My Financial Mindset is on a Seven-Year Lag — Millennial Money with Katie

 

I’ve written at length (both last week and at the end of 2022) about the realizations that helped me become financially savvy. But I’ve never shared the experience that occurred before those initial W-2 paychecks started coming. 

I faced a post-grad experience that will be familiar to most young people: Securing an internship after graduation—rather than a full-time job—pressed “start” on a punishing, ticking clock. I was officially on my own, which meant paying my own bills. But on $12/hour, that necessarily meant finding a generous, empty-nesting family friend who would let me crash until I could afford rent. 

I was fortunate not to sweat the crushing pressure of student loan payments that many in my generation do, but I still felt that giant internship timer ticking down in my chest with each passing pay period. 

While I knew I had the safety net of parents who would allow me to move home and charge cheap rent if I couldn’t find a full-time job, the thought of working hard to graduate with a 4.0 and still returning to my hometown with my wilted grad cap tassel tucked between my legs was unbearable. I applied feverishly for full-time roles all summer, rarely received calls back, and politicked within an inch of my life, politely circling back and barking following up the tree of any person who would take the meeting. If August rolled around without an offer, I’d be officially unemployed—a fate that, at the time, seemed worse than just about everything but death. 

I desperately wanted to get hired full-time at the company where I had worked for two summers already, but their program was notorious for hiring very few interns. We were told our fate was decided as much by headcount availability as by our performance, and the entire ordeal felt precarious and mostly out of my control. 

Miraculously, by the grace of the corporate gods, a huge game of organizational musical chairs in the marketing department was announced in the last weeks of August, and it shook loose a few open seats at the bottom of the food chain. One week before the internship ended, I got my job offer, meaning I’d only need to go a couple of weeks without income. 

But the stress and desperation of that summer did a number on my psyche. 

It was the first time in my privileged life that I had experienced the taut, perilous risk of being without income or meaningful savings indefinitely. I perceived my struggling as a failure to achieve the most basic precondition of adulthood. (As I’ve previously shared, my parents were ultra-frugal savers employed for the entirety of my adolescence.) 

The initial relief of having a W-2 paycheck quickly subsided to make way for the realization that the rest of my life was going to feel like a muted version of that summer if I kept spending every cent: suspended over the edge, with my weight supported by the rope of corporate beneficence. It deeply affected my subconscious relationship with money, work, and security. 

In hindsight, I know it wasn’t actually that serious. But it doesn’t matter if 2024 Katie is aware that 2017 Katie was panicking over a very common, lowish-stakes experience. 2017 Katie’s psyche spent four months in earnest, professional fight-or-flight. It doesn’t matter whether she was actually being chased by the metaphoric lion or not; her careerist nervous system experienced life as though she were.