Just Try Something: Personal Finances and the “Real World”

Penn State alum, Paul Girgis, and his friend, William Ferguson, have spent considerable time exploring how millenials approach money. You can check out some of their research findings here. In this article below, they apply concepts of design thinking to personal finance; we have to test, try, and even fail to learn what works best!

Just Try Something: Personal Finances and the “Real World

A Few Thoughts and One Helpful, FREE Resource By Paul Girgis

Think about the last time you learned something deeply, in the core of who you are. Not a formula for an upcoming exam, or the 60-second bit you need for your final presentation. Something real, something meaningful. Maybe a nugget of wisdom you’ll one day share with grandkids.

  • Where and when did you learn it?
  • Who were you with?
  • What did it cost you to learn that lesson?

You’re probably not reminiscing over a Gen Ed course you took sophomore year. My guess is you lived through something challenging, got help from someone you trust, grew closer to God, and walked away with a different perspective. (And I’d be willing to bet, a textbook wasn’t even involved.) These hard fought lessons are so valuable! They help shape relationships and decisions for years to come.

However, too often these life lessons don’t relate to the realities of day-to-day decision-making. There’s a gap between the abstract life lesson and its concrete impact. Your mom’s loving words of, “Will you remember how you did on this test in five years?” does not help you proactively organize your study schedule. Or your dad’s saying of “Always spend less than you make” may not help you decide which bank to use. When it comes to important topics, like finances, life’s deep lessons may not be congruent with daily decisions.

What Money Life lessons Just Aren’t Landing?

You probably have some thoughts about money. Maybe they’re rooted in life lessons, or perhaps in ignorance and fear. Maybe you’re just trying to survive financially and get through this week. Wherever you are, the good news is you’re probably in good company; the range of “financial literacy” across college graduates is wide. More good news: almost all the information you’ll need to know to get through the next few years is available online and within your social networks. Let me explain…

In the Spring of 2016, my friend William Ferguson and I spent a few months interviewing over 50 people, aged 18-36 about money – what they know and don’t know, which questions or frustrations they regularly come across, and the tools or resources they recommend. We used a creative problem-solving process called “design thinking” to come up with our key learnings and create a helpful, FREE resource for you.

What We Learned

After hours of surveys and conversations, here are a few major observations around Millennials and Personal Finance:

1) 95% of people mentioned talking to a parent or relative that they trust about money questions or issues.

2) Plenty of people “just Google it,” but struggle to navigate, prioritize, and trust the 1,000,000’s of search results. (Googling “Personal Finances” came up with 144,000,000 results.)

3) There is a seriously wide range of financial knowledge across millennials – from finance majors who are wizards in excel, to moderately informed students with student debt, to even a young woman who believed she was building credit by paying rent…on her debit card.

Hopefully one of these resonates with you and you realize you’re not alone.

To Learn You Have To Try

In order to grow more confident, comfortable, and wise with the money and income you currently have (and will have in the future), you’re gonna have to try some things out. Test, design, prototype, see how it goes. Equally learn from mistakes and successes. Keep moving forward. Perhaps you’ll prioritize taking a trip instead of putting money in a savings account (or vice-versa), or you’ll have to dip into your emergency fund – and that’s all OK. There are definitely “best practices” around how you deal with your money, but at the end of the day the phrase is called personal finances for a reason: you get to choose how you personally spend and organize your money.

With that in mind, I’d encourage you to check out this one-pager resource that William and I created: Some Info About Money That Doesn’t Suck.* This document is a place to start when you realize you have a financial question. We’d say it reasonably covers 70% of the realistic topics you’ll soon be exploring around personal finance. We hope it helps you in your financial journey!

And that’s just it. Life – and financial management – is a journey, and we learn by saying yes to the ride. We hope that you start by trying stuff and trusting the process. You might be surprised by the lessons you learn, re-learn and actually apply in real life along the way!

Feel free to email me at Paul.Girgis@gmail.com with any questions or comments.

*Note: The authors’ views on debt in this resource do not necessarily reflect the views of After College Transition. We advocate for debt-free living


What Home Remodels Teach Us About Transitions

My husband, Craig, and I love watching home remodel shows. We grieved the Fixer-Upper farewell with the rest of the HGTV-watching world, and we’ll continue to tune into some of our other favorites. The son of a contractor, Craig comes by this interest honestly. While I have no talent for repairs, seeing an old home restored inspires me. There is something beautiful—even biblical—that happens when someone uses their skill to take a broken-down building and restore it to a gorgeous home.  It’s fun to view these shows, but if you’ve ever lived in a home with a construction project or worked on one, living in it is often not as pleasant as seeing the transformation on TV.

When you’re in the messy middle of a remodel, the final outcome can seem far off. We were watching an episode of Property Brothers in which a newly-wed couple stood in the living room of their “new” home with the walls gutted, wires exposed, and sheetrock in pieces all over the floor. The wife exclaimed, “I think this was a mistake. We never should have done this.”

