Trent, Your idea is good in theory. I haven’t finished college and I didn’t even start college until after I was married. After high school I was so sure I wanted to be a graphic designer. I moved to a big city and started working as a receptionist at a design company (just to get my foot in the door) I made friends with the graphic designers and I got to see first hand what they did every day. I learned from that job that I do not want to be a graphic designer.

    Three years later I found myself with a very clear understanding of what I want to do (Art Therapy) but with no college yet, I was way behind. At that point I got married and got one year of college in before we moved away and I started having children. I wish I would have had the “college experience” but I also treasure those three years of living on my own and finding out what I really wanted out of life. Now, I just have to find time to finish school while raising my two little ones.

  18. Des says:

    “If it doesn’t work, you’re not out anything much – maybe a few years, at worst.”

    The problem with this mentality is when do you decide that following your dreams “hasn’t worked out” and you give up and join the work force? After two years at the gas station? 5 years? 15 years? At what point to you admit to yourself that you’ll never achieve your dreams? If the answer is the idealistic “never” then you may be setting this young man up for a lifetime of gas station attending.

  19. Jules says:

    It’s not that he’s going to be out a few years–the question is: will he have anything worthwhile to show for those years? It’s true that you don’t need a lot of stuff, but simply learning to get by on Ramen isn’t going to impress future employers or clients. You may think a few years is “nothing”, but I’m going to beg to differ and say that if you haven’t achieved anything in that time (or don’t know what you want to achieve, or don’t have a plan for getting where you want to go), you’re screwed.

    As for minimum wage jobs: Actually, it is possible to live on those. I did the math for one (dog grooming–this was the job I was going to take after leaving grad school, at least before I moved overseas) and found that, assuming that I worked a standard 40-hour week, I’d be able to pay rent, buy a train ticket (because I don’t have a car), pay utilities, AND eat. I’ll grant you that it would not have been fun, but it would have been do-able, and I’d have had a lot more time to write.

  20. Ariana says:

    “If it doesn’t work, you’re not out anything much- maybe a few years, at worst”.

    Money can be recovered with careful planning. But time lost is time lost. Nothing stems more anger and regret than lost time on lost opportunities.

    4 years is enough time to decide what to do after college. If not, that is what adulthood is for.

  21. Kai says:

    While I agree that people shouldn’t be *solely* concerned with how much a job pays, they really should be considering it to some degree. A new college graduate really should be going out and making money if he is in school debt, and should really consider the financial investment required before doing any more school.

    If this guy is already four years of student loans behind, he really is going to need a decent-paying job. Adding another three years worth of graduate school bills to that debt, and coming out with a masters in *philosophy* is really stupid – now you’re seven years tuition in debt, with no employability.

    Now, if you’re even on your money after the degree, and you have an offer to go to graduate school for free, have at it – as long as you can keep a bit of money, study whatever your heart desires for free. But it’s stupid to go into debt with no plan to be able to pay it back later on.

    Student debt is still debt, and should be entered into only very cautiously. Getting a degree that will give you higher employability can be worth it. Something like philosophy is only for those with the money to idle.

    Too many kids these days have been told to follow their dreams, and pursue their passion – and now we have a generation of entitled brats who won’t take a job that doesn’t fulfill them in all ways, who put themselves deeper and deeper in debt looking to find themselves. We need people to run the world too!

  22. BD says:

    I disagree with this post 100%. I did exactly what you suggested while I was in college – went for an Art Degree, and when I got out of college: I chased my dreams of becoming a graphic designer because that Art what I was passionate about. I figured all I needed was talent and passion. I figured I only had myself to care for. It worked, more or less, with me living with a precariously low income and trying to ‘work my way up’ in the design world, for about 10 years, while the market became entirely glutted with way too many talented/experienced graphic designers, and wages plummeted. Then, the recession hit, and all the designers got laid off first. In addition, most design jobs are now only found in the largest and most expensive cities (ie, New York, LA, Silicon Valley, etc) where the cost of living is far too high for a designer’s low wages.

    Now, I’m middle-aged, have been out of work for 5 years now, unable to find a graphic design job, unable to afford to live on my own (and back in with mom and dad), and realizing I was an IDIOT for chasing my dreams and passions instead of going to college for something that was more sustainable.

    This fall, I start all over again, at age 38, going to college to become an Accountant, because accountants are always needed, and it’s a good sustainable career. I should have done that from the start, and kept art as a money-earning HOBBY on the side.

