Congratulations to all 2019 graduates! Welcome to adult life where you get to make your own choices, earn your own money, and weigh tough financial decisions. Don’t worry, there’s fun stuff in there too. We promise that with a little thought and a few smart choices, you’ll be on the path to financial success in no time.
Look at Your Necessary Expenses
Now is a great time to evaluate your current expenses and see where you stand. How much can you afford to pay in rent? How much will you owe each month in student loans? What can you budget for entertainment and restaurants? How much can you afford to put away in savings? This is essentially the first step of creating a budget, and it will allow you to put your expenses in perspective. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself hard questions: is it really worth it to buy a new game system that costs half a month’s rent? How often do you need to go out to eat versus making dinner at home? Do you need the latest smart phone, or does you old one work well enough?
Creating a budget can feel difficult at first, so it’s important to take it one step at a time. There are also several apps that can help you along the process. Find a process that works best for you, and remember, budgeting isn’t about never having fun—it just means you have to be selective about where you spend your entertainment dollars.
Start Saving Now
Retirement may feel like a long way off, but it’s worth thinking about once you have a steady paycheck. The sooner you start saving for retirement, the better off you’ll be. Because of the power of compound interest, the savings you invest in your 20s and 30s will have a big impact by the time you reach retirement age. See if it’s possible to invest 10% of your income now. If you can’t spare that much just yet, start with 5% and work your way up as you become more financially secure.
See If Your Employer Offers a 401k
Now that you know how important it is to start saving early, you might be wondering where to begin. There are a ton of options available to you, but a great first step is setting up a 401k through your job. If they offer an employer match, that’s a great way to pad your savings early on. Be sure to ask how long it takes to be fully vested in the company 401k—this means how long you have to stay at your job before you earn a full match.
Take Care of Your Credit Score
Your credit score will affect your ability to take out a loan for a car or home in the future. If you haven’t already, be sure to freeze your credit. It’s free, and you can always unfreeze it when you want to take out a loan later. A freeze keeps identity thieves from taking out loans in your name and ruining your credit score.
Also, keep in mind it’s a long, slow process to raise your credit score, but a few missed or late payments to your credit card or a loan can lower your score dramatically. It’s not necessarily a fair system, but it’s important to be aware of how it works.
Want even more details about a smart financial start? Check out our previous guide for grads. And if you’re looking for personalized advice, visit your local credit union—many offer free financial counseling.