The Real World is Expensive: Advice for Recent Grads

Last weekend one of my best friends graduated from the University of New Hampshire. This made me feel both incredibly proud and incredibly old. Over the past four years she has been my connection to my alma mater. I am occasionally able to pretend to be a college student thanks to her, which I think makes my obsession with boy bands somewhat more acceptable. But she graduated and so I am now forced to accept my life as an aging fangirl. **Sigh**

Since I am officially old now, I thought I should pass on some wisdom about life post-graduation. Just call me Dumbledore. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you too are a recent grad and are entering the real world for the first time:

1. Keep your post-grad plans financially realistic. Graduation can be a confusingly competitive time. On the one hand you’re all, “WOOHOO! I graduated! I’m so smart!” But on the other it’s super intimidating to have to compete with everyone else’s answer to, “What’s next?” When I was graduating I remember thinking that everyone’s plans sounded much cooler than mine. People were moving to NYC or backpacking around Europe or going to grad school. And I was moving back to my parent’s house in Maine. Whoomp, whoomp. Glamorous post-grad plans sound great to all the inquiring adults, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the best plans. The majority of recent graduates are attempting financial independence for the first time after college. The real world is an expensive place and the older you get, the less acceptable it is to ask your parents for money. So make plans that fit your budget. Live within your paycheck. You should look forward to life after college, but just remember that it’s probably going to be more Girls than Sex and the City.  

My freshman year roommate and I at our graduation. Bang game strong.

My freshman year roommate and I at our graduation. Bang game strong.

2. It’s Okay If It’s Not Your Forever Job. I was an English Literature Major in college. There was a lot of Jane Austen and feminist rants (which I loved), but not a lot of career planning. When people asked me what my plans after college were I would say, “I’ll read! They pay you for that, right?” and then laugh awkwardly until the other person felt uncomfortable enough to change the subject. I honestly had no clue what I wanted to do when I graduated. And in the first few years post-graduation I bumped around from job-to-job a little bit. But ultimately I think I might be the better for it. I’ve had experience in a lot of different fields, doing a lot of different tasks. I’ve learned a ton. Did I ever think during college that I would get a job as a Marketing Coordinator? No way. Will I stay at my current job until I retire? My boss says yes, but realistically I probably won’t. I might move on in a few years, but for right now I’m having fun with the job I have and I know I am acquiring skills that will help me do a different job in the future. Most people don’t do the same job their entire lives. So if you don’t land your dream position right after graduation, don’t sweat it. You have your whole life ahead of you to find it.

3. Brace Yourself – Student Loan Payments Are Coming. In sixth months, to be exact, when the grace period ends and you have to start paying them back. You could try going off the grid to avoid them, but I’m pretty sure they don’t have Netflix or take-out there. All kidding aside, I was a little overwhelmed when I realized for the first time exactly how much my monthly student loan payment would be. If I remember correctly I actually cried. At the time I was working as a bank teller. One month’s payment exactly equaled my two-week paycheck. I literally had to work for 80 hours to make one payment. That’s insane. But if you’re smart and you plan ahead, that payment won’t take you by surprise. Maybe you’ll even save some money in that 6 month grace period to help make your payments. Have a plan for how you’re going to handle that payment so it doesn’t throw you for a loop.

4. You is kind. You is smart. You is important. But seriously, you’re doing great. Don’t sweat it. I remember stressing a lot the summer after graduation. I didn’t have the job I wanted. I missed being with my friends 24/7. I was living in the boonies sharing a car with my mom. It was a weird time. And I remember not feeling like my normal, confident, sarcastic, quirky self. Don’t let those feelings overwhelm you. You’re smart, you graduated from college, and you’ll figure out where you want to go from here. Things are going to change, but doesn’t mean they’re going to get worse. It’s just going to be different. Know that whatever happens, you’ve got this!

If all this sage advice fails you, it’s totally okay to put on your PJs, listen to T Swift, and cry. Even adults with real people jobs need to let it out some times. Congratulations to all of the recent grads out there! You guys are going to kill it in the real world! Good luck!

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Food Pantry Donation Tips

Ending Hunger

All year round, my credit union collects donations for our local food pantry. Employees have to bring in a donation in order to wear jeans on Friday, members often drop things off to add to our collection, and we frequently do fundraisers like bake sales or 50/50 raffles to help raise money. Because we work so closely with our food pantry, we get a lot of questions about what things they need, what stuff is okay to donate, and what stuff is not. So here are a few simple guidelines to follow when you are making a donation to your local food pantry:

Keep it simple. Consider donating things that are easy to open and easy to prepare. The living situation of some food pantry clients can be unstable, which means they might not always have access to stuff like an oven, a microwave, or even a can opener. Foods that require little to no preparation are therefore super valuable to these clients; consider donating things you’d pack in a school lunch like granola or protein bars, goldfish, peanut butter, etc. Similarly avoid food that requires a lot of extra ingredients to be cooked properly. For example a cake mix that you just need to add water to is better than a cake mix that calls for milk, eggs, and butter, because the recipient might not have access to those extra food items. If the recipient can’t open the packaging or can’t cook it, your donation is thoughtful but not very practical.

Keep portions small and items in their original packaging. Our credit union buys a lot of our supplies in bulk at BJ’s so we often pick up items for the food pantry while we’re there. It’s great because you can get a lot of food for a good price, but what’s not always so great is the portion sizes. A gallon jar of peanut butter for $11.99 is an awesome deal, but it only feeds one food pantry client because it can’t be portioned out to multiple people. Four 12 oz. jars of peanut butter would be better because they can feed four people instead of one. However, let’s say you’re donating a 12 pack of granola bars. Keep all 12 bars in the box they come in when you donate it. Don’t open the box and separate them out. Depending on the need, the food pantry can decide whether to give the whole box to one client or give the bars individually to multiple clients.

Ask what’s needed. The volunteers at the food pantry know exactly what things their clients need most. If you’re not sure what to donate, just ask them! They’ll have plenty of ideas. They might also request non-food items that can’t be purchased with food stamps like paper towels, toilet paper, tampons/pads, soap, or deodorant. I also never would have guessed that the food pantry wanted all of my old plastic shopping bags, but when I asked one of our food pantry friends what she needed they were on the top of her list! Clients use them for shopping, so instead of being annoyed by the 300 plastic bags I gave them, they were grateful.

Don’t donate anything that has expired. A lot of food pantry donations come from people cleaning out their own pantries, which is awesome. Instead of throwing stuff out, why not give it to someone who would eat it? But it’s important to check the expiration date before you donate these items. I know I don’t want to eat crackers that went bad in 2007, so chances are food pantry clients don’t either. Plus you don’t want anyone to get sick from eating food that has gone bad.

Consider donating cash. Often times non-profit organizations can get better deals on food than you can shopping as an individual, so making a cash donation to your food pantry can be very valuable to them. If you’d like to help out your food pantry but aren’t sure what to give, inquire about how you can make a cash donation. It’s less work for you and potentially more food for them.

I hope these tips help make your donation decisions a little easier. Food pantries are so crucial to making sure no one in our community goes hungry. Our local food pantry serves over 100 households every month – that’s a lot of food! However you can help, big or small, $1 or $100, your food pantry will appreciate your contribution.