The next chapter of your life is here. There may be a new job or a new place to live in your near future. A big part of your life as a recent graduate will involve money. But when it comes to money, knowing where to start can be overwhelming. Starting with the basics can help you learn and understand how to make financial choices that fit your situation. And this information can help set you up for success as a new graduate.
Up until recently, classes about money or financial literacy has not been included as part of the North Carolina secondary school curriculum. And unless you took accounting or economics in college, you may not have had any experience with how to manage your money.
According to Jeff Dortch, a financial planner and experience center representative at Civic Federal Credit Union, students and recent graduates can take these steps to help create the building blocks of financial wellness.
His tips include:
Have a Spending Plan
No one likes the word ‘budget.’ Not even adults. Referring to this strategy as a ‘spending plan’ can provide the positivity we all need. Dortch says a spending plan can help you develop an awareness of when your money comes in and goes out. Your first paycheck will help you understand the money coming in (gross income) and how much you really take home (net income). This awareness will create an informal framework for how you will handle your money. Tip: Over time, this will help inform your buying decisions.
Put some money into a savings account, even if it’s five or ten dollars a week. This will help you to build the habit of putting some money in an account that is not for spending, only saving. You will see this money build and once you get started, you can attach goals to the account. These might include saving for continuing education, a trip or whatever you are working towards. Credit unions and other financial institutions have digital ways to help you plan and meet your goals. Tip: Set up a separate account for your savings and use online tools to set goals.
Know Your Student Loans
Remember when you signed your student loans? It’s likely been a minute since you looked at the loan details. Most students graduate with the equivalent of a new car loan payment in student debt. To set yourself up for success here, it is essential to review the terms. Find out the number of individual loans, the balances, and the interest rates. Develop this mindset: make your minimum payments and if you can afford it, plan to pay more than the monthly payment each month. Knowing the details of your loans will help you better manage and work to reduce your student loan debt. Tip: Paying off debt is the mirror image of savings.
In other words, give thought to any current expenses or near-term purchases. This includes a vehicle, apartment leases, monthly food costs, and choices for recreation or entertainment. Practicality offers you the chance to think, think, and think again. Do you really need it or do you want it? There is a big difference between the two. Getting into a routine of being practical is a healthy part of your financial future as a new graduate. Tip: Being practical builds financial awareness.
Get Part-Time Work
This is already a must for many college students, but all students should consider it. Working part-time provides an opportunity to save and generate funds for some non-essential goals. And a part-time job after graduation gives you some income while you search for a full-time job. Tip: Working gives you the ability to practice your spending plan and pay down debt.
Be Cautious of Credit Card Offers
While credit card offers to students have been reduced by regulations, there are still offers made to them in some form or another. Be careful here. The convenience and temptation of credit cards are tough for people in the working world; let alone for a college student. It is important to not take on unnecessary credit while you are in school. Dortch says your credit score is like a GPA for your financial life. And 35 percent of your grade (credit score) is based on your payment history. Tip: Your credit score impacts your future self.
There is an optimism about graduating and launching into the next phase of life. An effective spending plan and financial knowledge can help recent graduates address the opportunities and challenges that await them.
Disclaimer: You + Money blog posts are provided for informational purposes only and not intended to replace the advice of a financial, legal or accounting advisor.