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Personal Finance Tips for New Graduates

by Ryan Guina

College graduation represents a new beginning in your life. For many, it will be the first time you are completely in control over your life and finances. The decisions you make now will effect how you live in the future. Here are some personal finance tips to help you as you start this new chapter in your life.

Personal Finance Tips for New Graduates

1. Don’t try to keep up with the “Jones’s”.

You’ve probably heard from friends who have already been living in the “real world” after their high school or college graduation. They’ve been working and probably receiving a steady paycheck, and so you’ll listen to them talk about the new house they just bought, the amount they spent on their wedding, new cars or fancy electronics. You know what’s interesting about the stories your friends are sharing? Most of them don’t tell you they’re spending money faster than they’re earning it and have already found themselves thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

If you try to keep up with the Jones’s, as the saying goes, you’ll also find yourself with more debt than you can afford to pay back and a situation that will seriously hamper your future lifestyle, as well. Make smart decisions based on your own income level and situation – and don’t let yourself be swayed simply because you hear about many of your friends going on major spending sprees.

2. Consider more than a good paycheck when choosing your first “real” job.

If you select a job with a good salary, it allows you to save more for retirement, have a more flexible budget, and gives you negotiation room for higher salaries when future opportunities present themselves. That being said, you don’t want to choose your job based on the paycheck alone. Choosing career paths that keep you interested and happy is just as important, and at times, more important, than being financially situated. One of the best things you can do in your first job is chase opportunity, not a paycheck.

3. Start saving immediately and automatically.

The best thing you can do for your financial future is start saving as soon as you start receiving paychecks. Most employers will offer direct deposit, which will allow you to deposit your check into your high-yield savings account automatically. From there, you can set up automatic transfers each pay period from your savings to your checking account for the amount you need to pay your bills and have some spending cash. Allow the rest to grow in your savings account as an emergency fund.

The most important aspect to saving is to do it consistently and automatically. Many people fall into the trap of “saving what’s left” after paying bills or going away for a weekend trip. If you put your money into savings immediately, and only take out what you need each month, you’ll create better financial habits

4. Pay off debts and avoid new debts.

Many college graduates leave college with credit card debt and/or loans. Chances are, your debts are all of the high-interest nature, and it’s important that you concentrate on paying them off as soon as possible. Put any and all available money into paying off debts until you are debt free, and do everything in your power to avoid taking on new debts at this time. Most student loans are low interest, so it makes more sense to send them the minimum payments while concentrating all of your finances on paying off your higher interest debts first.

5. Start saving for retirement.

It may seem like retirement is so far away that you don’t need to concern yourself with it yet, but the reality is saving for retirement should begin as soon as you start making money. People who start consistently saving for retirement during their high school or college years will almost always have more money than people who begin saving later in life.

Once you’ve got your budget set up and are automatically saving money each month, you can look at opening a Roth IRA or an employer-sponsored 401(k) or 403(b) plan. If your employer provides matching contributions for the 401(k) plan, you should invest at least as much as your employer match limitations to take advantage of the “free” money. If you don’t have a 401(k) or 403(b) plan available to you, look at opening a Roth IRA and set up automatic contributions through your bank account to ensure you are investing consistently.

6. Be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them.

When you’re first starting out in the “real” world, you’re probably going to make some mistakes. If you should make a poor financial decision, just recognize that it wasn’t your best move, learn from it and move on. Don’t beat yourself up over it or give up and go on a major spending spree just because you may have fallen off the financial wagon temporarily!


Published or updated June 2, 2010.
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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 FabulousSavings.ca

Great post! I think the most important thing is to begin saving for retirement. I waited until I was 26 to start and wish I had begun earlier. It’s still pretty early compared to most people, but you can’t start early enough.

We just did a post on tips for saving money after graduation, too: (http://www.fabuloussavings.ca/blog/2010-06/tips-for-saving-money-after-graduation/). You’ve got more detailed PF tips, so I hope you don’t mind that I’m going to comment on our post with a link to yours. :)

- Shayna from FabulousSavings.ca

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2 Doug Warshauer

Ryan,
Great article filled with lots of good advice. I especially like the way you started with “Don’t Keep Up With the Jones’s” because adhering to that philosophy underlies the ability to keep your finances in control.

The only part I question is whether New Graduates really ought to contribute to a 401k, IRA, or other retirement account that has an early withdrawal penalty. New Graduates might be better served dedicating their savings toward the car and home purchases that they will need to make in the next few years. Using their savings in that way will help them follow #4 – pay off old debts and avoid new ones. If they can accomplish that while they are young, there will normally be enough time for them to save for retirement later in their life.

I know this is not the normal advice we give to young people, but it seems to me more likely to help them manage their finances effectively.

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3 Ryan

Doug, I think new grads will need to set priorities when it comes to short term savings, long term investments, and repaying debt. Income is finite, so you can make a case supporting each of the three options.

The first priority in my opinion should be high interest debt (some low interest student loans can be repaid over time so grads can focus on other financial goals). If new grads don’t have much debt and their company offers a 401k match it may be a good idea to contribute to get the match (free money), then use the extra funds for short term savings.

All options are good ones and it will need to be a decision new grads will need to make. Welcome to the real world! :-)

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4 Katie

Ryan-

This article that you wrote is awesome since I am one of those recent grads! This quote that you said in the beginning, “the decisions you make now will effect how you live in the future” is completely true and to be honest scared me haha!

I really like how you said to start saving right away…this is something that I need to do because I feel as everytime I get some money I always have something that I “need” but in reality I could defiently wait! Thanks for all these tips, I think that you should defiently try and make more students and grads aware of this, it could help some of my friends out! :)

-Katie

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5 Mrs. Money

I wholeheartedly agree with everything you advise here. I wish that I would have had information like this when I had graduated high school!

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6 RC@Thinkyourwaytowealth

Great list- I posted something similar today, but you have all of the bases covered. I especially like #6- even though Ive been out of school for quite a while, I still make mistakes and try to learn from them!

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7 MyFinancialObjectives

I’d like to simply stress your fourth point. If you neglect to start paying off your current student loan debt (assuming you have some), and also start to take on more debt via living in the city with friends, partying, buying, and vacationing all the time, you will end up in a HEAP of trouble! A focused effort on debt repayment right from the gate can allow you to do all these other things. However, if you continue o rack up debt, you will in turn damage your ability to save for example.

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8 WolfBridge Financial

Yes, do not chase the paycheck, for it may be deceiving!

Sometimes a job may not pay a lot, but they offer incentives such as paid vacation, TUITION REIMBURSEMENT (which is great for grad school!), and other perks. Some jobs will even pay for your health care and contribute to your 401(k).

I started a high-yielding savings account about a year ago in addition to my established savings account. Saving is very important! I want to eventually retire (or at least take a vacation!)

Great post!!

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9 Craig

Great advice, paying off all debts is key, but what is more key is to not get into debt in the first place.

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