Congratulations, you’ve graduated college! You’re ready to begin your new life in the real world with a real job! This step into adulthood is very exciting, but it can also be a time of confusion with new responsibilities. Set yourself up for financial success early by following these financial tips:
Salary Expectations: Many college students graduate with an unrealistic expectation of what their salary earnings will be the first few years out of college. Accenture conducted an online U.S. survey in March of 2015 consisting of 1,001 students graduating from college in 2015 and 1,002 participants who graduated college in 2013 or 2014. The survey found that 85 percent of 2015 graduates expected to earn more than $25,000 a year after graduation. While the reality is, 41 percent of working 2013 and 2014 graduates actually earn $25,000 or less a year. Even though you have a college degree, you will likely be starting your career at an entry level position, so it will be important for you to make a budget aligned with your salary.
Budgeting: Once you have landed a job and you start earning a steady income, it can be tempting to carelessly spend your hard-earned paychecks, so it’s time to make a budget. There are several worksheets, like this one (PDF), that can help you get started. Make sure that your monthly income minus your monthly expenses is a positive number. If not, you will need to cut back in areas or get a part time job in order to live within your means.
Now is a good time to start planning for the future. What are your short and long term goals? Are you currently living at home, but want to get your own place? Do you have an emergency savings account set up in case you lose your job? These are all things that you should budget for. Also keep in mind future expenses, like student loan repayment, that will be coming your way. Typically six months after graduation, your loans will exit their grace period and you will need to begin making payments. Make sure you’re prepared for repayment by following these four steps.
Savings: Ever heard of the term, “pay yourself first?” This is a phrase typically used for any type of savings or retirement plans. Pay yourself first means putting a specified portion of your paycheck to savings or retirement before spending anywhere else. The best way to do this is to set up a direct withdrawal out of your account every time you get paid, so the money is already in your savings or retirement account before you even see it. If you have money for savings, there are two areas you should focus on to set yourself up for financial success: retirement and emergency funds.
Saving for retirement as early as possible gives your money more time to grow before you retire. According to Bankrate.com, if you save $2,000 a year starting at age 25, you would have approximately $560,000 in retirement savings by age 65, assuming 8 percent annual growth. If you save that same $2,000 a year and have the same 8 percent growth rate, but don’t start until age 35, you will only have $245,000 by age 65. That is a loss of $315,000 just because you started 10 years later.
An emergency fund is saved money that is to be used only in case of an emergency, like a loss of a job. It is typically suggested that you have enough emergency funds to cover at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses. For example, if you have $2,000 in monthly living expenses, you should have anywhere from $6,000 to $12,000 saved in your emergency savings account. People that don’t have emergency funds and lose their job can often end up living off of credit cards with high interest rates. This can not only put you in debt that you may have a hard time getting out of, but it will also hurt your credit history, which can take a long time to rebuild.
It may be difficult at first, but saving early in life will benefit you in the long run. Accounting for a realistic salary and sticking to a budget that allows you to put a little money away lays the foundation for a fiscally responsible future. Be smart with your money and you’ll be on your way to a financially successful life.