    For those of you who want to chase your dreams, first figure out if it pays a living wage, and if there are enough jobs in your field. Even if you’re fresh out of college, you actually have a LOT to lose if you go into a career that will lose jobs later on or is a low paying career that is limited to just the largest and most expensive of cities. Get into something safe, and keep your dreams as a money-earning HOBBY on the side. You don’t want to end up jobless and homeless or having to rely on your parents when you’re middle-aged.

  23. Additionally,

    You will be much happier as a person by doing something you are truly passionate about rather than doing something just for a big paycheck.

    And to me, true personal happiness trumps a full wallet any day of the week

  24. marie says:

    I completely disagree with this post.

    When people go to university or college, it’s because they don’t want to be stuck working minimum wage for the rest of their lives. It’s because they don’t want to live off mom and dad, or in a 2 bedroom apartment with 3 other people. Oh yeah, that person already has a car? No student loans? Well, that money has got to be coming from somewhere…Most people graduate college with loans and need to get their act together.

    Your advice is actually the problem with people in my generation. They graduate from college and then go back to being teenagers until they are 30 and then realize they are screwed and will probably never have the chance to go to the top. That’s the way it is.

    Oh yeah, and isn’t this advice telling the person to pretty much live paycheck to paycheck?

  25. deRuiter says:

    Marie’s #24 nailed it! “Your advice is actually the problem with people in my generation. They graduate from college and then go back to being teenagers until they are 30 and then realize they are screwed and will probably never have the chance to go to the top.” Yep, that’s what we need, another gas station attendant with a master’s degree in some odd branch of philosophy, collecting minimum wage, living communally in a hovel or sponging off Mom and Dad, and contemplating his/her navel. Earn money now at a good job, if you can get one, don’t take a minimum wage job away from some poor schlub with only an 8th grade education who can’t get anything else. Knock out all student loan debts, sock money in the bank. You can still cart around that notebook and write ideas. When you’ve got a nice nest egg, no debts, some life experience, then you can fiddle around with your passion for esoteric philosophy classes and enjoy learning interesting but financially non productive subjects. Don’t forget to marry someone with a good job as a teacher and have all your health benefits provided by your spouse’s job, so you can dabble in philosophy while following your “dreams”. The problem with America’s recent college grads is their inability to grow up and their constant “Me, Me, Me” fixation. It’s not all of them, many graduate and go to work in their chosen fields, but the constant moaning from some about “following their dreams” eventually becomes tiresome, it’s so childish, the whining. First, get the best job you can, then worry about dreams.

  26. Sandy L says:

    Regarding pop’s comments, in many ways it is a race. When I graduated, most of the top empolyers came and recruited early. So the first people with jobs usually were the best off.

    I had a girlfriend who decided to forgo all that and tour with the greatful dead for the summer and then look for a job. It was VERY difficult for her to get a good position and took a couple of years of working crappy jobs before she got a position in her field. She was also 2 years behind in pay.

    I agree with Trent to pursue your dreams, but I knew alot of people who went this route.

    1. Work 5 years in your field to get good work experienc and something to put on your resume.
    2. Pay off your student loans, make contacts (for references), party with your other new found professionals.
    3. Take time off after 5 years, go back to get your MBA, travel, whatever.

    Hiring someone with no professional work experience is sort of like extending credit to someone who’s never had it. You may be great, but it’s riskier than someone who at least has some work history.

    I think that it’s difficult to pursue your dreams when you don’t really know what the “real world” is like. Working for a while helps you learn what you enjoy and don’t enjoy. And guess what..you might just like it.

  27. Sandy L says:

    Also, I want to thank Trent for allowing an alternate point of view in the comments section. Most of us who debate his points don’t have the time or inclination to have a blog of our own. I appreciate that I can still provide the working stiff’s perspective. I like hearing both sides of a situation, so THANKS!

    In my case, one of my dreams was to travel, which was ignited by a work abroad opportunity I had in college. (I couldn’t afford to study abroad) I got to have my cake and eat it too by having multiple jobs that required international travel.

  28. Jane says:

    As someone who is 32 and about to get her Ph.D. (in two weeks!) in the humanities, I can honestly say that I wish I’d cared more about money in my twenties. If I weren’t married to someone who did work throughout his twenties, I would have nothing at this point and honestly very little job prospects. I would have no retirement and only a tiny chance of securing a tenure track job. This is a grim place to be, and someone who’s passion is philosophy would be in the same place.

