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What I Wish I had Known About Money In College

· job negotiations,first jobs,Compound Interest,student loans,Credit Scores

This week I’ve been invited to speak to NYU students in Los Angeles.

It’s a huge honor, for me, as I am an NYU alumni.

However, it’s not who I coach normally.

I usually coach creative freelancers and entrepreneurs mostly in the entertainment or music industries. However, I did mentor an NYU student, and I think it was very successful because she continued to reach out to me, even after she graduated.

So, this talk is going to be more personal. It's going to be a 'here’s what I wish I had heard when I was a college student' talk (well, this is a blog, so it won't include all of the talk). (If you have kids in high school, this info would be also pertinent to them, as well.)

First of all, I remember being at NYU, taking a Minorities in Media course, and my professor had brought in a guest speaker that day. This woman started to tell us that, “if you’re a woman and a minority, you may as well give up because the road is extremely challenging.” It was such a negative viewpoint that made a lot of students nervous.

I also had a professor who was extremely tough on students. I remember confronting him, after a late night editing session, where he called up one of my classmates, a good friend of mine, and yelled at her so much that she cried.

He said that it was all about “toughening” us up for the “real world.” He was a producer for 20/20 at the time, and he said that Barbara Walters was notoriously ruthless and even made him cry a time or two.

He wanted me to sympathize with him. But I had more compassion for my friend.

I said:

“I’m sorry Barbara Walters did that to you, and I understand that the “real world” is tough. However, University should be an in-between period… it should serve as that in-between period where we get out of the comforts of our family home, where most things are taken care of, and before we get into the “real” world and experience undeserved unkindness and unwarranted bad behavior. We are students, learning the skills we need to navigate that world, and so telling us the story about Barbara Walters is more effective than actually yelling at us and making people cry, like Barbara Walters did.”

He understood and said he would do better.

So, I’m not going to talk about anything that will discourage you to take on your chosen career paths. It’s not my job to do so. Just like it wasn’t that professor’s job to yell and make students cry or that other guest speaker’s job to frighten women and minorities to not pursue careers in the media.

Instead, my job today is to inspire and hopefully help you to remember a few things that will actually make your financial life easier.

And in what I’m going to share, some of it may actually be about money and sometimes it may not be because as I always say, “your financial life is a direct reflection of your emotional life.”

I think you get it. There are a lot of students who didn’t show up today because they may be burnt out, stressed out, and overwhelmed by what they feel like they “should” be doing instead. When you're going through a breakup, it's hard to concentrate on schoolwork, right?

Now, how many of you feel this way often? That you’re being pulled in a million directions and that you have to do everything and do it all perfectly?

Well, I’m here to tell you something you already know.

There is no perfect.

There is only progress.

Make a choice, and then stick to it.

In the book, “The Artist’s Way,” Julia Cameron writes:


“The key to career resilience is self-empowerment and choice.”

I had another professor who was my favorite teacher of all time. His name was Mike Ludlum. He was not only a professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, he had started his career as a disc jockey and news anchor and then later Head Writer at Good Morning America and Director of News and Programming at CBS Radio.



Unfortunately, you won’t get to take his classes because he passed away in 2015 after a sudden illness that robbed him of his ability to speak

After graduation, I would call up Professor Ludlum, especially when I had a decision to make about my career. My first call was right after graduation…well, not right after because right after I graduated, I took about a month to go backpacking around Europe with a high school friend.

However, two or three days after I got back to NYC, I got two job offers. So, I called up Professor Ludlum and asked, “Should I take this job as an Editor for a Newsradio Station or as a Production Assistant at the local 24 hour cable news station in Seattle? Both pay equally poorly. I think they were about $20,000 a year. The Editor job pays slightly more.”

His answer, as I learned in subsequent years, was always:


“What would make you happier? What would lead to more fulfillment in your life and in your relationships?”

At first, that would frustrate me. However, this became sage advice.

We shouldn’t be pursuing a job just to make money or to have a title. Instead, the job needs to be in alignment with our values, which leads to more fulfillment in our lives! Also, have a full life outside of your career. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket for a number of reasons.

  1. It’s important to diversify your income streams. Have different ways of using your strengths and passions to make money!
  2. We CANNOT create or be creative when we’re in survival mode. Have you ever heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? (I wrote up a blog post about it, which you can read HERE or in another blog post HERE.) You can’t put that much pressure on your artistry! In order to allow it to truly inspire you, you have to give it an abundance of time and love! So, find the investment jobs which are jobs that help invest in your creativity and passions!


