5 Financial Tips for New Grads

Recent graduates,

Congratulations!  You’ve finished up 4 years of hard work and are excited to be out on your own.  Hopefully you’ve landed a great job to start yourself out, and your future is looking bright!

With freedom comes responsibility and now is the time to get your personal finances off to a good start as well.  There’s lots more to a successful financial life than these 5 tips, but this should get you off to a good start.

1.  Keep your regular expenses low.  Take out a notepad and pen, and write down what it costs to keep you afloat for 30 days.  Things like rent, utilities (electricity, phone, internet), and loan payments need to be planned for.  You should be able to calculate this amount pretty accurately, and it shouldn’t change much from month to month.  For those of you with student loans, don’t forget that most loans don’t require payments until 6 months after graduation so get used to setting that money aside now!

2. Track how much you’re spending on your lifestyle.  Now that you’ve got some cash in your pocket, it’s natural to want to go out to eat more often, and to enjoy some of your success.  That’s not inherently a bad thing.  You just need to look at this more regularly than once a month.  I recommend you visit the ATM once a week, and take out a set amount that you’ve agreed upon as your weekly limit for these kinds of expenses.  A lot of money can leak out of your budget by going out to lunch everyday, and spending cash is a great scorecard when the end of the week comes around.

3.  Start saving early.  If you develop a good savings habit now, it will serve you well for the rest of your life.  Sign up for your employer’s retirement plan as soon as you can.  Save 10% of your income if you can, less if you must.  At least save what your employer matches so you can claim that extra money and start it working for you.  Also, open a savings account and set money aside in it until you have at least 3 months of your monthly expenses set aside.  This account will become your emergency fund and will serve you well as your cash cushion for the rest of your life.

4. Be careful with credit cards.  I do think it’s a good idea for you to have your own credit card.   It starts building your credit history and can be a useful and safe tool for buying things online.  The downside comes if you don’t use it wisely.  Use your card for purchases you would have made without the card.  Pay the balance off in full each month.

5.  Track your spending.  You’ve got to come up with a system for keeping track of your spending.  I recommend Mint.com for tracking your personal spending.  It will pull your transactions in from your online banking sites automatically, and they now have apps for the different smart phone brands too.  It will take some effort to get a system set up, but once it is done all it takes is 15 minutes a week to maintain.

I hope these tips help you get off to a good start!  Please let me know if you have any questions, or other tips in the comments!