When we’re not in college anymore

Ramit Sethi · June 26th, 2006

One of my friends pointed something out that I thought was pretty interesting: Things change once you graduate and start earning money, but sometimes our mindset doesn’t change as fast.

A little while ago, a bunch of us got invited to a birthday dinner for one of my friends. Someone had planned it and invited us, and of course we all checked out the restaurant URL in the email. “Oh man,” a few of us said, because the entrees were about $25-$30 each.

To put it in context, that’s expensive, but not that expensive for a nice place in the Bay Area. The thing was, we all just thought, “that’s a little expensive for a birthday dinner.” Why? It wasn’t a rational objection, since we do dinners out like that once in a while. I guess for me, it was the thought that, ‘hey, this could be expensive for a lot of people that are obligated to come because it’s a birthday dinner.’

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Another friend and I were talking about this, and she gave me a different perspective. “We have to realize that people earn money now,” she said. “We’re not college students any more. It’s ok to spend money on some things.”

I hadn’t thought of it that way before. Things have changed–most of my friends have great jobs and $30 or $40 isn’t a huge hardship. Yet a bunch of us (myself included) are still in the college mindset sometimes. That’s good for a lot of things, but not everything.

But after she pointed this out, I thought, hey, she’s right–it’s ok for a birthday dinner. On the other hand, who cares what I think? It’s not really my perspective that’s important, but the person’s for whom a $40 dinner isn’t feasible. So I’m trying to reconcile these 2 ideas.

Of course, my friend isn’t saying that we should do these dinners every day. But her point–that when you’re earning money, it’s ok to pay for certain things–is something I agree on, and it took her pointing it out to really realize it.

I’ll write more on this later, but this occurred to me yesterday when I paid a little extra for something I wanted done just right.

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  1. Mark H.

    I’m getting used to this mindset myself. I graduated this May and have been working full-time at a great job since January.

    When I moved into my new apartment, I freaked out when I realized just how much I needed in the way of furniture, appliances, etc.

    But the thing was, for the first time, I could actually BUY it without worrying about still making rent that month.

    So I made a list of items I needed in order of priority, and have been making my way through it with each paycheck.

    Couches one week, washer/dryer the next… I’m just about done with the list now and even AFTER Roth IRAs, savings, and 401k I have a little extra money to burn.

    It’s a very nice feeling, past the initial freak-out.

  2. Dave Martin

    I totally agree. My sister in-law and her husband were in town last week, so we decided to go to the lake. We rented a boat – cost us like $450 for a single day (ouch!). At first I was hesitant, but the day turned out great. The weather was perfect and we had a blast. So I agree, occasionally spending cash on non-tangible items is perfectly fine.

  3. Big spender, big spender eh.

    Everyone likes to pretend to be open with their money. Yet these people are stingier than they make it out to be. Just ask them to share and they get incredibly offensive. Otherwise you’d see a lot more “PS I know this is restaurant is expensive so I’m willing to pay for anyone who asks” at the bottom of invitations.

    The real test for this mindset you write of is whether or not one is willing to pay for others. It’s easy to be generous on oneself; self indulgence is not generosity at all.

  4. You have to be careful though. Having just graduated myself, the fact that I now have money is awesome! And very tempting. The first thing I say to myself is, “I worked really hard and waited so long to buy…” But if you automatically change your midset to think that you can all of a sudden afford more expensive things, it’s going to be a while until you’re rich. Granted, you can upgrade from Ramen noodles every night, but I am of the opinion that if I can keep at least some of my college financial survival skills then I can make more money faster.

  5. imho, this might be a perspective that changes as you age. I’ve been out of college for a decade and a half and my groups birthday dinners are trending away from restaurants. it’s hard to get good service for 15-20 people, some have kids and, push comes to shove, a $30-40 meal isn’t better than any of us could create on our own. on the other hand, it’s nice to have someone clean up after us. 🙂

  6. debt-free

    congrats on waiting and paying for things with cash, Mark H. Its an increadibly nice feeling to pay for larger items out of pocket rather that financing everything. jason also makes a excellent point. The fact is that most young couple spen their first 5-7 years of marriage trying to attain the same standard of living that it took their parents 30 years to do. Slow down. Enjoy the moment and be happy with what you have. Don’t let stuff define your happiness.

  7. Jade Lin

    I think “spending it” less obvious and probably more counter-intuitive to the whole “save money” and/or “get rich” initiative. But I think it’s important to realize that after a certain point, you need to do something with your money otherwise, the value of that money is still nothing. “Value” can be intrinsic value, sentimental value or some other type. After you reach a certain sum, your money is useless if it’s not used.

    If the thing you buy significantly appreciates in value (real estate, for example), then you would have beaten inflation. If the thing you bought depreciates in value, but you’ve gotten good use out of it (car, lawnmower, laptop, vacation, nice dinner with great friends), then you would still have “gotten your money’s worth”.

    I think it’s about balance. Win some, lose some. Make some, spend some. It’s the wisdom to hold that balance that makes life manageable in wealth and poverty.

    — J.