    Even if this person decides to pursue his passion in philosophy, he can’t start until next year at the earliest. He absolutely MUST get scholarships and funding for this endeavor. It is absolutely foolish to take out student loans for a masters degree in philosophy.

    In the meantime, it is better for him to work the higher paying job. I agree with whoever above questioned the notion that our work always has to incorporate our passions. I personally wish I had had a more realistic view of work and had just gotten a job in a steady and decent paying profession and pursued my love of scholarship in my spare time.

  29. Kids aren’t told this kind of thing! Nor do they know the techniques that you mentioned above. If they did, they would probably consider doing what they are passionate about instead of what makes the most money.

    I’m a firm believer in what you said though, and with my kids, I’m am going to try to help them get those options when they are older (right now they are 9 and 6).

  30. Leah says:

    I am enjoying reading all the different viewpoints, but some do make me mad. We all have different values, and I don’t think all the commenters acknowledge that.

    I’m also not sure what people are majoring in that lets them make lots of money straight out of college. Business, sure. What else? Maybe chemistry, as chem lab people are pretty decently paid. I majored in biology and learned that I’d probably jump from temporary position to temporary position for many years. Not at minimum wage, but not at much more than $20k a year. Since I got paid $20k a year to get a master’s degree, I took that option. I have to say that business held zero allure for me; it’s just not my thing. In deciding not to go that way, I’m sure I gave up plenty of potential money. But money isn’t the be all and end all, which is what I really think Trent is trying to say in this post.

    I think the main key is getting experience in something interesting under your belt. It’s ideal if that experience is paid (I’m always a little shocked at folks who do unpaid internships after college), but people need to make their own choices. Some fields have decent job prospects but just don’t offer paid internships. Preferably — and what I wish I had done — one should look to do internships as part of college, when making money might be less key.

    The other part of the coin is to use the money you do make wisely. If you go into business but outspend your earnings, you just aren’t going to get ahead. It is possible to earn low wages and still save plenty of money by making judicious choices.

    When I have kids, my intent is to raise them to explore their options. Jobs or volunteer experiences during high school and college are super important in understanding what is and is not appealing (it was during my high school job that I decided business just wasn’t for me, and a college job showed me that techy computer stuff was interesting but not my field either). This helps you narrow your field. That way, you can pursue the right balance of earnings and enjoyment that works for you. And isn’t that what fulfilling personal finance is all about?

  31. Bri Lance says:

    Are you kidding me? Recent grads don’t have financial responsibilities???

    I know exactly one person, ONE, out of everyone I went to school with, who graduated from undergrad without any student debt. (And his father was an officer at a large multinational corporation.) By far the majority had more than $25,000 in debt to pay off. That’s a pretty big weight hanging over your head.

    As someone who hates being in debt, my first priority when I graduated was to find a decent-paying job and get rid of my loans as soon as possible. Personally, this was the right move for me.

    I’m lucky enough to enjoy programming, which is a field where you can make a decent amount out of college, and I was able to pay my loans off in a couple of years. But I know too many people my age (mid-20s) who are struggling with a mountain of student debt that definitely is impacting other aspects of their lives. And these are the kids that HAVE a good job!

    I just feel like taking this advice could have severely negative consequences on the rest of your life, consequences that many kids right out of college wouldn’t realize. I would hate to see people prevented from really following their dreams (maybe after working a couple of years, like the person above suggested) by a mountain of student debt that controls them for 20 years.

    However, Trent’s advice might be valid for some people – those from upper-class families, or who got tons of scholarships, or who went to a cheaper school and worked themselves through. I just feel like this group is a small minority.

  32. alilz says:

    There are a lot of people out there who have good paying jobs that they like AND that they use to help fund doing things that they are passionate about.

    AND they don’t give up time with their families or friends to do it. (Some of the people I know are single or couples without kids, but they still have family and friends they care about and spend time with).

    It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

    I’m really surprised you seem to be advocating that someone not have a job where they can build up an emergency fund and save for the future.

  33. Nicole says:

    I would recommend that the questioner read Your Money or Your Life. In it, note that the authors do NOT recommend the path Trent is suggesting. Instead, they recommend working and building a cushion while you are figuring out what is “enough” for you and plotting a path to pursue your passion. They’re really big on security.

    It is never too late to pursue your dreams, but sometimes it is too early. Especially when you’re not really sure what your dreams are and you don’t have a realistic picture of them.

