Preparing to Spread Your Wings and Fly
You’re 18 years old. You’ve graduated from high school, and you’re preparing for your first major step toward independence: living on your own. Here are a few things you need to know as you prepare to spread your wings and fly.
- Don’t sign anything until you’ve read it and agree to the terms in the document. Pay attention to the small print in contracts and agreements: words in little letters carry as much legal weight as the words in big letters.
- Get it in writing; don’t rely on “verbal contracts” when dealing with large sums of money or transactions that are important to you (i.e., job offers). If someone offers you a verbal contract that contradicts a written contract, the written contract is likely to be the legally binding agreement. So, if your written contract says you need to do “x” but you are told by the other party to the contract that s/he won’t really hold you accountable for doing “x”, know that if something goes wrong and you go to court, you will probably be held accountable for not doing “x” as per the written contract that you signed.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for time to seek guidance from a trusted advisor before you commit. If someone tries to pressure you into signing something right away, consider that a red flag: something may be wrong with this transaction.
- Ensure that you understand the long-term consequences of your actions. It’s easy to see the near-term consequences, but the long-term consequences can be harder to envision, so ask someone that you trust to discuss potential long-term consequences with you.
- Know that bad things CAN and WILL happen to you from time to time. You are not exempt from negative consequences.
- Set a budget and live within it. Include saving 10% of every paycheck in your budget. Lots of people live paycheck-to-paycheck, but when calamity strikes, they have no financial safety net to fall back on. What happens if you have a car accident and can’t work for three weeks? Can you afford to live for three weeks without an income? Make sure that you have savings enough to get you by in a pinch.
- Consider the value of insurance: health insurance, automobile insurance, renter’s insurance, short-term disability insurance (see the scenario in #7 above), etc.
- Pull your free annual credit reports every year to ensure that your data is accurate and to monitor in case you become a victim of identity theft. There are three major credit reporting agencies in the United States, and you can (and should) have one free credit report from each of them annually.
- Buy a paper shredder and shred all your waste paper that includes sensitive information. This includes voided checks, direct deposit receipts, and even notes containing information about your upcoming vacation (which will indicate when your residence will be unoccupied and easy to burglarize).
- Be friendly with all of your neighbors, but lock your doors. Good neighbors are tremendous assets. Cultivate these relationships. Not everyone who may want to access your residence is a trustworthy neighbor, however.
- Your actions today will form enduring first impressions in the minds of the people with whom you interact. Honor your commitments. Make your payments on time. Follow up on tasks you’ve promised to handle. BE the responsible adult that you hope to become. The people you meet today may end up being the people who consider employing you, renting to you, or having other important interactions with you tomorrow. Make sure that your actions today inspire them to want you to be their employee, tenant, etc.
- Life events are like dominoes. You spend a lot of time lining them up. You may not always be able to foresee how one domino may affect the other dominoes around it. After a while, you wonder if they’ll actually fall like you want them to, or if this is just a futile effort on your part. Sooner or later, though, and sometimes unexpectedly, that first domino falls, setting off a chain reaction. If you’ve lined up positive dominoes, a series of good things happen when your dominoes start to fall. If you’ve lined up negative dominoes, a series of misfortunes will ensue. For example, if you’ve lined up positive dominoes, figuratively speaking, then when you accidentally lock yourself out of your apartment, your neighbor will let you stay in his apartment while you wait for your landlord to bring the master key to let you back into your apartment. When your landlord arrives, he will be glad to see you rather than annoyed by the interruption you’ve presented him. What could have been a difficulty (i.e., locking yourself out of your apartment) turned out to be a series of positive social interactions for you, your neighbor, and your landlord.
In sum, moving into your first apartment is a major leap into independence. It’s a thrilling rite of passage, but it comes with risks and responsibilities that you can handle successfully with good planning and wise counsel from people you trust.
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