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“Adulting” in this cold, crazy world as a newly graduated grown-up is hard.

Seriously. It may be the first time you’re contending with bills and scheduling payments, making sure you have your finances in order and enough money to put on your bus pass (or put gas in the car), and eating enough so that your mother or nana doesn’t call you demanding that you come home for a real meal.

Wait another six or so months after your undergrad experience for Sallie Mae (or your lender) to start knocking, and often it feels as if if your hard-earned salary is slipping away and you have no way to control it or even figure out how to save.

The Root spoke with Ryan Mack, author of Living in the Village: Build Your Financial Future and Strengthen Your Community and mid-Atlantic president at Operation Hope—a self-described “silver rights empowerment” organization pushing to make free enterprise work for everyone, particularly those who have been typically excluded—to discuss what “newly-grads” can do to hit their financial goals from the get-go.


Here are some tips he gave for those of us just starting out.

The Biggest Financial Mistake Young People Make

Ryan Mack: Probably one of the biggest mistakes a graduate can make is assuming that they are too young to learn about being fiscally responsible [and] not starting as soon as they graduate [from] college in terms of saving and planning for retirement. Many of them feel that it is over their heads. Many of them feel that it is a foreign language … because this information is not necessarily provided on a consistent basis within college campuses beyond the financial-aid department [or] beyond.

Why Do Some Black People Struggle With Money? Blame History


RM: 1865, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. March 3, 1865, about three months after, the Freedmen’s Bureau Act was signed. The Freedman’s Bureau Act essentially incorporated the Freedman’s Bank, the first bank that was designed and created to teach free slaves to learn about money.

Shortly thereafter, Lincoln was assassinated and Andrew Johnson took over, arguably the worst president that we’ve had in the history of this country. He was racist, he was separatist and he basically tried to take away everything that Lincoln had set in place. And when Andrew Johnson essentially defunded the bank … it failed, and Frederick Douglass said that the failure of the Freedman’s Bank was worth an additional 10 more years of slavery for the black man and woman.


Fast-forward to Martin Luther King, who was planning the poor man’s march. … What happened was when he was assassinated, that set us back again. … We’ve never been a culture that has traditionally been exposed to the means and methods of capitalism. We’ve had spurts like Madam C.J. Walker, but that has become an anomaly and not the norm. What we have to start to do is … retrain our culture. … We have to change that culture.

Know Your Loans

RM: Read all the fine print of every student loan before you take it out. A lot of times, there are perks and bells and whistles that go along with student loans that we do not maximize. We need to begin a payment strategy of paying them back as soon as possible, not waiting that six-month [or so] period.


If you get a part-time job, start paying that back, because even when you’re waiting six months, the interest is still accruing. … If you’re going to go the route of consolidating, understand that many times if you’re consolidating your loans, do not consolidate private with public, because the perks that come along with public loans will be negated once you put them into one consolidated loan.

If you go the route of consolidation, [also] understand that … it may be easier to pay off one loan as opposed to five or six loans; however, over the long run you’ll be paying more money in terms of interest and even fees that go along with it … so you have to really analyze and make a budget-conscious decision. All these things need to be researched thoroughly.


Budget Today and You’ll Be Better Off Tomorrow

RM: Money is simply a tool to assist you to put you in a better position. … The point of a budget is not to rob you of all your funds. The point of a budget is to make sure you have your funds but have enough responsibility to do other things, to have more fun later.


[A] classic example is, do you want to be living out your golden years working for the “Golden Arches”? Unemployment within the elderly population is one of the biggest problems that we’re facing. Over 93 percent of [Americans are] unable to support themselves without Social Security or family support after the age of 65. … The majority of this country from 18 to 68 would work for 50 years, only to move backwards in terms of net worth because of the accumulation of excessive debt and poor spending habits.

Eat From the Tree or Be the Tree?

RM: Holding that check … for the first time, you now have the opportunity to be an owner, and we have to start emphasizing placing higher value on ownership as opposed to spending. I always [say,] “Are [you] going to spend your life eating from the tree or are you going to spend your life trying to be like the tree?” … There’s a difference.


Money has opportunity. There are three things you can do with money. You can spend it, you can give it away, or you can save and invest to build it and make it grow. How much of that capital is going to go into actually putting you in a better position to be just like that tree, to make more capital?

In the black community, over 90 percent of our dollar is spent on things that we don’t need with money we don’t have, thereby negating our ability even to save, negating our ability to even give  [to] and support our families and create a legacy for our loved ones. … If we learned how to save and build and invest more effectively, we’d have more money to spend and give.


Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.