Seth's Challenge Blog: The Big Three

Editor's note: We challenged all of our finalists to write a blog post. "From your own experience, what are the top 3 financial issues facing your generation?"

Okay, so when I think of the big three, normally (being a Boston Celtics fan) I think about the Celtics and their “Big Three”. While Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett may be the big three of the Celtics, there’s another “Big Three” in Maine that is affecting young adults, and not in a positive way either. I’m talking about the three main problems people our age are dealing with, and why it can be hard sometimes to start off on the right foot when trying to get a firm financial foundation underneath you. What are the three largest financial issues of the 18-25 year old crowd? Here‘s my take. I’m sure many of you deal with the same exact issues.

1. College Loans: I think this is probably the most common issue among people our age, especially coming out of post high school education. I cannot tell you the amount of people I have talked to who wanted to get out of Maine, trying to get away from all of the winter woes and find a new and warmer change of pace. In many instances, it’s not even a matter of moving somewhere warm, it’s a matter of moving to a bigger city where things happen. I’ve had friends move to Boston, Manhattan, Denver, Los Angeles and attend colleges and universities in these areas only to later realize that the loans required to fund an education are insanely high, and can come back to bite you later on in life. Now I realize loans are inevitable in most post high school educational scenarios but I fear that many people don’t realize that taking out the maximum amount of money each semester just because it’s offered is a huge mistake. I stayed in Maine for school, and lived with my parents for three of my four and a half college years. I still have almost 19 thousand dollars left to pay in college loans even though I got scholarships nearly every semester.  We’re up against a giant force right out of college. No, its name is not Kevin Garnett, although it could be if you made it to the NBA. In that case, congratulations, and I’m sure you aren’t dealing with college loans. For the rest of us, the first of the “Big Three” is post educational college loans.

2. Adequate Employment: I went to school for journalism, and graduated a year and a half ago from the University of Maine. Needless to say, I am still struggling to find a job in my field. I have served and bar tended for the past 5 years now, and while I make a living and can pay my bills and monthly loan payments, I have very little left over at the end of the month to put aside for future purchases. I live paycheck to paycheck, and shift to shift. I’ve found that many other people are in the same boat as I am when it comes to finding a job. They have an education, many times a good education with a useful degree, but cannot find a job within their field in Maine. Unfortunately many of us are forced to settle for a job that doesn’t pay as much, and that can be frustrating. Spending four years and thousands of dollars on an education only to get a job in something else is all too common in today’s day in age. Am I thankful for my job? You bet I am. I can pay my bills and for that, I am grateful. I did, however, go to school for four and a half years, and would like to get a job within my field someday. I know plenty of 18-25 year olds who feel the same way. 

3. Budgeting 101: Making a budget is probably one of the most important things you can do and something that I find very few people take the time to do. I know at the end of the month, I used to wonder where all my money went and why I had almost no extra money when my bills were due. I always pay my bills on time, but I also knew I was making more then the bare minimum to get by in life. I should have more money left over at the end of the month right? Well, once I started tracking where my money went, I realized how much I was spending on things I didn’t need. I don’t spend much money on big purchases. The majority of my extra money went to coffee and latte purchases and eating out with friends. While five bucks a day at the coffee shop may not seem like much money at the time, it adds up. My friends and I also enjoy going out to eat and visiting the local restaurants of downtown Bangor. It’s fun to be social on the weekends when you’re not working, but even going out once a week can add up. When all was said and done, I realized I was spending upwards of 200 dollars in food a month, not including groceries. Now, food and drink isn’t the issue for everyone’s budget, but I can assure you, it’s generally a lot of little things that add up.

So what do we do to defeat the “Big Three”? It may be hard, but it’s not impossible. The reality of life is that you will probably have college loans when you graduate. There’s nothing wrong with that, but monitor how much money you take out each semester. I find that many people take out the maximum amount of money each semester, when in reality, they don’t need that much. Get a job in college, and cut back on taking out so many loans. Live with your parents through college if you can. It may not seem great at the time, but I saved 32 thousand dollars in loans by never living on campus. Find a website that gives you links to scholarships. www.fastweb.com is a great one. Getting an internship in college is a great way to build up the resume and finding people in your field. Don’t always look for the paid internships either. Many employers are more apt to hire someone who has interned with them and can see that they do the job well. Don’t get disappointed when you don’t hear back from employers. It only takes one yes in order to get that job you’ve been waiting for. And finally, make a budget. Start making a budget before graduating and stick to that budget. Often times money gets tighter when you graduate because you take on more responsibilities. Paying off loans takes time and you may have to get used to living cheap. For me, instead of buying coffee every day, I brew my own. Instead of going out to eat, I eat in and invite friends over. If you all pitch in a little money, you can eat great food at a fraction of the cost. Did someone say BBQ? So there you have it. Yes, we’re up against many obstacles as young adults, but I think by taking small steps and changing the way we live, little by little the “Big Three” wont be so big anymore.

Seth