Smart Financial Moves for College Graduates

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

After finishing school and hopefully landing a rewarding job, college graduates face a myriad of financial obligations and opportunities.   Here are some steps for graduates to get started in the right direction.

Create a Budget and Live Below Your Means – Based on your income, create a spending plan that leaves you with a little extra money at the end of the month.  Your budget should include saving at least 10% of your gross income.  Spend less than you earn so you are prepared for unexpected bumps in the road.  Initially this may involve renting a smaller apartment, living with roommates or driving an older car.  As your career progresses, avoid increasing expenses in lock step with earnings increases.

Establish an Emergency Fund – With the money you are saving, build and maintain an emergency fund equivalent to 4 to 6 months of expenses.

Avoid Credit Card and Consumer Debt – Pay your credit card bill in full at the end of every month.  If you can’t afford to pay for your purchases when the bill arrives then postpone or re-evaluate the purchase.   Avoid or minimize debt on vehicles and other consumer purchases.

Payoff Student Loans – Devise a plan to payoff your student loans.  Consider consolidating or refinancing your loans if it will save you money.  Consider both the interest rate and the duration when evaluating loans.  Generally, you want to pay off student loans in less than ten years.

Buy Adequate Insurance – It’s essential to have good health insurance coverage; if you aren’t covered by your employer you may be eligible for continued coverage on your parents plan.  You will also need good car insurance and renters insurance on your apartment.  Additionally, consider long term disability insurance and an umbrella liability policy.

Contribute to Your Employers Retirement Plan – Many employers offer a 401k or 403b plan to help you   save for retirement using before tax dollars.  At the very minimum contribute up to the match that your employer may provide.

Contribute to a Roth IRA – Once you start earning money you can also save for retirement by contributing to a Roth IRA.  The benefit of a Roth is since you initially invest with after tax dollars, you don’t pay taxes when the money is withdrawn in retirement.   This is a tremendous opportunity for recent college graduates because your money can grow tax free for forty or fifty years.

Travel and Have Some Fun – While you’re young and relatively independent, set aside some money to explore the world or do something adventurous.  Once you buy a house, start a family or assume more job responsibilities it’s harder to get away.

Educate Yourself on Finances – Start reading personal finance books and articles.  Here are a few books to consider; “The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke” by Suze Orman, “Personal Finance for Dummies” by Eric Tyson, and “The Millionaire Next Door “ by Thomas J. Stanley and William Danko.

A Money Moment with Jane – A Few Financial Planning Suggestions for the Fall

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By Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

 

  • Required Minimum Distributions were not required for 2009.  However, if you are at least 70½ you will be required to take a distribution in 2010.

 

  • If you are planning to convert some of your regular IRA to a Roth IRA, do so in 2010 to spread the taxes over 2011 and 2112.

 

  • Have you maximized your Roth IRA and 401k contribution?  The 2010 contribution limit for the Roth is $5,000 plus a $1,000 catch-up provision if you are 50 or older.  The 2010 contribution limit for 401k plans is $16,500 plus a $5,500 catch-up provision if you are 50 or older.

 

  • This is a good time to do some tax planning to make sure your withholdings or estimates are adequate to cover the taxes you will owe in April. 

 

  • Do you have any underperforming stocks or mutual funds that should be sold to take advantage of a tax loss in 2010?

 

  • Now is the time to go through your home for items to be donated to charity.  These can provide a nice deduction on your 2010 tax return.

 

  • Start planning for Christmas now and save money by working to a plan. 

 

A Money Moment with Jane – What Are You Spending Today?

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By Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

The first step to any solid financial plan is understanding your current situation. How much money is remaining after paying your non-discretionary expenses? If you don’t know, then you need to review your expenses over the last few months to better understand your spending habits. How much do you spend on non-discretionary items and how much do you spend on discretionary items. Are you happy with how you are spending your money? Are you saving as much as you could? Are you spending too much on frivolous items? Do your spending habits align with your goals? Have you set some financial goals?

10 Ways to Save Money on Food

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

1. When grocery shopping, select items from the lower shelves, the more expensive items are usually placed at eye level.

2. Stock up when durable goods that you always need go on sale. Don’t buy something you wouldn’t otherwise buy just because it’s on sale.

3. Reduce impulse purchases at the grocery store – go less frequently, make a list and eat before you go. I know, I know, those strawberry shortcake cookies, with the cream filling and chocolate swirls looked so good. But a few days later …… what was I thinking??

4. When comparing prices check the unit price not the total price. You may pay less but you are probably getting less for your money.

5. Eat smaller portions of meat – you might even lose a little weight. Meat is very expensive, use more vegetables and less meat in you recipes.

6. When eating out, eat half of your meal at the restaurant and take the rest home with you. Most restaurants serve very large portions.

7. When eating out limit yourself to one glass of wine or drink tap water instead of coffee, tea or soda. Beverages can be very expensive relative to the cost your food.

8. If you are having an entrée avoid ordering appetizers or desert at the restaurant. Have drinks and appetizers at home before you leave or coffee and desert at home after dinner.

9. Eat something at home before you go out to meet friends. Limit your order to an appetizer or a side salad to be sociable.

10. Rather than celebrating at a restaurant, organize a potluck or take turns hosting a dinner party.