The Real World 101:
A Lesson in Life

It’s the first five words most post-graduates hear, some even before they are able to hang up their degrees and diplomas on their walls. In varying itineration’s, these words are made to make someone aware that there is something else coming, something that they are wildly unprepared for. “Welcome to the real world” is a phrase that is every graduate’s rite of passage. As “welcoming” as they sound, the meaning behind it couldn’t be anything further. Those words are soon followed by a tsunami of doubt, stress, financial worries and the constant echo of feeling lost, confused and unprepared. And the cycle continues for every next graduating class. What this story attempts to do, is take away all the fear from those words. In this story you’ll find financial and mental health tips and tricks and the lived experience of a post-graduate. All the things someone would’ve liked to have known once they have walked across the stage – you know “real world” information. Continue scrolling to read on how to make your entry into the real world a truly welcomed one.

The Finances of a Post Graduate

Financial struggles are nothing new to post-graduates. It is almost an expectation among post-graduates that they will not have any money for a long time. However, this does not have to be true according to Frank Gasper the owner and financial advisor of CSR Wealth Management in Brampton who says there are ways to better handle your finances beyond your early 20s.


“Understand that’s there’s a long-term effect,” said Gasper. “If you come out of school with a lot of debt, people nowadays I find tend to expect that that is the norm, but it doesn’t have to be, there’s a lot of people who do it better and who come out with no extra debt.”


Gasper has multiple clients in the young stages of becoming financially independent and want to take charge of their money. However, compound this with other expenses such as student debt, credit cards, car payments, and rent and saving can feel nearly impossible. What Gasper preaches is having a plan and knowing your goals before anything else.


“They don’t start with a plan or a notion of what their goals are. They start with what they feel they need which is usually accommodation and transportation. So, spending too much on accommodations and then making the excuse that ‘I spend too much on accommodations and transportation so therefore I can’t save’ is backwards,” said Gasper.


Financial stability according to Gasper comes more from a multitude of things such as job searching, meal planning, and of course making sacrifices to reach your goals. You don’t have to life a miserable life in order to save money and Gasper says this is all possible as long as you make the appropriate choices.


“I think the bigger picture is important because you know people need to look at what their real goals are in life. You know is it to drink coffee at Starbucks or is it to eventually be financially secure, or have a house you know, sooner rather than later and make those choices,” said Gasper. “So really it isn’t totally about the enjoyment of life but at some level you have to make those sacrifices whether its sooner or later. It’s just really a matter of making that choice.”


Talking about finances and the terminology along with it can quickly get confusing, especially for an age group that lacks financial literacy. In order to combat a client from being overwhelmed, Gasper says the best method is be clear in the education process and explain why this plan is right for you.


“The challenge that we have is that when I start talking immediately, I’m speaking in terminology that is very foreign. So for us we like to use financial planning software and spreadsheets, but for the average person they cant balance all this stuff in their mind,” says Gasper.


“We tend to try to educate people and help them understand why what we’re suggesting is the right thing to do.


The ideas and attitudes people have about money can be hereditary and the general stigma about talking about money weighs heavy on people. It is these outdated misunderstandings about money that can lead to mistakes or missed opportunities. Not having any understanding of finances or money can cause a lot of problems for graduates in the future, but Gasper says it is simply because people do not know these things.


“The biggest challenge in financial advice is people don’t know what they don’t know,” said Gasper.


Overall, Gasper says your financial plan is about your goals. The two have to be linked. He also encouraged to reach out to a financial advisor when you need the help. Gasper even offers questionnaires that give you personalized plans straight to your email.


Below are five scenarios that post-graduates may find themselves in once they graduate. Each scenario has short advice tips from Gasper on what you should do with your money at this stage.

Scenario 1

Graduate with no job, lives at home with no other financial responsibility

What to do with your money

Find a job. Make it then your job to find another good job to better your lifestyle so you can start to save at the level you are at.

Scenario 2

Graduate with minimum wage job, lives at home, has a vehicle

What to do with your money

Hopefully your vehicle is paid for. Save your money and open a TFSA. You can also afford to invest a little aggressively because you have a longer time frame for building your savings. You can also invest in the stock market at this time with a portfolio manager.

