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 The benefit of a Roth is since you initially invest with after tax dollars, you don’t pay taxes when the money is withdrawn in retirement.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.