Often, the same is true for the transition out of college (or other major life transitions). Over the years, I’ve talked with alumni who—while in the middle of it—have seriously questioned if they’re on the right track. They want to know, “Did I make a mistake in moving here? Should have taken that other job offer? Maybe I should have moved back home? Maybe I shouldn’t have moved back home…” These questions are normal when we’re in transition! Just because something feels difficult or messy, it doesn’t mean we need to go elsewhere. Most likely, we are “in-process” and we need to be okay with that.

In his book Transitions, William Bridges discusses the cycle we go through during times of transition. The process has three parts:

  1. Ending
  2. Neutral Zone (or middle)
  3. New Beginning

At one point, he compares transitions to a house remodel, saying “It starts by making an ending and destroying what used to be. Then there is a time when it isn’t the old way anymore, but not yet the new way either… It’s a very confusing time.”  As we go through the “ending” part of the transition, there’s a process of “dismantling” that takes place. There may be a physical dismantling as we take pictures off our walls and pack up our belongings. But, let’s not miss the internal process. We may have to “take down” old ways of doing things or certain expectations. Whether we need to let go of our financial dependence on our parents or adjust our expectations when it comes to finding friends right away after college, let’s be faithful to go through the “ending” part of the transition.

Let’s also embrace the neutral zone or middle. It’s hard to be in an in-between time. Often, we want to run back to what’s familiar or rush ahead to the new thing. But, this fallow time is crucial for processing the past and preparing us for the future. In the same way a tree drop its leaves in the fall and goes through the fallow winter time in order to make way for new growth in the spring, we too need to give ourselves permission to be in the neutral zone.  We need to make time to reflect, mourn the ending, and to be okay with the questions that rise up in this time.

As we’re perhaps literally unpacking our belongings in a new location or at a new job, let’s also be mindful to “unpack” our time at our old context and even parts of the identity we formed while there. In a transitional time, we dismantle, but we also rebuild. The new thing will come. Though the future picture or new beginning may feel far off, let’s trust the process. Most importantly, let’s trust our God who is sovereign over all of it and who speaks a constant, daily promise of newness over us.

Contractors and their clients have to set their sights on the final outcome—the dream home—in order stay hopeful and focused in the process. We should do the same. Let’s dream big for our future as we fix our eyes on the One who holds it all.

Citation: Bridges, William. Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2004, p. 115

When Passions Don’t Pay: Trusting God With Your Work

What do we do when our paid work and passions don’t align? While it’s ideal to find a job where we get to do what we do best everyday, only a small percentage of people enjoy that luxury. If we find ourselves in a less-than-best job, let’s not lose heart. Here’s some perspective, wisdom, and hope for the road. (Click to read more…)

Not What He Expected

When life after college does not pan out as expected, it can be easy to question, “Have done something wrong? Did I make a mistake in moving here, taking this job, or marrying this person?”

Just because something feels disorienting or distressing, it doesn’t mean we need to go somewhere else. In fact, we might be exactly where we need to be. Recent graduate, Jeff Schallick, comes to realize that his life and work have not turned out as expected. BUT, he’s not throwing in the towel. Instead, Jeff is determined to be faithful to his present calling, trusting in a bigger view and better dreamer for his life than himself.

Read more here…

Launching College Students Who Land in the Local Church

By September of his senior year, David had two great job offers. Two offers. In two totally different cities. As he compared the hiring packages, starting salaries and corporate cultures for each position, we challenged him to consider one more factor: location. As his campus ministers, we asked, Which offer will land you in a place where you can find a healthy church?

More Than an Afterthought

As students prepare for life after college, too often they focus a few items necessary for living on their own: securing a job, finding an apartment, having a paycheck in hand, and so on. Church becomes an afterthought. If we want to equip students to land in a local church after college, we need to help them consider this aspect of their lives long before they actually transition. There are many reasons why students don’t connect to a church after graduation: they can’t find one they like, they don’t know how to search, or they’re not convinced it matters. In the challenges of transitional times, church may feel like “one more thing” in the midst of other priorities.

If we want students to choose church, first and foremost we must offer a robust ecclesiology – what church is and why we go. Recent graduates need the church and the church needs them. They also need to know that their church experience in the next phase may look very different from college, and that’s okay! Most churches are not filled with individuals who are the same age or in the same life stage as they are. Age (and other) diversity may be an adjustment for some alumni. That’s why it’s crucial to offer good theology and healthy perspective. Church, in all of its mess and beauty, allows God to manifest his glory, us to experience community and the world to find hope. We are all diminished without it.

Students who understand why church matters are better prepared to find one when they leave. Post-college life requires purposefulness. Perhaps like no other time, accountability structures and social momentum have been removed; the onus is on them. If recent graduates know why they’re looking (it’s all about Jesus, not about me) and what they’re looking for (there’s no perfect church and no two churches are alike), they can make a short list of the non-negotiables they’re searching for in a church but be open from there.