Scenario 3

Graduate with minimum wage job, has student loans, with own vehicle

What to do with your money

Start paying your student loans aggressively. Rates are not structured the best, usually around 5-6 per cent. You could also open a TFSA, but your savings will not be as high because your focus is to pay off your debt. According to Gasper, you can start to invest once your debts and car payments are paid off.

Scenario 4

Graduate with minimum wage job, rents with roommates, has own vehicle

What to do with your money

Leave time to look for opportunities to make more than minimum wage. Renting can be expensive, but roommates help with a lower cost of living. After paying rent, open a TFSA and tuck any of your money in there. Don’t have any of it lying around. Budget the rest of your income after taxes to take care of the rest of your needs.

Scenario 5

Graduate with with full time position, rents with roommates, has own vehicle

What to do with your money

Look to longer term savings programs. Open a TFSA, but take into consideration your long-term goals like a house, or children. Parents can help with a TFSA and take advantage of opening an RESP. This is the stage of your life where your financial decisions can be passed down to your own children one day.

Work Ready Fashion on a Budget

Part of the job searching experience is dressing to impress your perspective employers. It is already an anxious time, the last thing you need to worry about is if your outfit represents you well. Here are some staple pieces on a budget that add value to any closet and keep you looking like the professional that you are. All the items to the right are 100 dollars or less and will keep you looking professional long after current trends fade. A simple click on the image will take you to the website to purchase your new work-ready wardrobe.

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Mental Health in a Time of Change

If there is anything on the forefront of issues affecting young people, it is mental health and mental well-being. Through a multitude of factors that directly impact young people, the transition from being in school to trying to find their way in the professional working world is something that can have a detrimental impact on someone’s mental well-being.


According to Delanie Sanginesi, a psychotherapist at The Story Isn’t Over psychotherapy and counselling group, she found in her patients that issues surrounding graduation, financial security and job searches do come up, but with other underlying issues.


“Its usually like I have depression and anxiety and then that stuff comes up in the story,” said Sanginesi.


It is this time when a young person begins to discover who they are away from their families and this has a massive impact on their life.


“They are sort of starting to individuate from their families of origin. Like this is the first time they’re being like launched on to their own,” said Sanginesi. “So it can cause stress if there’s anything underlying or it can be a difficult time for sure.”


This time period of being a young adult does make them more prone to suffer from these problems, and Sanginesi says she sees a lot more physical symptoms in teens, where postgraduates have anxiety towards the unknown.  One of the also major concerns of post graduates is wanting to move out and live on their own.


“I find post grads its more like anxiety and worry about the unknown. And its complicated because a lot of people will come in because they’re wanting to move out on their own but then they cant afford to or you know they can’t find the right job so they’re still dependent on their parents,” said Sanginesi.


What has been a major stressor especially for young people trying to enter the workforce has been the pandemic.


“Everything has worsened because of the pandemic. It’s been like the single biggest stressor I’ve ever seen in my 15, 20 year career,” said Sanginesi.


Sanginesi says she has noticed that the pandemic has had an influence on people developing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder behaviours specifically around germs and an increase of people feeling social anxiety. Social anxiety is especially important to consider when people have to go back out into the world more regularly and meet potential employers face-to-face.


“It’s a whole different workforce, things have changed and definitely it’s a stress because its not like before where the expectation was you know you’re just going to show up. There’s now people who have anxiety about these things,” said Sanginesi. 


Returning to in-person work will be a challenge for young professionals and graduates because so much of their time and current work has been spent online from their own homes. The pandemic has demonstrated that most jobs and tasks can be done online, but the toll of being completely out of a social setting will be felt for years. For the millennials and generation Zs, utilizing the internet to connect and keep up with the daily goings of the people they follow is nothing new. However, being so connected can be detrimental to young people’s mental health. Sanginesi says that the social comparison aspect of social media has a massive impact on young people.


“I find honestly I would say that one of the biggest stressors with like my young 20s is social media and its comparison.”


She went on to say, “There’s shame around it because I find that I’ll have clients come in and be like ‘I know this is really stupid but you know I saw so and so on social media doing this and this and this,’ so it’s like they don’t want to admit that’s plaguing them, but it really is bothering them. It’s like they’re so hyper-aware of other people’s everything.”


