Building a Stable Future

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I’m very worried about my financial future. My friends and family tell me that I have no reason to be – that I’m getting a great education and will have no trouble saving money and keeping myself in good financial shape. Still, I worry about it a lot.

Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but I feel very unprepared for the future, financially speaking. I don’t think I properly understand how to save, budget, and invest. And I’m worried that my career outlook isn’t as rosy as my friends and family think, because you never know when you might be laid off or when the entire economy might take a sudden downturn. Experts, can you assuage my fears at all – or perhaps give me some advice that will make me feel more ready for the future?

It’s easy to look at the future and worry. No matter how prepared or privileged we are, there are things that are beyond our control. Still, there comes a time when such concerns are not healthy. If your concern is driving you to make smart decisions and safe investments, then it is healthy; but once those steps are taken and you’ve done what you can, you should take steps to reduce your anxiety and focus on the good things in your life.

In one sense, your family and friends are already clearly correct: as a college student, you’re ahead of the game already. Most Americans don’t have college degrees, and college graduates make an average of $17,500 more per year than their degree-less peers. And while your particular career decisions will certainly have a major impact on your financial well-being, it’s good to remember that you have an incredible tool at your disposal in the form of your college degree. College is becoming more important everywhere. Thanks to things like online distance education programs, it’s also becoming more accessible to those who once had difficulty attending school.

To the extent that concern about your career future is healthy, it should drive you to study hard, succeed in school, and take steps – like networking and interning – that will set you on a path to success. Beyond that, though, it serves no purpose.

As for your financial well-being after graduation, you should absolutely be concerned with your lack of knowledge about budgeting, saving, and investing – but that concern should lead to you taking corrective action and then calming back down! The basics of building a budget aren’t too tough, and they’ll give you a huge advantage as you try to save a bit of what you earn. Once you’ve saved some cash, you’ll want to start investing, say analysts at SustainableInvest.com, a site that specializes in research for socially responsible investing. A diverse portfolio (and one that reflects your values, if you choose to invest in a socially responsible wa) will be your path to future wealth. Reliably saving and investing your money, perhaps with the help of a financial advisor, is all you need to do. You will face market downturns in your long career, but steady investment will help you win out, research shows.

Your anxiety about the future is not unique and is not necessarily unhealthy. We all need to be driven to do the right things: succeed in school, build our careers, and behave in financially responsible ways. But if you take the proper steps and your anxiety does not abate, it’s time to reconsider things. When it does not help make us safer or propel us to great things, anxiety is useless and unhealthy. Don’t hesitate to get help from a doctor or turn to the many on-campus resources you have for dealing with stress and anxiety.

“Eventually we all have to accept full and total responsibility for our actions, everything we have done, and have not done.” – Hubert Selby, Jr.

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