Listen Up Graduates!

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It’s that time of year… graduation announcements are probably flooding your mailbox like they are mine. I have one son about to embark on his senior year of college and another starting his junior year. It’s hard to believe in two short years they should both be finished with their schooling (hope I’m not jinxing them!) and out in the real world. As someone that has been in the real world for quite awhile now and has made loads of mistakes, I thought this was a prime time to compile a list of best practices for my boys and anyone else that might be graduating to the real world.

Student Loans

If you are fortunate enough to be graduating from college without a load of student loans then good for you and your parents and whoever else made that possible. Feel free to skip ahead to the next section. For the rest of you, please, please, please, make it a priority to knock these loans out as quickly as possible.

Student loan debt is a huge issue right now. According to a recent article on CNBC.com, nearly 69 percent of 2018 graduates took out student loans and their average debt balance was $29,800. Both of my sons are excellent students and were fortunate to earn generous scholarships from their respective schools. My youngest is at a state school and will graduate with very minimal student loans, well under the average quoted above. My oldest son, despite receiving huge scholarships at his private college, will be graduating with student loan debt significantly higher than the average quoted above.

What’s my advice regarding student loans? First off, minimize the damage in any way possible if you’re about to embark on the college path. This post is geared to college graduates so what’s done is done at this point though. The strategy at this point that I’m encouraging with both my sons, but especially the oldest, is to continue living like a broke college student for as long as possible after you get that first “grown-up job and salary”. Ideally you’re going to find a job that pays significantly more than what you’ve been making in high school and while attending college. Throw as much of this extra income as possible towards your student loans.

Housing

Remember what I said earlier about continuing to live like a poor college student? Same advice applies here. I know you’re probably itching to get out on your own and find some fabulous apartment or house of your own. You don’t want to be house poor though. Keep in mind those pesky student loans I just talked about. If student loans aren’t an issue for you, then still make sure you don’t overextend yourself here. You might have a fabulous grown-up salary now but keep in mind all the expenses of living on your own. You are definitely going to appreciate all your parents took care of for you all these years when you start paying your own bills. Keep in mind also that you are in a very fluid stage of life. First jobs aren’t always long-term jobs or marriage and kids might be in the cards for you sooner rather than later. My suggestion here is to find a nice, safe, housing option with a roommate or two and keep your living costs conservative right now as you adjust to your new salary.

Benefits

Take advantage of any benefits your new employer offers.

  • 401K-let me offer this important disclaimer here. I AM NOT A FINANCIAL EXPERT/ADVISOR. That being said, if your new company offers you a 401k plan than take advantage of that. Basically they are allowing you to contribute a portion of your salary, pre-tax, to a retirement account. Many companies also offer to match all or a portion of your contributions. So if you make $50,000 and contribute 6% or your salary ($3,000) to your 401K and your employer offers a 50% match then you’re getting an extra $1,500 of free money towards your financial future. Free money is always a good thing.
  • Company tuition reimbursement-see if your company offers this. They may pay towards your current loans or towards future schooling.
  • Company discounts-this might be discounts on gym membership, cell phone plans, even insurance premiums
  • Insurance-I know, I know, you’re young and invincible but you MUST have health insurance. I also know it’s crazy expensive. It’s not as expensive as paying out of pocket for a serious illness or a trip to the ER though.

Set a Budget

This is a very important step. I don’t agree with everything Dave Ramsey preaches but I do like this saying of his, “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” It’s very simple to set up a basic budget, check out this post if you need some help with it. It might take a couple of months to get used to following a budget but it’s vital to setting yourself up for financial success.

Embrace the Change

Graduating to the real world is exciting and scary and probably confusing at times. This is just the beginning of a multitude of changes you will experience in your lifetime. Set yourself up for success. You’re most likely making more money now then you ever have so set up the 401K and get the health insurance in place now. You’re also most likely going to see many raises and promotions over the next 40 years or so. Bank half of your raises before you raise your standard of living. Your future self will thank you! Travel, take advantage of any learning opportunities presented to you, and network.

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