…which leads me to a good reminder: your first job is probably NEVER going to be your last job. So, don’t get too precious about which job to take.

Again, make a choice. You can always change your mind 6 months to a year later. There is no loyalty amongst employers, so you must just decide what is best for you at this moment…again which job aligns with your core values and leads to more fulfillment right now.

Also, when it comes to money and that first job, I want you to know that you CAN negotiate, even if it is your first job. You may not think you have a lot of leverage, but you do. I would always negotiate any job because you’re leaving money on the table if you don’t. Most employers are offering people the bottom of the range they have to give. You get to ask what the range for this position would be and then ask for the higher end of that range. You can qualify it with what you bring to the table. (For example, when I was graduating, I had already done several internships and had actual jobs in the industry. They were part time because I was still in school, but still I had some experience that I could talk about in the negotiation.)

Also, ask yourself the question – what would make this job a great fit for you? Is it working remotely? Is it not working remotely? Or let’s say there isn’t a lot of flexibility when it comes to those things because it’s working on a film or TV set…then why not ask for time to sit with the producers or in the writer’s room, or wherever you’re most interested in pursuing. That way, you get to negotiate ahead of time some mentorship/apprenticeship and get to meet the people making the decisions in the area you want to pursue.

Another good reminder for everyone – No one is going to take care of you better than YOU! We all know that the entertainment and music industries are known to have crazy, long hours and an expectation that you’ll put up with a lot of B-S in order to “make it.”

Now, I do believe in hard work. However, again, you have to take care of YOU! Let’s say you’ve stayed late for a shoot, ask for an Uber/Lyft or ask for a nearby hotel room to crash for the night. Don’t be a martyr and drive home. That’s how “accidents” happen. Also, if you’re sick, stay home! Don’t try to “work through it.”

Another thing my favorite Professor taught us, while I was at NYU, was collaboration over competition. Look around your classroom. These are the people who are going to be your support system over the years. They’re going to be people you hire. They’re going to be people that hire you. This has proven to be such a truth, especially in the entertainment industry.

When I worked in News, I actually would get jobs by applying for them. But not always. My first job out of NYU (I ended up taking the Editor position at the Newsradio station) I had gotten because I worked on the Assignment Desk as an Assistant my Senior Year. One night, an Editor from that radio station in Seattle came to visit, and I was the one who gave her a tour at CBS. At the end of the tour, I told her that my parents lived in Seattle, and I thought it would be a great place to work after college, so I can live with them and save some money.

She said to let her know when I was graduating or if I were to ever visit.

Well, during Spring Break that year, I made a special trip back home (even though I never went home for Spring Break any other year). I called up that woman, Dodi, and said I was coming into town for Spring Break, and if I could get a tour. She said of course, and even set up a chat with her News Director. It all went well, so then about a month before I graduated, I sent Dodi and the News Director my resume to consider. I also let them know when I would be graduating.

In the entertainment industry, I never got a job by applying. Every single job I ever got as a TV producer or Development Executive was because of someone’s recommendation. So…if you don’t remember anything else, remember that to be successful in the entertainment industry, it’s really about who you know!

WHO you know will always get you into the doon. Then, WHAT you know will keep you there.

So start cultivating real friendships. Having a network isn’t icky when these are your actual friends! There’s a saying that:


“Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”

Well, “luck” is really that network for who you know! If you have a large network of people, then you can really make your own luck.

During your career in this industry, you’ll have great moments and then some not so great moments. Success is also about who manages those not-so-great moments in a better way. So, that’s what your friends are for too. It’s important to mourn, to grieve, to rant and rave about the audition that you didn’t get, or a bad review or a show you pitched that didn’t sell.

It’s important to not just bottle that all up…that’s what leads to burn out! Instead, write a release letter that you get to burn or tear up or get a coach, therapist or even that school psychologist. Just don’t keep it inside because the more we try to not think about something, like a pink elephant in the room, the more we are going to think about the pink elephant in the room!

The other trick is to ask yourself a different question.

When something “bad” happens, instead of asking, “Why me or why did this happen to me?” Try asking:


“How can this serve me? What is it here to teach me?”