List Non-Negotiables, Leverage Networks, & Consider Place

On a practical level, we can help our students discern their list of non-negotiables. For example, they can choose their musts (i.e. gospel-centered, bible-believing), their wants (i.e. band-led worship, people my age), and those things they’re flexible about (i.e. service times, small group structure). Also, we can help them leverage their network and ours for church recommendations. We keep a database of church recommendations that current students and alumni can access. Students can use it for suggestions, and once they’ve graduated and land in a local church, they can update the database with their recommendations.

Last but never least, let’s help our students consider place. We encourage students to think about moving to a location where they know they will have good church options, or if they’re not sure what’s next, we challenge them to move for a church community or church plant instead of for a job!

David took our challenge seriously. In fact, location was a key factor in accepting one offer over the other. He did some reconnaissance and learned that one of the positions would land in him in a city with dry spiritual soil and few gospel-centered churches. The other position took him to Philadelphia where he quickly plugged into a growing local church. Months later, David discovered that the job he accepted was not a fit. One could argue that he should have accepted the other offer! However, David does not see it this way at all. Because he had such a great church community, David was surrounded by support when he decided to leave his job. And, this community is the very reason he chose to find a new job in the area.

David credits the conversations he had during his senior year as pivotal in helping him find a healthy church after graduation – a crucial part of why he’s thriving beyond college…and why he has no desire to relocate. He’s found a church and community he wouldn’t trade.

This article first appeared in the Association of College Ministry Newsletter, © February 2018. Adapted from After College by Erica Young Reitz. © 2016 by Erica Young Reitz.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

Change is the Only Constant: Wisdom from a Graduating Senior

In her Onward State column, photographer and graduating senior, Sarah Snyder, looks back on her college journey, which did not play out as she predicted. Instead of freaking out or throwing her hands in the air when things did not go as planned, Sarah embraced the unknown. She writes, “There are always so many blessings in the unknown that you’ll miss if you’re focused on what didn’t go according to plan.”

Sarah’s reflection offers hope for today and wisdom for tomorrow, especially as graduation is here! Change is coming. But, as Sarah says, “[W]e are given the choice to look at change as either something to be afraid of, or an opportunity for growth.”

Life’s “disruptions” lead to growth. In fact, transitions—like graduation—can be times when God does some of His best heart work in us if we’re open to it. We hope you have the courage to freefall into the unknown, trusting that God is there to catch you, teach you, and carry you through to the next adventure!

Check out Sarah’s column as well as this previous guest post by Sam Van Eman on 3 Ways Graduation and Other “Disruptions” Lead to Growth.

Millenials & Money: What’s Your M.O. & Is it Working?

Financial faithfulness — how we steward the money that God allows to pass through our hands — is not easy, especially right after college. If we want to pursue a healthy approach, one of the best things we can do is take an honest look at our current habits.

Penn State alum and innovator, Paul Girgis, recently completed a project where he interviewed millennials on their approach to money management. He and his co-researcher captured their major takeaways and common themes. Take a look at their findings and consider your own situation.

  • What resonates with you from their research?
  • Do you tend to avoid money management/deal with it in a reactive vs. proactive way?
  • Is there someone you typically look to for money advice? Is this person wise?
  • How can you “start small” with investing or other steps toward a healthy financial future?

Just Tell Me What I Need to Know: Community After College

What’s one of the top issues post-graduates face? Finding friends and community. I had a blast this past weekend talking with students about this issue and others at CCO’s Jubilee Conference.

See below for some of what we discussed.

Just Tell Me What I Need to Know: Community After College

It’s Friday night. After a long week, you just want to relax—preferably with a group of friends or even just one. The only problem is that there’s no one to hang out with.

Sound familiar? This was a picture of many of my Friday nights right out of college: sitting in front of the TV, eating DiGiorno’s pizza and feeling pretty sorry for myself that I had no friends. Though I value alone time, I was not prepared to spend night after night by myself, especially after experiencing such rich community in college.

Read more here…

This article first appeared on the InterVarsity Blog on June 23, 2016.

Two Truths and a Lie About Singleness

When I was in my mid-twenties, my friend Kimi and I entered an essay contest for twentysomething writers that invited us to explore a question that was keeping us up a night. Kimi wrote a thoughtful piece about race issues and ethnic identity. I, too, had deep questions related to politics, justice, and so on, but when it came down to it, my real burning question was about boyfriends. Or the lack thereof. I titled my piece “Twentysomething and Single” and wrote about a question I was asked almost weekly at the time by anyone from family members to close friends to perfect strangers: “So, are you in a relationship?” READ MORE HERE…

This article first appeared on InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Blog, August 4, 2016, as part of the “Just Tell Me What I Need to Know” blog series.