Don’t miss part one of this article – lots of great advice from Cathy and Morgan!

In thinking about my best advice for students getting ready to graduate, I wanted to make sure my words of wisdom are applicable to millennials. Thankfully, my niece, Morgan, is a recent college graduate and the perfect co-author to assist me. Together, we can see that students today are not so different from the graduates of my era (the late 70’s), and that we all graduate with big dreams and small wallets. We’re happy to share our combined experiences to give our advice to you, the Class of 2016.

Choose Your Digs Wisely

Living on your own or where all the action is may sound appealing, but it can also be expensive. Money-smart students are the ones who realize there is no shame in living at home with their parents, in a shared apartment with roomies, or in the suburbs where housing is affordable. Renting or living with family, especially, can provide you with the flexibility to pack up and go whenever your next career move comes along (besides, we all know mom’s cooking is better than our own). Take advantage of this time to learn the budgeting skills to live simply so that as your career improves, you’ll know exactly how to handle your increasing income.

Cathy:  “I moved home after graduation. Substitute teaching and part time jobs did not allow me to have my own apartment and make my used car payment every month; I look back at that time and I remember barely having $25 a week to spare for myself.  I reconnected with my family and began to build new contacts in my hometown.”

Morgan: “Even more important than creating a budget is sticking to it. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, ask for help from a financial planner.”

Pay Yourself

You’ve probably heard it a hundred times, but that doesn’t make it any less important: pay yourself first.  Paying yourself simply means that you will always budget savings as your number one expense, even if it’s only a few dollars every paycheck. And you have to stick to it – that movie night and dinner with friends should only happen after you have met your commitment to your savings. An easy way to automate this process is by enrolling in direct deposit and setting up an automatic transfer of some of that cash into your savings account or 401K plan. You will not even miss that money if you never see it in your checking account.

Additionally, many companies and organizations may contribute to your retirement plan if you also contribute a minimum percentage. We’re talking free money here! You should always take advantage of offers like that.  Saving for tomorrow when tomorrow might be 40 years away may not seem like a high priority, especially if you are having financial difficulty. But it’s an investment with a valuable payoff, and every little bit counts.

Cathy: “I knew this was my weakness, so when I cash my checks I immediately put money in my savings account. And because my college has a great retirement program, I never passed up an opportunity to have my dollars matched by my employer.”

Morgan: “My current company matches my retirement contributions up to 4percent. It’s free money -why wouldn’t I invest at least the 4percent?”

Establish Your Credit & Get Ready for Loan Repayment

The easiest way to boost your credit is to pay your bills on time, including student loans. If you have student loans, explore all the loan repayment options available to you so that you’re on a repayment plan you can afford.  Another great reason to get your credit in good shape is that your job may depend on it. Many organizations run credit checks on interviewees as part of the hiring process, and if you’re not making your payments on time, it could cost you your dream job.  Plus, having good credit can open the door for so many additional financial benefits, from getting a cell phone, to better insurance rates, to getting approved for auto or home loans – it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Cathy:  “I remember the day I made my last student loan payment: I went out and celebrated with my friends! I chose to pay a fixed monthly payment over 10 years, so I was still young by the time they were repaid and free of student debt when I purchased my first home.”

Morgan: “I have consolidated my loans and am making affordable payments. Most student loan servicers will work with you to reduce or postpone your payments for a time. If your payments are postponed, paying AT LEAST the interest each month is a good strategy to keep your debt from ballooning.”

Have a Strong Work Ethic

Finally, whatever your job, strive to be the best at it and treat others well. Be on time, give it your all, and be supportive to others. These three characteristics will be the traits by which others remember you. And when you’re an employee that is remembered for all the right things, you will be in high demand when professional opportunities arise.

Cathy:  “I was very dedicated to my position as a Resident Assistant in my senior year. I loved my campus job!  Little did I know that my performance in this one position would change my life. I graduated in May and was contacted by my supervisor in June to return to my college for a position as a Residence Hall Director. This position came with the opportunity for me to earn my Master’s Degree tuition-free and eventually led to my current positon in financial aid.”

Morgan: “When I am asked about my work ethic, I think about aligning my goals with my company’s mission and vision statement. Employees will work harder for a company if they believe in their mission and vision.”.”

Between an aunt and her niece, attending college roughly forty years apart, we hope that our experiences and advice prove to be beneficial to you as you leave college. Working together, we realized that the good advice from 40 years ago isn’t all that different from the advice given today; proof that the same basic principles still apply: build a strong work ethic, value every opportunity to learn, live simply, and treat people well.

Congratulations to the Class of 2016!


Cathleen Patella is the Director of Financial Aid at Cayuga Community College in Auburn, NY.

Morgan Festa is the Director of Human Resources at Johnston Paper Company, also in Auburn, NY. She is a 2010 graduate of LeMoyne College with a BA in Business Administration, and a 2015 graduate of Nazareth College with an MS in Human Resources.