It’s time for you to graduate from college. Finally! That means you’re preparing to start your career and life on your own. Although your 20s are the time to explore, be wary of certain financial decisions. “While every decision you make won’t irrevocably change the course of your life, a few may,” warns US News. Graduation is an excellent time to prepare to get your financial life headed in the right direction.
Although the job market for new college graduates is slightly improving, the large amount of student loan debt will be a constraint in the financial lives of many college grads many for years, maybe even decades. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, 68 percent of students from four-year colleges graduated with debt in 2015, and the average debt amount was $30,100, up four percent from 2014.
Adjust your lifestyle to meet your financial goals. Start by living within your means, or even living below your means when possible. Many people make the mistake of readjusting their lifestyle to spend more with each increase in income. A better idea is to increase your contribution to your 401(k) plan and stick with the same lifestyle as before the raise.
Although it was considered unusual a generation ago, many college graduates now opt to live with their parents following graduation. It’s a smart short-term plan since you won’t fork money over for rent, utilities, and an internet bill. Instead, you can build up a savings account for a car, rent deposit, down payment on a home, graduate school, or even a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Establishing credit and using it wisely are important financial steps, and one way to enhance your credit score is to always pay your bills on time. Also, be sure to monitor your credit profile. College students are the most prone to identity theft because they have such a substantial online profile.
Be sure you learn about personal finance and investing. Research online or read books on how to manage money and the different ways to invest. Take advantage of employer 401(k) plans by contributing as much as you can, or at least the same amount that your employer is willing to match. Otherwise, you’re missing out on free money from your employer. Obviously, the sooner you start, the more compounding interest works in your favor. Starting at 22 as opposed to 32 can be a world of a difference.
Having a retirement plan can even save you money on taxes each year. This means you can save extra income or even earn a refund that can be deposited into your savings or retirement fund. Many people find it beneficial to work with a financial planner or tax software so they’re sure to get all of the maximum tax deductions they’re entitled to, which helps their hard-earned money go even further.
Also, have money automatically withdrawn from your paycheck and distributed into a savings account or 401(k). This is most important in the first few years, as it gets you into the habit of this lifestyle. Furthermore, by having it automatically withdrawn, you won’t be tempted to spend the money.
Beyond the Bills
Choose your friends wisely. If you surround yourself with people who spend their money foolishly, it is likely to rub off on you. This is especially true with dating; marrying someone who doesn’t share your financial values is unwise. Learn to cook so you’ll eat at home more, which will save you money. Eating at home can also be healthier, which can lower medical expenses.
Before deciding to go to graduate school, consider the costs versus the benefits. For some fields, such as education, a master’s degree is a necessity. For others, having a master’s degree doesn’t offer any real career benefits. Accruing additional debt without increasing salary is ill advised.
Of course, none of this is to say you shouldn’t have fun. It’s OK to splurge on experiences. In fact, spending money on experiences is advisable over spending it on “things.” After graduation, take the chance to travel and try new experiences. Just stay focused on your overall financial plan to have a well-balanced and healthy budget while saving for your future and living a sensible lifestyle.