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


5 Steps to Financial Freedom

If you read the recent post on Money Matters, here are some follow-up thoughts for next steps. Penn State Alumus, Adam Gante (‘16), shares some of his personal journey when it comes to managing money, including five steps he’s walked to find financial freedom.


As a college student, I didn’t think about personal finances a whole lot. I lived frugally with seven roommates, frequented free coffee shops downtown, and attended the events that advertised free food. Upon graduating from Penn State, I was fortunate enough to land a job, and I began to make ‘real’ money. This was something I had never experienced before. As I reflect over my first year out of college, here are some steps I needed to take and would recommend to anyone entering into the young professional life:

Step 1: Think about your relationship with money.

Everyone has a relationship with money (including you). Maybe just the thought of money makes you cringe. Maybe you are in the pursuit of money and believe it can buy happiness. Maybe you view money as a tool that enables you to align your priorities with your pocketbook. Maybe you’re not sure what your relationship status with money looks like right now. I fell into the category of not really thinking about how I relate to money until I started making a paycheck. It was at this point when I had to decide how my beliefs and values would impact my relationship with money.

Step 2: Relate to money in a place of stewardship (if you aren’t already).

Money is a heavily-covered topic in the Bible because it can be a cause of greed, pride, and/or fear. The good news is that Christ wants better for us. The things of this earth are temporary, and we are called to be good stewards of our possessions. Stewardship means to act responsibly and wisely with the things God has given us. God allows us to use His moneytherefore, finances are to be managed properly so they bear fruit and grow. I began to experience a sense of freedom in my finances once I started to pray about my finances and sought wisdom in this area of life.

Step 3: Give away money.

Giving away money towards a meaningful cause is the next step to experiencing financial freedom. When we give a portion of what we earn (tithes and offerings) to the local church or other charitable causes, we show that we truly are blessed to be a blessing. We partner with the church to accomplish the good works of Jesus Christ. How cool is that?! Our tithes and offerings enable our hearts to enter a place of surrender. As we loosen our grip on money, we are saying “Lord, use this offering to further your Kingdom as your will be done.” What a great exercise of faith! It truly has been a life-giving experience to partner with the local church and missionaries to help further the Kingdom.

Step 4: Assign each dollar a purpose.

In step four, we align priorities with our pocketbook by assigning every dollar to a budget category. This involves accounting for all of our expenses (tithes, saving, rent, student loans, car payment, food, clothing, and so on) and then taking a step back to see if we are spending money in areas we enjoy and find life-giving. It is wise to be proactive with your budget. Think about the things that are most important to you and decide how much funds you should be spending in each area. Simply put, a budget is a summary of likely income and expenses. It helps you determine whether you can go out to eat or should head home for a PB&J sandwich. Creating a budget allows you to know how much money you can spend in different areas while still living within your means.

Here are recommendations when creating a budget:

  • Pay yourself first (save!)
  • Live below your means (you’ll thank yourself later)
  • Spend less on things that are not important to you (align your priorities with your spending habits)

Step 5: Become friends with compound interest.

Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it.” – Albert Einstein

Compound interest is when your money is making more money. It means your interest earns you more interest, which is a beautiful thing! Time is one of the most important factors when it comes to compound interest. Fortunately, if you are in college than you most likely have a lot of time. How can compound interest work for you? You can begin by opening a savings account, starting an individual retirement account (IRA), or by contributing to your company’s 401k retirement plan. Do your future self a favor by becoming friends with compound interest.

Financial Freedom Can Be Yours

Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”. – John 10:10

Do not let money be a thief in your life; begin to view yourself as a steward of the money God has graciously provided you, partner financially with your local church, give a purpose to each dollar, and become friends with compound interest. You can get on the road to financial freedom by following these five steps. I’m so grateful for the way these steps have helped me alter my approach to finances, and I hope they can change yours!