  8. Chris Yeh

    The problem is that people make different amounts of money. Some people make hefty salaries, others are starving grad students.

    One time, I went to a birthday dinner for my friend Kristin. The attendees ranged from high tech marketers and engineers to humanities grad students.

    We ate at Crustacean in San Francisco, an excellent but pricey place. That was the first mistake.

    The second mistake was letting my friend Joseph order the wine. Joseph is 1) a huge wine snob, and 2) doesn’t care about money because his family is rich. Soon the $100 bottles were flowing.

    The final mistake was allowing people to order as many appetizers as they wanted. One guy ordered his own appetizer, not to share. Kind of a dick move. So my other friend Dave decided to punish him by having the waiter bring us the appetizer, which we proceeded to enjoy while the own appetizer guy fumed.

    The end result of all of this was a tab that ran to well over $100 per person, and this was nearly a decade ago.

    I ended up having to cover a couple of my friends who nearly fainted when the final bill came.

  9. “when you’re earning money, it’s ok to pay for certain things”

    Yes, we can spend money for certain things. But we cannot spend money for all the things we would like to have, to do or to enjoy.

    Who defines what these certain things are? Only you should do it for yourself.

    Would you tell one of your friends into his face that you would rather not see him if he finds the restaurant too expensive for his budget or college debt?

    Things like restaurant dinners tend to escalate pretty soon. Where is the stop signal?
    Very often, as soon as a brave person states “I am sorry but this is not in my budget” some others feel releived because they see it the same way bur did not dare to speak out.

  10. Praveen Srinivasan

    I think the mindset is that we now have to think of ourselves as consumers – in some sense, it’s almost our responsibility or duty to spend the money we earn somehow (investment is just another way of spending it, albeit a very constructive way). That’s what makes the economy work.

  11. I think that it’s important when you pay more than you usually would to be sure that it fits in your priorities.

    For me, I’ll pay extra when I get extra value for it. Sometimes that means more convenience, better quality, or because I like it more. That was hard for me to do at first. But a boss pointed out that sometimes the cheapest $$ option isn’t the cheapest overall, especially considering how much your time is worth or how important the issue is.

    But it’s also ok to say that a particular expenditure doesn’t fit in your plans, even if you could afford it (like seeing the full price instead of the matinee.) Your money, time and energy are finite and so it’s all right to economize on one arbitrary thing and splurge on another, in accordance to your priorities.

  12. chris2

    I wanted to agree with Chris Yeh–even when one can swing for an expensive restaurant for the entree, wine and appetizers can drive the price way up.

    It’s a drag when the big spenders order all this stuff and say “Let’s split it.” It can turn the dinner into a status contest.

  13. Eric Nakagawa

    When you’re first reaction to a fine dining menu is to find the cheapest entree, or you’re mentally budgeting until your next pay check, for the means to order prime rib… maybe it’s time to do some soul searching, consider the company you keep, and assess if the lifestyle you’re living is worth the trouble.

    To some people money is not an object. But to most of us, there’s nothing wrong with nailing down what’s important to you and putting your money towards those things.

    I’ve turned down many invitations to dinners out, and it may alienate me from the socially ‘hip’ and with it. But my keen budgeting has allowed me lots of travel, a laptop, a new car, and lots of time with the family.

  14. Its all about balance, you have to spend the money you make, but dont go crazy with it.

    Your saving for a house? Sure, but an extra $20, one time, wont help you that much and you are not going to have fun.

  15. noah kagan

    reminds me of how i wrote about how much $20 is to me now relative to when I was young article:

  16. Noah C.

    I must first say that I have earned my nickname: “Cheap Swede” I rent a duplex with another person and the only utilties we have to pay for is electricity. We keep it under $15 a month per person. I spend about $30 on food a week and would like to cut this back to $20-$30. So in frugality this is what I would do…Lie. It’s only a little white lie though. If the dinner party starts at 6:00 say you’ll be arriving at 6:25 or 6:30 after you have already eaten with a prior engagement. This allows you to say, “Oh, I’m not hungry but I’ll have a beer/appetizer” and then make sure to put this on a seperate tab.

    Although, I think Eric really hit the nail on the head on how to handle this situation if it comes up more than once or twice a year.

  17. lol Noah, this isnt “I will teach you to be cheap”

  18. Dear AK,
    I have experienced that our paid off home and our early retirement funds did not come from huge savings on big-ticket items like cars, electronic equipment etc. but from a $ here, 10 dollars not found worth spending there. Some occcasions reappeared regularly, others did not. Anyhow, each $ counts and bears interest or dividends.

  19. I’ve noticed the same mindset in my peers, and I find it really encouraging for two reasons.

    1) I don’t see my mindset changing greatly once I graduate – I can’t think of many things I’ve forgone because of cost, anyway – so saving shouldn’t be a problem if income suddenly greatly exceeds expenditure.

    2) Despite spending very little, they are mostly very happy people. That says nice things about life.

  20. Manyake

    Having money to me means that instead of spending $39 on a pair of jeans, I can go to Marshalls and spend $79 on a pair that would have cost me $149 at the department store.