Graduating from college this year? The transition from school to “real life” can be brutal, so it’s about time you develop a few healthy financial habits to help you survive being independent for the first time. Check out this article for a few money tips that will help you navigate post-graduation life with more ease.
During college years, young adults are largely confined in a safe and structured environment. As they make the transition to the real world though, new challenges arise. Finding a job, saving money, being responsible for paying your own bills – it can all get overwhelming, fast. If you’re not cautious with how you manage your income during these first few years out of school, you could end up with soaring money problems that will haunt you for a lifetime; like debt, a damaged credit score, and poor financial habits that are hard to correct later in life.
I used to be extremely reckless with money after I graduated from college, mainly because I was fascinated by the fact that I was truly on my own for the first time, with a decent income and plenty of friends to spend it with. I became more preoccupied with fully enjoying life than with preparing with the future. My bills started piling up, I was blowing through credit at warp speed, and I wasn’t even thinking about setting money aside for rainy days. After a while I got fired – that’s when I suddenly realized that I won’t be able to get by without a steady income to fuel my expensive habits. I was forced to move back with my parents and slowly work towards repaying my debt. I took me more than a year to get back on my feet; not to mention the fact that I was humiliated and completely disappointed with myself.
Learn from my mistake and spend your income more wisely during these first years after graduation. Here are a few money tips I’ve picked up along the way, to get you inspired.
1. Don’t Rush Into Big Purchases
Plenty of college graduates are rushing into adulthood, so they start making “adult” purchases right after graduation. Trust me: this isn’t the right time to buy a new car or a home, especially if you don’t have a trust fund to finance those purchases. A car loan or mortgage on top of any pre-existent student loans you may have can become unmanageable at a moment’s notice. Plus, the job market is pretty competitive nowadays. When you’re just joining the workforce, it’s best to wait a few years to build experience until to take on such big financial commitments.
Also, you’re in a transitional phase of your life. Owning a house right now will mean less mobility, so it’s going to be that much harder for you to move to a new city in pursue of your professional goals. It’s not as easy to sell a house in today’s real estate market, so the property can end up tying you down.
2. Use Credit Cards Wisely
I believe that this is the most important thing I’ve learned during the years I’ve wasted spending recklessly. Credit card debt is dangerous and difficult to pay off, so you have to be careful to live way within your means. Always pay your balance in full and never use credit to purchase something you wouldn’t afford with your debit card. Others might advise you to stay away from credit cards altogether, but that’s pretty unrealistic nowadays. You need to build a healthy credit score in order to qualify for loans later on; using credit cards wisely is how to do that.
On the same note, choose your credit cards wisely. Opt for one with a low interest rate and appealing rewards. A university credit card can be a good start. Harvard Card, for example, available for Harvard alumni, offers rates as low as 9.99 percent APR, plus travel rewards and cash back. Compare credit cards before applying for one, in order to make a more informed decision. Try Google Compare and Credit Karma.
3. Address Your Debt
Debt is debt. No matter how attractive the terms of your student loan might be, you have to repay it. The sooner, the better. No one wants to carry these loans in their 30s or 40s. However, the payments and interest rates associated with these loans are pretty low. If you’ve accumulated any credit card debt in the meantime, tackle that first. For a few ideas on how to build a good debt repayment plan, take a look here.
4. Build an Emergency Fund
When I was fired, it came out of nowhere. I wasn’t offered a severance package; and since I didn’t have any savings, I was basically broke. It’s not a particularly fun thing to go through, so cover your back by building a sturdy emergency fund to protect you when something unexpected happens.
You can lose your job, your car may break down, you might need to cover a medical expense – you never know what life has in store for you. Set aside a dedicated amount of money every month and redirect it to your savings account. Ideally, your emergency fund should cover your living expenses for at least 6 months.
By learning the basis of personal finance and coming up with a wise strategy to manage their cash, recent college grads can easily avoid money mistakes that will greatly cost them in the long run. Consider the tips above and start building wealth from early on. As long as you practice discipline in all money matters, you are on the right path to financially securing your future.