What Graduates Should Know

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It’s that time of year when graduates are pouring out of schools everywhere and ready to start their own life adventures.  Whether you are heading home to your old room at mom and dad’s or already have that new job in hand – what should graduates know about starting out?  I have covered this in many blog posts, so refer to these and pass the link on to graduates you know.

What graduates should know about money and starting out on life’s adventures

This might be a scary, exciting, or fun time, but it is important to get a good start, so check out some of these topics:

  • How to deal with student debt
  • How to get a job
  • Getting information about salaries
  • How to deal with credit card debt
  • How to handle money when you get a job
  • How to deal with competing priorities
  • How to make your money go further

Most important is what do you need to know to get on the right path to financial independence and peace of mind.  Here is a short summary to get you started and then check out the details in the posts in the link above.

How can you have peace of mind when you have to pay debts, start several savings plans, pay bills, and still living your life?  You can’t buy peace of mind, but you sure can get your finances to help achieve it.  Peace of mind comes from having control of your finances rather than worrying from pay check to pay check.  It will probably be difficult for your paycheck to meet all your needs and wants, so it’s critical to establish priorities.  Use these tips as a guide.   

  • Put your major expenses on autopilot. Pay your major bills automatically from your checking account (rent or mortgage, student loan, car payment, utilities, retirement savings, and emergency savings).  Consider your savings goals as essential expenses.  Many companies will let you set up automatic payments from your checking account.  For others, use your bank’s online banking features to setup automatic payments for any payment that doesn’t change each month.  Putting your essentials on autopilot means you will pay on time and be less likely to let luxuries gobble up money needed for essentials.  Ensure that you have money in your account when the bills are due.  Have some kind of overdraft protection on your checking account for those instances when the bill is larger than you expected or your planning is off.
  • Learn to live within your means. Adjust your spending so it is less than your income.  Track your spending for at least a month, make adjustments as needed, and reward yourself when possible.  It is important to know where you money is going, so make a list including those little expenses for coffee, soda, dry cleaning, eating out etc.  But this doesn’t have to be an onerous task:  use a spreadsheet, notebook, or smartphone.  Estimate, round off, use broad categories, be honest, and do it for at least a month.  I’ll cover budgeting in more detail in later, but for now, web savvy, young adults can be pointed to finance tracking sites like Mint.com or www.smartaboutmoney.org.  Smartphone users may value the growing list of money management apps such as “Mint”, “Quicken Money Management”, CoinKeeper, or “Pageonce”.
  • Start funding your retirement. This is an early priority because the longer you wait, the more you will have to save later.  Start with something, even if it’s only $50 – $100 per pay period.
  • Start an emergency fund for at least 3-6 months expenses. No one expects emergencies, but everyone gets one sooner or later.  Knowing you can handle it financially makes it much easier to sleep at night.
  • Pay off credit cards. Don’t pay interest for the next year on those shoes or that pizza.  Pay more than the monthly minimum.  Put any extra money you get towards paying off this credit card debt because it is likely to have the highest interest rate of any debt you have.  Reach the point where you pay off the balance in full every month.  This is one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment you can have and it makes all the rest of your finances much, much easier.
  • Save for any of your personal goals like a car, home, wedding, travel etc. Note that traveling now before you have a family is much easier and less costly, and there is a great big, exciting world out there to see.
  • Enjoy the rest. If you don’t have anything left over, go back thru your list of spending and prioritize it.  When you have money left over, then you are on the road to financial security and peace of mind which are priceless.

Once you have identified your priorities and have a plan to meet them, everything else becomes easier.

About John Kimball

Over the past few decades, I have experienced most of these financial issues with both mistakes and successes. I sure wish someone had told me these things when I was first starting out. So many times I have cried out, "I want a do over!" when I learned a new financial lesson or tip. I aim to pass along to you the financial insights I have gained from experience, reading, analysis, and living the financial aspects of managing, saving, investing, and spending your money. I am an analyst with a large organization and happily married with two children on their way to an expensive college, no doubt. I read numerous financial blogs, websites, newsletters, magazines, newspapers, and books to bring you the latest news, insights, tips, and lessons combined with decades of experience.

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