    You are MUCH better off getting that philosophy degree when you have a million in the bank and don’t need employment to pay for your expenses. To become a philosophy professor someone literally has to die for a position to become available. It is among the worst of the humanities. There are a lot of people with higher degrees in philosophy working at Starbucks.

    Starbucks, btw, is a much better position than gas station attendant. Not only do they provide benefits, but gas station attendant is listed in the top ten jobs with the highest mortality by the CDC.

    Minimum wage jobs in general are pretty horrible. Employers will often do illegal things to minimum wage workers that they wouldn’t dream of doing to higher wage workers. There’s a posh popcorn shop in Chicago that hires all of its workers as contractors so the owner doesn’t have to pay workers comp or unemployment. We have a relative who just got fired for telling the teenage daughter of her supervisor to work instead of talking on the phone– then they refused to give her a paycheck for the weeks she’d work until she complained to the government… and even then they didn’t compensate her for all the hours she had worked. Minimum wage jobs can be way more draining than jobs that pay better.

    A lot of famous writers had dayjobs as lawyers until their writing took off. Economic security makes it a lot easier to follow your dreams. DH and I are comfortably taking the year off in our early 30s and it has been great. Much better than being starving graduate students with no money. If you don’t know what you really want to do, put money in the bank while you’re figuring it out because it will make it a whole lot easier to actualize once you’ve experienced enough life to know what you want to do.

  34. SEC Lawyer says:

    @31, Bri Lance, is correct. Extended adolescence is not an option for students who incur debt and incur other obligations.

    But there’s a more fundamental point: The opportunity cost of an extended adolescence is immense. This is not just about wasting a few years, which is how someone put it. It’s about wasting the rest of your life, and here’s why.
    The only positions worth having require consistent achievement as a hiring credential. Blow a couple years and here are a few careers you NEVER will have: physician in private practice; elite investment banker; lawyer in prestigious, large law firm; Fortune 500 corporate executive. I’m sure I could think of others.

    Deciding very early on a career that pays well AND ALSO fuels passion is what works. Of course, brains and ambition are necessary, too.

  35. et says:

    Everyone here makes good points on all the different aspects of this issue – my heart agrees with some & my head with the rest! I think the original post might have been more effective if it examined various scenarios & the pros/cons of each for this new graduate rather than the either/or situation presented (i.e., get a job now & regret the lost opportunities later, versus follow your passion & end up with the perfect life). That said, there are so many possible variables, where would you start?

  36. almost there says:

    I think that this is the worst advice Trent has ever given. Of course, like others pointed out he has a spouse with a good job and health care, as a safety net to enable him to write to his heart’s content.
    The only one who made any money telling people to do what they loved and the money will follow is the author of that book. Most people realize a job is just that. Something that brings in money to enable one to follow their desires. The days of running off to join the circus like Toby Tyler are long gone. After reading the comments I am apprehensive about my son’s college choice, graphic arts. He graduates in a few of weeks and I know it will be hard to find a job in the field. But he will graduate w/o any college debt, 25K invested in his Roth IRA, and a vehicle. We provided all that for him so he won’t be so burdened starting out. I told him early on that the degree in GA was a slim field, especially since a lot of jobs have been offshored, but that is what he wanted. On the plus side he has worked 40 hrs per week all through college so has a good work ethic. He was on the management track at his department store but gave that up to concentrate on school. So, he has fallback skills.
    I understand in some countries that some young people take a year off during college to travel and see what appeals to them and then finish school. That would look better on a resume than a low end gas attendent job straight out of college, which would show a potential employee no initiative from the graduate. With almost 7 billion people on earth we all are going after a small crumb of the whole pie. Better to set the sights high rather then low when first starting out in the work world.

  37. almost there says:

    OOPS “…potential employer”

  38. Stephanie says:

    This is truly terrible advice for anyone not subsidized by the bank of mom and dad.

  39. gail says:

    Trent, I totally have to disagree with the advice you are doling out in this article. I made this mistake when I was 22 and graduating from college. I am still paying for that mistake today, at the age of 47. Trust me…get a good job while you are young, work very hard and save your money.

  40. imelda says:

    Everyone’s different, people. What works for one person won’t work for another. Trent is not necessarily wrong in saying that this person should take time off from the rat-race to pursue his dreams.

    That said, Trent, I have to ask– how will working a minimum-wage job help him reach his passions any better than a good-paying one? (if the idea is to do his passionate work on the job, I think that’s unlikely; most minimum-wage jobs are labor-intensive)

  41. JonFrance says:

    What if the graduate’s dream was to sip cocktails on the beach in Hawaii for a year? That can be done, in some cases for the same price tag as grad school–and in some cases has about the same long-term impact on your earning potential.