So what is there left for young people to do if they find themselves in this position? The first option most people think about is seeking professional help. Therapy is a great treatment for those suffering with mental illness, but it is often expensive and unattainable for young people who have to pay off student loans and keep up with rent. When faced with these circumstances, Sanaginesi says there are a lot of other affordable options people can turn to.


“Most clinics offer intern rates, […] so they’ll have a lower rate. Most therapists offer sliding scale, which means sort of pay what you can,” said Sanginesi. “Universities have cheaper rates so you can go in for like 3, 4 sessions of solution-focused therapy at most post-secondary institutions.”


Young adults should also read through their parents health benefits as well because there may still be options for postgraduates to access therapy.


“If they’re still in school they are covered by their parents a lot of the time so you know checking their parents extended health care benefits is a big one because honestly the kids think like ‘oh I’m not covered anymore because you know I’m however old’, meanwhile they are until they move out or until they graduate university or college,” said Sanginesi.


Sanginesi says that there are also apps that can also help people cope with their mental health struggles. Some of those apps include Calm and BetterHelp. Calm is a popular sleep, relaxation, and meditation app. Designed for people of all experience with dealing with mental health, Calm offers mindfulness programs, guided meditation sessions and sleep stories that Sanginesi and other mental health professionals highly recommend.


Family and friends can also help support their loved ones when they transition to this point in their lives. If a person feels safe opening up to a family member or friend, Sanginesi says that people need to be patient when trying to listen.


“Before you offer advice,  you know somebody tells you that they’re struggling, ask if they want advice or just someone to listen because often times you know people just want to be heard, right,” said Sanginesi


The biggest piece of advice Sanginesi has for graduates is they too need to be patient with themselves.


“So just being patient with the process like its often a very winding path, it takes time to figure things out and just to be compassionate with yourself and gentle when you’re going through this process,” said Sanginesi.

The Lived Experience

Photo provide by Amanda Naccarato

Amanda Naccarato’s story is a common experience many graduates live. As a journalism graduate from the University of Guelph Humber, Naccarato was thrown into the perilous media industry where cutbacks, falling ad revenue and a pandemic has desecrated opportunities. The graduates who find full-time employment right out of school and in the field they studied in, are labelled as an anomaly or the extremely lucky. Those who are not in such a case, like the vast majority of graduates, often contemplate whether or not to continue to pursue their dream career and settle for something that pays the bills.


“Honestly sometimes I’ve thought and I’m still in this boat today, I’m thinking like I don’t know if it makes sense for me to even be in journalism anymore,” said Naccarato. “Should I go into something else that is a little more stable, but also think I could work better in?”


Naccarato knew she wanted to pursue writing because she always had a passion for the craft. She developed her skills throughout her time at Guelph Humber and was an editor in chief for the Emerge print magazine, an annual project that Guelph Humber has won numerous awards for in the past. Journalism and the media industry is a highly competitive field and Naccarato said she was never really ready for it until she was applying for jobs and freelancing.


“When you’re in school, you’re kind of in a bubble,” said Naccarato. “But you still feel like you’re in a safe place, you know, I’m still in school everything is good, and then once that bubble pops you’re in the real world.”


Naccarato works as a freelance fact checker for Today’s Parent. When the main fact checker at the publication gets too overwhelmed with stories, Naccarato will get an email to fact check 1 to 3 stories a week. She also freelanced with Diply to write listicles for the new home décor diy section. Freelance and contract work is the norm in the media industry and along with that norm comes  the challenges of being paid for your work. While at Diply, Naccarato was paid every two weeks and per word she wrote. Getting paid at Today’s Parent was much different for Naccarato.

“With Today’s Parent its per hour, so it’s a different rate than I was used to then when I was working per word,” said Naccarato. “It’s not easy getting paid, it’s like a whole system and its difficult, it’s really difficult getting paid I have not seen a paycheque in like months which is really hard.”


Naccarato did her internship with Today’s Parents as well and said the internship was helpful for her transition into the professional environment and despite the hardships of free lancing, Naccarato says she likes working with Today’s Parent.


“I get so happy when I see an email from them, like it’s great, because I love working with them,” said Naccarato.


Finding full-time work has been a challenge for Naccarato and not just because she was a recent graduate. The Covid 19 pandemic made job opportunities slim to none if businesses hadn’t gone outright bankrupt. Naccarato was let go from Today’s Parent and was worried about what she would find next.


