If you’re a soon-to-be or recent college graduate, congrats! It’s an exciting time, but it can also be daunting when it comes to your personal finances. Between student loan debt and entry-level salaries, it’s natural to feel like the money deck is stacked against you.
The good news? Time is on your side. Use it to your advantage with these 15 essential financial tips for new college graduates.
Master Your Money Mindset
1. Chase your dream job - You may think you have to figure out your career right away, but this is the time to take risks and make mistakes. It’s through failure that you’ll learn and grow, so don’t be afraid to switch careers or move to find better job prospects.
2. Be proactive - Handing out resumes and waiting on the sidelines may not land you your ideal job. Instead, seek out mentors who can help you or go to networking events and meet as many people as possible. Most opportunities come from personal connections.
3. Find your people - It’s important to surround yourself with likeminded people who support you in your career and financial ambitions. Bonus points if they’re willing to share their salaries and hard-won money advice.
4. Strike a balance - Getting burned out can affect your health and your finances in the form of poor job performance and medical bills. Your energy isn’t infinite, so take breaks, meditate, hang out with friends – do whatever you can to take care of your mind and your wallet.
5. Craft your money mantra - Money is a tool that can give you freedom and flexibility in your life, but spending it unwisely or becoming obsessed with it can turn money into a negative. Take some time to figure out your values and goals when it comes to your finances, then use that info to create boundaries and rules you can always fall back on.
Learn How to Budget and Save
6. Track your spending - Smart money management starts with becoming aware of what you’re spending your money on. Use a budgeting app to automatically track your spending or go old-school with a daily spending journal.
7. Create a realistic budget - Having a spending plan will help keep you from getting in debt. Once you tracked your spending, find out what you can cut out and how to allocate your salary accordingly.
8. Reduce your largest living expenses - Lowering your biggest costs, such as housing, commuting and food, will go a lot further than foregoing the occasional latte. For example, you could rent a smaller apartment, live with roommates or move in with your parents for a bit. As for commuting, see if you can carpool, take public transportation or even bike to work.
9. Consider consolidating or refinancing your student loans - Student loan repayment tends to be a huge expense for new college grads. If you’re paying a high interest rate on your loans, you could save a lot of money by refinancing them at a lower rate. Before making a decision, find out how much you actually owe and your current interest rates via the Federal Student Loan Website. Then, check your rate with student loan refinance lenders to see how much you could save.
10. Take advantage of employee programs - Your employer may provide free stuff and discounts as a perk for working there. Ask your HR department, check your employee handbook or ask your coworkers. Things you can save on include gym memberships, cell phone bills and even travel.
Set Yourself up for Future Financial Success
11. Start to build your credit history - A good credit score is essential because it can help you rent an apartment, open a credit card and in some cases, impact your ability to land a job. If you have little or no credit, consider starting with a secured credit card or co-signing with a parent on a small loan — with a monthly payment you can comfortably afford — so you can start to show on-time payments on your credit report.
12. Automate savings - Having an emergency fund could really come in handy during a financial hardship in the future, like losing your job or having a roommate suddenly move out. Start to build your emergency fund using small dollar amounts and setting up an automatic transfer to your savings account so you don’t even miss the money.
13. Start investing - The earlier you start investing, the more you can benefit from the magic of compound returns over time. If your company offers a 401(k), that’s a good place to start — especially if they match part of your investment. If they don’t offer a 401(k), think about opening a Roth IRA. With a Roth, contributions are taxed on the way in, but distributions are tax-free on the way out, when you’re older and your tax bracket is likely significantly higher.
14. Keep the credit card debt to a minimum - Credit cards can be a helpful financial tool, but if you’re regularly running a balance with no plan to pay it down, you’re paying interest on that balance — and robbing your other financial goals of their chance to succeed. Make a plan to pay off credit cards as well as a strategy for how to use credit cards to your benefit in the future.
15. Keep learning - If you really want to better your financial future, it’s key to keep building your expertise so you can increase your income over time. Acquiring new skills doesn’t have to be expensive; there are many free resources and classes. You can even borrow books from the library. Figure out where you want to go, identify the skills you need to get there, and figure out how to acquire them.
Making the transition from college student to the professional world can be daunting, especially if you graduate with student loan debt and a low bank account balance. But you’re not alone — and there’s a lot of financial advice out there that can help you create a strategy for success. Armed with that and your degree, there’s no stopping you now!
The content provided is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute financial or legal advice. RISE is not acting as a credit counseling or repair service, debt consolidation service, or credit services organization in providing this content. RISE makes no representation about the reliability or suitability of the information provided – any action you take based on this content is at your own risk.