College seniors graduating in 2012 face a sluggish economy, bleak job prospects and a mountain of student loan debt. To make matters worse, many don't have the first clue about how to manage their personal finances.
Author Zac Bissonnette, a recent college graduate himself, learned how to handle money by watching his parents' mistakes and ignoring most of their advice. He put himself through college without loans, scholarships or help from his parents.
In his book How to Be Richer, Smarter, and Better-Looking Than Your Parents, he offers advice to his fellow 20-somethings.
"The reason that this money stuff is so important for young people now," he tells NPR's Neal Conan, "is that we're operating with no margin for error, that ... 10 years ago young people had. ... You don't have the room to make mistakes."
Bissonnette gives his advice for avoiding common financial mistakes and staying out of debt.
On lessons from his parents
"My parents were middle-class people who had financial struggles like most middle-class people do. ... My dad was going through his own financial crisis ... really in 2004. We always joked that he was kind of ahead of his time in that regard.
"And what I saw was this, adding this incredible amount of stress that really prevented him from having, you know, in a lot of ways the quality of life that he deserved. ... I wanted to do a book that parents could give to their kids and say, 'Here's how you can avoid falling into the traps that we fell into and have a better life than we had,' because I think that's what every parent wants for their kids."
On what young people get wrong about money
"People who drive luxury cars are not happier than people who drive junky cars. People who are on the Forbes list are not happier than people who aren't on the Forbes list. People who have expensive watches are not happier than people who have inexpensive watches.
"That sort of happiness boost from buying a brand new car lasts about two weeks, and then you're back to being miserable about all the other things in your life.
"On the other hand, things like having a few thousand dollars in a savings account reduces stress enormously."
On the correlation between spending and television
"There was a study that found that the more television you watch, the more likely you are to think that a high percentage of Americans have in-ground pools and tennis courts in their homes. ...
"And what it suggests is that ... humans are social animals ... and so our spending and our attitudes about our finances are absolutely impacted by what sociologists call a reference group, which is the group of people against whom we compare our own financial decisions."
On the benefits of buying a used car
"There's this sort of stereotype that buying an older, used car, it's not safe. And 10 or 15 years ago, this advice was really, really true. But what the data shows is that the reliability rates on 10-year-old and 15-year-old and even 20-year-old cars now are so much better than they were a few years ago because ... there's been this improvement in technology that for the first time you really can, for a few thousand dollars, buy a reliable car that's going to be safe and get you where you need to go.
"It doesn't have to be your dream car for the rest of your life ... but someone told me ... 200,000 miles is the new 100,000 miles. And if you can get the car thing right, you know, it's such a good start to getting the rest of it."