Remembering back to when I graduated from college, there are many things I wish I could go back and tell my younger self. Some are truisms that you can carry through life –- like avoiding debt — and others are more palpable at the moment –- like hard work trumping your piece of paper.
I knew nothing about managing money when I graduated college and, sadly, I believe I was not alone in that experience. Most graduates — and there were 2.85 million in 2013 – are focused on getting a job, moving to wherever that job is and living in the real world — not financial literacy.
With that in mind, here are four basic financial steps you should take as a newly minted college graduate. If you’re still looking for a job, these steps can still be implemented on a smaller scale.
1. Establish a Spending Plan
As a new college graduate you’re going to experience a lot of things you’ve never dealt with before, especially if you’re moving to a new location. They include paying rent, dealing with variable expenses, buying groceries and so forth. To best set yourself up for success, you want to plan out this spending. Call it a budget, call it a personal spending plan or something else — you want to have something to hang your financial hat on.
The first big reason for a personal spending plan is to avoid lifestyle inflation. You will no longer be a poor college student and thus will be tempted to spend more. Avoid overspending as much as possible. The second reason is a plan will help you establish long-term habits that will help as you begin to earn more income. The key to whatever you develop is to be flexible and find something that works for your situation.
2. Set Up a Personal Slush Fund
A slush fund, as I call it, is money designated for buying whatever the heck you want, such as a nice meal or a fun experience.
This might sound a bit contradictory to the first step, but it’s for a reason. Lifestyle inflation, especially as a new college graduate, is inevitable on many levels. Having a personal slush fund, as long as you’re disciplined with it, will help you stay on track with your finances and still be able to enjoy life. As with many other things, life is about balance, and this will help you achieve that balance.
3. Start Killing Your Debt
The $1 trillion in student loan debt is a staggering number that must be dealt with. The average 2013 college graduate also had $3,000 in credit card debt when they walked across the stage.
Many college graduates avoiding dealing with their debt because it seems so overwhelming. Many also feel that because they might have a low interest rate on their student loans that it’s OK not to attack the debt. Avoid these temptations, as they only enslave you to making payments for longer.
First, tackle your debt from a high-interest credit card, since that will save the most money in the long run. If you’re not aware of how credit cards work, they’re only going to accrue more and more interest until you pay them off, as opposed to giving you a grace period like with most student loans.