With spring comes thoughts of summer, and soon, college graduation. For many graduates, it can be daunting to move from academia to the real world. You’ve spent most of your lives–nearly all of it, in most cases–attending class and doing homework. And for the most part, your financial responsibilities have been limited.
As you start asking “now what,” remember that post-graduation is about more than finding a job or landing your ideal career. It’s about learning to handle the basics, such as figuring out your budget, managing credit cards, and how to prepare for student loan repayment with these financial tips for college grads.
1. Know and establish your budget
Once you graduate you’ll have opportunities you didn’t before, including higher paying jobs. This will be the most important time to figure out a budget and stick to it, to understand what works for you. It’s better to live below your means than blow every paycheck; however, it’s okay to treat yourself to avoid frugal fatigue.
Designing a personal budget requires you to tally up your income and expenses. Then you compare the two to see what you can afford, and what you can afford to do without.
Practice your budget to know that it works. Obviously creating a budget assumes that you’ve found a job and know what you’re earning, but if that’s not the case yet, you can at least do your research. If you have the chance to make an educated guess about what your post-college budget might look like you can be better prepared. There are also many websites and resources out there that provide basic information on average entry-level incomes in a variety of fields to give you a better idea about potential earnings.
A practice budget will lead to a working budget. This budget may change over time, but should serve to help you live within your means and put money towards savings and debt repayment. It’s important to remember that the goal of any budget is to create financial awareness and responsibility, to make planning for your future less of a hassle.
2. Establish credit and control debt
Credit cards and student loan debt sometimes go hand-in-hand when it comes to recent grads.
Building good credit when you’re young will make future investments easier to handle, such as a mortgage, finding a good apartment, and anything else that may require you to go through a credit check. In the early years following graduation, credit cards are ideal for paying for small purchases and the most essential bills. That way, you’re building credit and paying for what you can actually afford (your utilities, rent, groceries, etc.).
Your credit will stay with you, so use it wisely and sign up for programs or websites that let you monitor your credit rating. Being aware of your credit will also help you stay on top of suspicious reports if they should appear. If you have trouble making one or two credit card payments, you could also consider something like a fast cash advance—but this is only a short-term solution, good when you know you can pay it back right away.
More and more college students are graduating with a substantial amount of student debt. Communication with your student loan provider, or credit lender if you already have a credit card, is critical in the first couple of months or years. You may be eligible for deferments and forbearances to make managing your loan repayments easier. Like your credit score, monitoring your repayments, the outstanding amount of the debt, and your repayment options will only serve to help you in the future. Financial responsibility starts with awareness and that is most for credit cards and debt.
Some quick tips for repaying debt and handling your credit cards:
- Pay your credit card bills on time
- Don’t take out or use a card if you can’t afford it
- Utilize repayment plans for your federal loans, and communicate with private lenders
- Defer and forbear payments responsibly
3. Define your financial goals and start saving
Creating goals for yourself, especially financial goals, helps you maintain budgets because they offer a long-term reward and investment for being responsible. It’s also important to prioritize your goals. Common financial goals include:
- Saving for emergencies
- Saving for retirement
- Repaying debts
- Saving for major expenses like a new car, vacations, or their first home
Establishing an emergency fund can prepare you for unexpected costs, including medical bills, car maintenance, or being laid off from your job. Even if you’re only saving a small amount from each paycheck, starting the habit early on will help you build a fund that can really save you later down the road. The same goes for saving for retirement and repaying debt. Any amount you can save and set aside for those goals will help in the long run.
Contributing early and often to your employer’s 401(k) lends itself to solving general savings and retirement, and the sooner you start, the more compounding interest will work for you. So if your job offers a 401(k) or something similar, put in as much as you can—enough to get the maximum employer match.
Following the fundamentals builds core values that will guide you through the financial obstacles of early adulthood. Graduating college is a huge event in your life, so make the steps that follow easier by exercising responsibility with your finances with these financial tips for college grads. You’ll be able to live better without risking debt or money woes.