    What a lot of people don’t get is that in many fields, education is a *luxury*–just because it’s a university and not a five-star hotel does not change that. If you’re going to spend $100,000 to study Latin poetry or neo-platonist philosophy, you’d better have the means. It’s the same $100,000 whether you spend it on that or an exotic sports car.

    Otherwise, treat this interest the way you would any other luxury you’d like but can’t afford. Either adapt the dream to fit your situation (we may not be able to stay in five-star hotels in Hawaii for months on end, but anyone can go to the beach more often), or else *earn* the money to be able to enjoy such luxuries. Philosophy can be studied for free at the library.

  42. wanzman says:

    I understand that this blog is leaning more and more towards promoting a lifestyle that is very minimal, and has virtually no focus on money.

    But what I cannot understand is why Trent is so against the idea of money in all these posts lately.

    Money is not inherently bad. It only provides choices.

    By having all your posts assume that people cannot make smart and fulfulling decisions regarding their money, you come accross as assuming we’re all idiots who need to be instructed every step of the way.

    I think this is VERY irresponsible advice to be giving out. Sure, it seems awesome to tell people just to graduate college and basically be bums for a couple years. But what you don’t realize is that somehwere down the line, those actions are going to have consequences.

    How about down the line the person decides they would like to date and get married? What future mate wants to date a person who got a college degree and basically did nothing after that? So one person works their butt off after college to build up a financial cushion – they are just supposed to start supporting the person who “chased their dreams?”

    What about when these “dream chasers” finally decide to try and enter the real world? Hiring managers are going to see a person that lacks motivation and direction, not exactly a prize recruit.

    Sure, this may seem like an ideal lifestyle, but the fact is, it is not realistic for you to be telling people to try and live like this.

    The US is in bad enough shape due to an already lazy attitude. There need to be some more people in this country step up and be willing to actually work. The US was founded on hard work – not some lazy idealistic dreamer with their head in the clouds, walking around in a daze, hoping for their ship to come in.

  43. Evita says:

    This graduate student showed more sense than Trent and I can understand his explosion and rant against someone who is established and who suggests a few more year of penny pinching. He must be tired of Ramen and debts and is seeking a way out by getting a good-paying job. What’s wrong with that? why discourage him?
    Count me in as one of the fools who pursued her passion at 18 (classical music with no real idea what to do with it, and no real talent) and found herself years behind all the others in the real world when she woke up to reality!

  44. Brent says:

    If that is the attitude (live life now while you can) then why doesn’t it extend to retirement? Shouldn’t I not pay into retirement and instead just work less hours a week, or switch careers every time i discover a new passion?
    I personally prefer lining up a future before frittering away today.

  45. Des says:

    I would also add that if Philosophy is what this young man wants to study, he’d be better off with his plan: making money during his youth and following his dream in his prime (50+ years, for a thinker.) If his dream was to play sports, he would be better off following it in his youth because the doors will close for him over time. But if his dream is to be a thinker, he needs some life experience to support, augment, and legitimize his philosophical discoveries. Prime time for philosophical genius is the wizened years after the family is grown, not your impetuous mid-twenties.

  46. Johanna says:

    Another thought: Renting a room in someone’s house has the potential to be a dangerous situation. With such easy access to your belongings, your food, and you, a landlord who turns out to be an abusive bully who wants to do you harm would have a very easy time of doing so.

    That’s not to say that it’s always a bad idea. I’ve lodged in people’s houses, myself, and it’s worked out well. But I’ve always had enough money that I could move out quickly (forfeiting my security deposit, leaving some stuff behind if I had to, and taking a new place with a higher rent if that’s all that was available on short notice).

    I wouldn’t advise anyone to voluntarily enter a situation where they don’t have enough income to be somewhat picky about where they live or enough of an emergency fund to get out of a bad living situation.

    A month or two ago, Trent talked about all the precautions one should take in renting out a room in one’s house: Choose the tenant carefully, draw up a legal agreement, and have an emergency fund in case the tenant turns out not to be a reasonable and responsible person. Here, he advises young people to rent rooms in other people’s houses without mentioning the need to take any precautions at all. This gives me the impression that while the earlier post was serious advice, this one is not.

