I graduated from high school and then from college under the impression that I had been prepared for life and the challenges it held.
Somebody lied to me.
Ever since I started this new job, I have realized more and more with every trip to the human resources office (which is doing a wonderful job of putting up with me, by the way) that I understand very little about living in this world. There was no class on understanding insurance benefits; no college credit given for knowing how to set up a retirement fund. I can analyze 16th-century literature in 10+ pages of flawless MLA style in less than four hours; I can write a front-page breaking news report that brings my boss to tears; I can create basic page layout and generate a five-page newsletter in a single day; but I don’t know the first thing about paycheck deductions and how to manage them and where they go and how they are supposed to benefit me.
I always thought you earned money, you paid taxes automatically and then you took the rest home with you to pay bills and buy groceries. Apparently, that’s not how it works.
The benefits coordinator in human resources is very nice and tries very hard to help me understand, but every pamphlet she gives me only makes me feel dumber and less like I can handle anything on my own. At this moment, I am emailing her about how to opt-out of all this additional optional stuff the UT retirement plan takes from my paycheck, because I have been all over this website and it looks nothing like what makes sense to me. If they’re going to take a mandatory amount each month, I don’t want to have to give up any more. Yes, I’m all for saving for retirement, but I’d like to set it aside myself depending on current circumstances, rather than having a set percentage removed before I even see it. And I’m not even completely sure that’s what happens… that’s what I thought she explained to me before… but judging by this new conversation I’m not so sure… so I have no idea. None at all. Not the tiniest wisp of a thought bubble.
Like I said, there was no college course on this. There should have been — “Adult Life 101” — and it should be mandatory to pass with flying colors before you are set loose to fend for yourself. The syllabus should include retirement plans and health benefits; creating/sticking with/balancing a budget; understanding loans (student, home, car, etc.) and HOW MUCH INTEREST (!!) they build up over time. An advanced course called “In Over Your Head 102” should address how to recover from poor financial decisions (so. much. interest!!!), and a remedial level class should be for those who get to college and still can’t do basic adult things like balance a checkbook, parallel park or sort laundry. (I would have passed that one, at least.)
Why do we not learn these things early in life? Why do I, a 4.0 double-degree honors student, want to go down to HR (again) and bang my head on Ms. Lisa’s desk as she vainly tries to explain (for the hundredth time) why my money is going somewhere else. But that wouldn’t be professional. And I’m a professional. I’m a college graduate with a full-time job.