After four long years, college is finally over and you are officially entering the real world. Hopefully you’ve landed your first job and are ready to set out on your own. But being responsible for your own finances is a big change once you head off campus. To help you get started, we’ve compiled our top five financial tips for college grads so you not only stay on top of your money, but make it work for you. Also, we’ve included 5 short 20-minute activities that will definitely get you started on the path to financial wisdom.
- Make a budget.
No, seriously, do it. This one may seem simple and tops a lot of our personal finance posts, but that just shows how crucial this step is in creating a sound financial future. As you are probably making more money than you did when you were in school, it’s important to get in the habit of planning how you’ll use it. Use a budget calculator to map out your income and expenses so that you know where each of your earned dollars goes. Play around with how much you can spend on discretionary expenses like going out to eat so that you can put a significant portion of your money into savings. It’s just as crucial to budget your fun spending as well as your bills – you’ll be much more at peace as a result.
20-Minute Activity: Jot down your monthly bills and compare with your income. It can be rough, just get something on paper. If you prefer online, try a site like Mint.com.
- Understand your student loans.
You may have skimmed over the fine print when you signed up for loans before your freshman year, but did you actually research the terms and conditions? Do some online research to help demystify federal versus private loans. Then either find your old paperwork or call your lender to determine what kind of interest rate you have, how much your monthly payments are, and when those payments start. Most federal loans allow a six month grace period after graduation, but most private loans do not.
20-Minute Activity: Call your lender. Have them send you your student loan terms and conditions to read again.
- Does your employer offer 401K contributions? Sign up.
Starting to save for retirement now will pay off big in the long run, especially if your employer matches your monthly contributions – that is essentially an addition to your salary! Contribute the maximum amount they will match (assuming it doesn’t otherwise cause you financial hardship). If your employer does not provide matching contributions, the general rule of thumb is to contribute at least 10% of your salary. After that, you can start building your emergency and personal savings funds. Bonus tip: the earlier you start the more you will benefit from the extraordinary power of compound interest.
20-Minute Activity: See your human resources department during your lunch break to sign up for your 401K.
- Build your personal credit.
Establishing strong credit now will set you up for success further down the road. From getting a car loan to buying your first home, the steps you take in the years after college graduation help you get the best interest rates later. Sign up for a credit card to use exclusively for groceries or gas and make sure you pay it off each and every month. If you have roommates, volunteer to have any utilities put in your name and make sure you pay your cell phone bill on time. Most if not all of these companies report delinquencies to the major credit bureaus but it also strengthens your credit score when you have a long history of on-time payments.
20-Minute Activity: Research a low-limit, no annual fee credit card to start building credit.
- Save time and money for yourself.
After you’ve been at your job for a while, think about taking some vacation days and doing something fun for yourself. Travel abroad or take an extended road trip. Whatever you decide, take advantage of the free time now before work and family commitments become more demanding. You won’t regret the amazing experiences that ultimately shape your outlook on the world.
20-Minute Activity: Look into the typical cost of traveling to your desired destination, and mark a savings account to deduct a small amount monthly specifically for this trip.