We tend to try and solve or answer questions, so if you ask the first question, you’ll keep encountering scenarios where you’ll have to answer that question of why me or why do things keep happening to me. Instead, if you try to solve or answer the second or third question (How can this serve me? What is it here to teach me?), then you’ll be able to move on that much easier.

Now, for some other practical money stuff that I think are important:

Compound Interest 

This one you may not get right away…and to be honest, when I was your age, this would've gone over me. However, I just want you to take a look at this chart:

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Investor #1 started at 25 and only invests $5000 per year for 10 years.


Investor #2 doesn’t even start until 35 and invests $5000 per year for 30 years!


And yet, Investor #1 had more than $175,450 more than Investor #2!



If Investor #1 had kept going for a few more years, she would’ve had a MILLION dollars in her account by the time she was 40!



So, I like to show young people this because compounding interest is the combination of how much you’re putting in, multiplied by the rate of return, multiplied by how much time you can leave it to grow!


Your money snowballs with investing! So that $1 + $1 doesn’t equal $2. Instead, it can equal $2.16. Then, the next month you add in another $1, it doesn’t equal $3.16. Instead, it equals $3.41. And let’s do that for one more month. If you just added another dollar, it doesn’t equal $4.41. Instead, it becomes $4.76.

If you didn’t earn any interest, you would only have $4 in your account. Instead, you earned 76 cents without doing anything!



So…if any employers offer you a 401(k) or even if they don’t, start investing a tiny bit into the stock market, as soon as you start making money. Even if you just put away $5 a month, that’s going to grow like this...



Month 1 = $5.40

Month 2 = $$5.40+$5+interest = $11.23

Month 3 = $11.23+$5+8% return = $17.53

Month 4 = $17.53+5+8% return = $24.33

So, in just 4 months, you turned $5 into almost $25!

Here are a few more things that would be helpful to know:

  • When you graduate, many of you will have student loans. Just know that you do NOT have to pay this off immediately. In fact, you can get on an income driven repayment plan, the Biden SAVE plan, and slowly pay this off. When I mean slowly, you can start by paying $25/month maybe! Also, please don’t make this the #1 priority to pay off because:
  1. it’s usually a much lower interest rate than most things like credit cards, car or home loans, so you’re much better off putting more money into the stock market (see the compounding interest examples above)
  2. It actually helps your credit score to have this installment loan, in addition to other types of credit, like a credit card.
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  • Speaking of credit, it’s important that you start building it. Credit scores are based on the following categories: 35% Payment History, 30% Length of Credit HIstory, 30% Amount Owed, 10% New Credit and 10% Credit Type. So, always pay your credit card and loans on time, even if it’s just the minimum, because that’s what makes up the most of your score. Next, try and keep your overall amount less than 30% of what they give you. Let’s say you get a credit card with a $1000 limit. Stay under $300, so that your score doesn’t drop. With the length of credit history, this is why it’s good to start establishing credit as soon as you start to make some money and also NEVER, EVER close your oldest credit card!!! The credit bureaus like seeing a variety of credit to build your score, so having a credit card plus your student loan fulfills that requirement. New credit means…try not too open up a bunch of new credit cards all at once. This makes the credit bureaus nervous. It’s important to check your credit report at least once a year. You can check all three of them at once at or check one each quarter. Credit scores range from 250-900, although 720 or above gets you the best rates for most things. However, for a home loan, you generally want to have at least 740.

  • The last thing I think that’s important to know, financially, is taxes. I had a tax professor once tell us that the Mafia wasn’t brought down for murder. Instead, they were taken down for tax evasion. You have to pay your taxes. If you made any money in a year, you need to file taxes. Even if you didn’t make money, you’re supposed to file. However, there are lots of ways to minimize having to pay. If you’re organized and keep good records and all of your receipts, you’ll be fine! If you stay a freelancer and make at least $50K, you should also consider incorporating (setting yourself up as a business), so that you can save money on taxes AND so you can put away more money into a self-employment retirement account. Also, if you do owe taxes, you can set up a payment plan with the IRS, at usually very low interest rates!


Finally, know that once you graduate, you’re not alone. You have a lot of resources out there. Don’t try and figure it out by yourself. Ask so that you don’t make the kinds of mistakes we all wished we knew back then.

With Love & Gratitude,

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P.S. If you’re interested in finding someone to help you with your finances or would just love to hear a lot of really great financial advice, sign up below for my FREE Financial Spark Series: Experts Drop their Best Money Moves in 60 Seconds.