  47. I’m not sure where I come in on this issue yet, and I just turned 36 recently. :-)
    On one hand, I do sometimes regret not throwing all my ties to the wind and going out to LA or NYC hoping to become an actress. Which of course I perfectly realized would see me possibly living in my car and working as a waitress or barista. True, the odds were very against it working-out, but here I sit and I think I finally figured out what I want to do with my life after living for others and nearly having a mental breakdown and divorce. Had I had the ‘guts’ as I see it to really try and figure myself out earlier, I might be in that life already.
    Having said that, of course, I don’t regret my husband or my child one bit! Just because one part of my life is not fulfilling, doesn’t mean the whole thing is worthless. Sometimes that can be hard to accept as so many of us tend to buy into the hype of needing a career to be ‘whole’ or whatever. I think that is something this graduate should think about. Weigh what you give-up to pursue something that *might* work-out for you, versus keeping your ears open and your mind open to the possibilities that come your way. Trent has talked about that, too, and I was sort of surprised he didn’t mention it here. Taking a ‘business’ track for example, but being interested in philosophy might actually spawn a good career in HR, counseling or even management down the line! It might be hard to make those leaps outright in your head, but if you think about what really draws someone to philosophy, then it’s not hard to see how using that ‘underlying’ passion could create a unique selling point for him in a chosen field that actually pays. :-)
    I am very glad someone pointed-out the mortality problem with Trent’s ‘gas station attendant’ scenario. Soon as I read that I thought ‘yeah, maybe in the middle of Kansas or wherever *you* live!’ :-)

  48. sara says:

    Most low-paying jobs are so exhausting that philosophy will be the last thing on yr mind when you come home. A good job, not necessary your first choice but nice enough to energize you is a much better option for this (and perhaps any…) recent graduate.

  49. Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com says:

    We shouldn’t keep regrets but I regret not starting my own business earlier. I had nothing to lose but am glad I started it eventually over at my blog.

  50. Lucia says:

    I am a 21 year old graduate just out of university and while I appreciate the various points of views that have been posted, especially the ones disagreeing with trent, I think his advice is fantastic– even though it’s not for everyone.

    I completely agree that if you have the resources (ie mom and dad to fall back on should things go wrong). Then you should take the chance because you really have nothing to lose– almost like an extended college practicum in real life.

    In my experience, minimum wage jobs are optimal for the kind of life where you are experimenting and learning new because it does not tie you down in the same way that a contract higher paying job would. In pursuing dreams, that kind of freedom to change your plans is really essential.

    On the other hand, if you’re not in a financially secure situation and you’re on your own, then you should secire that first before you try anything with a high financial risk.

    I am living by myself but still have my parents to turn to in an emergency, so I will take advantage of this privilege and pursue a career in illustration. And I will slowly pay off my debts and live frugally. I’ll see if it can be done…

  51. Bruno says:

    Money buys ATTITUDE. I hated working for corporations and when I lost my job and was unemployed long term, I then did what I enjoyed for years in a small business but merely got by. I had a modest house, car, etc, but not much else. I certainly did not save enough to retire before age 65. Sickness, injury, etc would have done me in. I have since gotten ill and only work part time now. I got married to a woman who was worse off (living with parents, making $8/hour) but over time my wife made more and more till now we are able to save a good amount of money and will be “set” in another 5 years or so if the markets stop crashing. The best thing is her good income is at a job she loves, and that income allows me to scale back, work less, and enjoy life more. That in turn allows me to do things myself rather than paying others (painting, yard work, cutting trees, carpeting, etc)

    Don’t buy the idea that you don’t really need money. You MAY get by w/o it, but life is full of disaster stories where something bad came up and those w/o resources had a hard time. It really changes how you see life to have that security financially. If a customer doesn’t pay me now, I don’t get too upset. But when I was struggling, you had better bet I did. It’s nice knowing you have money if you need it. I live fairly frugally but I’m not wasting my valuable years left making my own laundry detergent and other time wasters like that.

    Money matters. So try to find a job you love or at least can stand, that also pays well. Don’t be a bum like Jules in Pulp Fiction was going to be and just wander the earth(“no job, no legal tender, you’re just a bum] : )

    I appreciate the theme of this blog but it’s taken too far. Everything in moderation.

    And if you want a job you HATE that also pays badly, try working at a freaking gas station. Scary, annoying, boring, and dangerous. WTF?

  52. jaykay says:

    i disagree that people who just graduated from college have very little financial obligations. most of them have a lot of college debt, and living expenses are sky-high these days. and im talking about people who find the cheapest living options, which really are not that cheap. what kind of world are you living in?

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