“It was maybe a good 5 or 6 months where I had no work. I had nothing and it was horrifying. It was so scary just thinking that I wasn’t going to find anything, that I’d have to start all over,” said Naccarato.


The personal challenges of this time have been some of the toughest Naccarato and other post-graduates face. The competition especially in the media industry is extremely tough. Thousands of people with the same qualifications and varying degrees of experience all apply for the same positions. The goal is to how to make yourself stand out among the crowd. Naccarato and some of her classmates and friends were in this exact position, and while they struggled to get interviews, other classmates were being hired at high profile companies within a year or two. Mentally, the situation was draining and discouraging for Naccarato.


“It’s also like discouraging in the sense of where you see other people who have graduated in that same class as you, or the same age as you and they have full time positions and it’s like ok what is wrong with me? How come they can find it, but I can’t?” said Naccarato. She went on to say, “there’s just all these questions just swarming your brain all the time.”


Eventually, Naccarato got to a point where she begin to apply for anything and everything. She did get one interview for a social media position, however during the interview, the hiring manager said to Naccarato that she was not qualified for this role. This left her confused about the experience.


“The interviewer literally told me half-way into the interview that this job does not match my skillset,” said Naccarato. “And I was really confused because you looked at my resume, then why did you interview me if you knew I didn’t qualify for it?


“It definitely was a strike to my confidence.”


The feeling of being inadequate was something Naccarato said she experienced and it took a toll on her confidence. Naccarato says she does feel supported by her family, but it is sometimes hard to hear their encouragement because they are not actively experiencing what Naccarato is.


“Sometimes you do need that reassurance but sometimes it’s like ok, but do you really understand because you weren’t experiencing this during Covid?” said Naccarato.


In order to combat the reality and toll of the rejection process while searching for jobs, Naccarato says to take breaks as a way to manage the constant ups and downs of this process. Young professionals could become overly stressed and consumed with this aspect of their life. The most draining factor for Naccarato was the lack of any kind of response from the companies she applied to.


“You never hear back from these companies. So, let’s say you spend an hour of your day working on a cover letter to never hear back and then in the back of your mind you’re like ‘ok am I wasting my time because are they really going to get back to me?’” said Naccarato. “But you do it any ways because it is better to have tried than to not have.”


Because the majority of the applying process is waiting, Naccarato has an on-off schedule where she will take one week to apply and search for jobs and then one week where she will not look or apply to anything at all. In the grand scheme, Naccarato says taking a week at a time to stop the job searching doesn’t make any difference. She also goes by the mantra that eventually something will come around for her.


“I’m going to find something, like something is going to come eventually,” said Naccarato. “It may not be right now, it may not be in a month, it may not be in a couple of months, you know eventually I think I’m going to find where I’m supposed to be.”


From all the challenges Naccarato has faced, her best advice she tells herself and would like to pass along is that to continue to roll with the punches. Naccarato believes that everything has a reason and that there is a path for her, and she continues to work down that path.


“I just vibe this belief that everything happens for a reason and you have to kind of go through different points in your life to get where you’re supposed to be,” said Naccarato.


She also recommends that people should be ready and expect themselves to have to pivot within their industry skills. This is a common phenomenon of the media industry as more and more platforms, technologies and companies continue their process of convergence. Media professionals of all specializations must be knowledgeable in every other aspect and many people move on to working in other fields in media or marketing departments or public relations offices.


In order to continue to develop their skills and add to their portfolios, young media professionals often start their own projects like blogs or social media pages to demonstrate that they have the skills necessary to work at an established media company or industry relative. Naccarato has a passion for reading and lifestyle. Along with a few of her friends, Naccarato started a blog called Paper&Lore.


“We had that mentality of well if we can’t find work, we’re going to make our own work,” said Naccarato.


In the future, Naccarato said she would like the blog to start making money through advertisements and make it more of a permanent project. For Naccarato herself, she would like to teach media professionally and mentor students. Until then, she says she’ll continue to apply for positions and freelance. She is optimistic and is ready for the challenges regardless what point she is at in her career.


“It’s good in the one sense that everyone is facing the exact same thing, so its not just you,” said Naccarato. “I’m in the depths of the real world, it may not be treating me the nicest, but I’m in it.”