Here’s the good news, freshly minted graduates: You’re not as financially inept as the media portrays you.
Stash, the beginner investment app, asked grads like you what they plan to do with their graduation money, and the results are comforting. The largest percentage, 23.8% of those polled, plan to put the haul directly into savings, while 21% will pay rent or other expenses. An impressive 19.2% plan to invest their grad cash, and a near equal number, 18.7%, said they’ll pay down student loans with the money.
That’s a great start. But there’s plenty more to learn about savvy spending and saving, now that you’re out in the real world. Here are 10 essential tips to help you hit the ground running.
- Commit to independence.
No more asking for help. Sorry! One month after you land your first decent job is when you need to make a clean financial break from the welfare providers you call parents. That gives you enough time to get your proverbial ducks in a row — and collect your first paycheck — so you can really start adulting.
Mobile bill, car payment and insurance, gas, utilities, internet, groceries, rent — all that good stuff — should now be your responsibility if you have a job. And no hitting up mom and pop for extra cash because you spent all your disposable income buying Fireball shots for a future one-night stand. For starters, that swill is poison, and two, he probably would have gone home with you $30 ago.
- Stop wasting money on stupid things.
Millennials and lazy people around the world (along with their enablers) lost their ever-loving hive minds last year when the “avocado-toast guy” (as he will be forever known) suggested in the pages of GQ that just maybe they should stop spending money on overpriced food trends and other luxuries if they ever want to afford a home.
Certainly there are prevailing factors preventing young people in a variety of demographics from becoming homeowners, but I happen to agree with that GQ writer on this particular point.
So, here’s my advice to curb that practice: If you want to get ahead, especially if you’re on a tight budget, it’s critical to have self-control, say no to all the shiny things, and concentrate more on making extra cash instead of spending what little you have.
You’re not entitled to anything you didn’t earn, and the world doesn’t owe you anything. The faster you learn that, the happier your heart (and wallet) will be.
- Make a budget — and stick to it — as if your life depends on it.
If you’re new to managing your own money, the best place to begin is with a budget. There’s a wealth of resources online to help you get started. The concept is simple: In one column list your income; in the other, keep track of your expenses; and then crunch a few numbers to make sure everything balances out or, if you’re lucky, results in a surplus. Negative numbers in a budget are no bueno, but you already know that, degree holder. Sounds like a hassle, but only if you like being broke all the time.
- Become a coupon and cash-back queen.
Along with clipping coupons for groceries and other purchases, tap into cash-back savings on apps like Ibotta, Checkout 51, and SPENT, which offers up to 25-percent cash back on your favorite brands; use in-store apps like Target’s Cartwheel; cut costs on activities with daily deals; identify days and nights that offer the best discounts on whatever you plan to buy (like buy-one-get-one free meals at restaurants, for example); and plan clothes-shopping trips around major sales — paired with loyalty points and discounts.
I often pay pennies on the dollar because of my dedication to saving money, and you can too if you make it part of your routine.
- Avoid carrying credit card balances.
When you know how to use them responsibly, credit cards can be your friend. They’ll help you build a respectable credit score when you swipe and then pay on time (preferably more than the minimum payment; ideally, paying the entire balance each month), but they also can rip you a new one if you’re regularly spending more than you can repay within a month.
“Many people get into a bad habit of using credit to buy things, or to maintain a lifestyle,” says Jeff White, finance writer at FitSmallBusiness.com. “In many cases, these habits are created soon after graduation because of the credit card offers out there for new grads that have secured jobs. While having credit accounts can benefit your borrowing position and total credit score, keeping balances on them will not help you. Use credit cards, but make sure you’re using them as part of your budget, and pay them off each month.”
- Refinance those student loans.
Most new grads have student loans. They’ll be more manageable — and seem like less of a burden — if you refinance as soon as possible.
“Refinancing your loans is one of the best options to pay off your student loans faster and more cost-efficiently,” says Carla Dearing, CEO of SUM180, an online financial wellness service designed to make financial planning simple and affordable. “When you refinance your student loans, you’ll have one consolidated loan with a single monthly payment and a lower interest rate, which is important, as more of each payment goes toward paying down the balanced owed. Companies like SocialFinance (sofi.com) have a strong refinancing offering.”
For more ideas, check out “The Ultimate Guide to Paying Off Student Loans Faster” at StudentLoanHero.com.
- Keep your health care covered.
You should not forgo health insurance for any reason. One little trip to the hospital can leave you deep in debt.
Fortunately, those monster bills can be avoided — if you’re insured. Right now you’re probably covered under your parents’ family plan until your 26th birthday. That works for some recent grads but not all. If you’re planning to live in a city that’s beyond the provider network for your parents’ plan, it may make sense to buy your own coverage to keep costs down.
eHealth, a leading, private, online health insurance exchange, provides tips to help you navigate this tricky fact of life, including information on how to enroll in health insurance, short-term health coverage, and financial assistance resources that may be available to you.
- Create a savings plan that makes sense for your current situation.
Try to save wherever you can (including putting money into an emergency fund), but when you’re on a tight budget, it’s important to focus on the present. Pay your monthly student loan bill first, then stash a little away.
If you’re already stretched thin, that 401k your company offers may have to wait a bit. You’ll get there eventually, but you don’t want to dig a deeper debt hole by having 401k deductions leave you with so little take-home pay that you’re missing loan and credit-card payments and racking up late fees.
- Learn the difference between good debt and bad debt.
Various debts you carry have different implications. TopCashback’s personal finance expert Natasha Rachel Smith explains.
“Good debt is an investment that has the potential to grow in value or can generate long-term income,” she says. “Well-negotiated car loans/payments, mortgages, and low-rate student loans are considered good debt. It is perfectly OK to accrue debt when it is good debt. Bad debt involves purchases that quickly lose their value or do not generate income. High-rate debts, frivolous spending, and credit cards with high-interest rates are bad debt. You want to avoid accruing bad debt, as it could severely impact your credit score. Focus on paying your long-term good debt and minimize your bad debt.”
- Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses on social media.
To those who are independent and work hard for whatever they have, life doesn’t come easy. With that in mind, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice by comparing your life to that of others.
Keep dreaming and setting goals for yourself — whatever they may be — but don’t let your success depend on what you have or don’t have, especially when you don’t have it. Beating yourself up about a financial situation that you can’t snap your fingers to improve will only stress you out while crushing your motivation to keep climbing.