Ready for the real world yet? It’s scary, I know. You’ve got college debt, new bills, and for the first time you’re pretty much on your own when it comes to finances. And it’s not like saving money is as easy as 1-2-3.
I’ve been there before. I’ve been that doe-eyed fresh graduate who had way too many bills, not enough money to pay for them and no idea how to handle it.
Luckily, I managed to get out of my financial rut – but not before learning a few hard lessons along the way. Now, I’m here to share my best tips.
1. Stay on Top of Your Financess
You know that feeling when you take one look at your bank account, and you’re like: “Where did my money go?” That’s why you need to keep track of your cash flow.
Keep your receipts, billing statements, credit card statements and other money-related documents in a safe place. Organize and record these with expense-tracking apps for your device.
If you have no idea where to start, try following the 50/30/20 rule of budgeting: Allocate 50 percent of your income for fixed costs, 30 percent for variable costs and 20 percent for your savings account.
2. Cut Down on Unnecessary Expenses
I know: It’s a lot harder than it sounds. When all your girlfriends are wearing the trendiest and most expensive clothes, makeup and jewelry, it’s hard not to turn green with envy and empty your wallet for the sake of fashion.
Don’t do it, though. Those clothes are not going to look nearly as good when you’re staring at a stack of bills and an empty back account.
3. Open a Separate Bank Account for Emergencies
Do not, under any circumstances, mix these two up. Otherwise, you’ll accidentally dip into your emergency fund, when you should be using your main bank account instead.
Try to store at least six months worth of funds in your emergency account. That way, you won’t be scrambling for cash when your finances suddenly blow up in your face.
4. Invest in Insurance
Think of insurance as a special kind of bank account. Essentially, you’re putting money away today to prepare for a certain event in the future. The more likely that event will happen, the higher the amount of money you need to pay in premiums.
5. Be Smart About Transportation
If you can, buy a new car. Used cars may seem less expensive at first but, if they turn out to be lemons, they’re actually more expensive because you’ll have to spend more on repairs, maintenance and insurance. After spending thousands on my old junker, buying a new car was the best thing I ever did.
Whether you end up buying a new or used car, be sure to do your research and be prepared to handle the typical car salesman tricks so you can get a good deal.
6. Negotiate Your Salary
Yes, you cannegotiate your salary – even as a fresh graduate. It’s scary, of course, but not negotiating is even scarier when you think about all the money you’re losing (over $500,000 in your lifetime).
If you’ve already accepted your first job offer, don’t worry – it’s not too late. You can even negotiate your salary after you’ve accepted the job offer. If you do well on the job, and rank high on almost every performance metric, you can ask for a raise at your performance review or at the end of the year.
7. Take Advantage of Your Benefits
If your employer offers a 401(k), take it. Basically, it allows you to save a portion of your income for retirement. That portion might not seem like much at first, but it does add up over time.
Also, don’t be shy about taking advantage of free lunches, free gym memberships and free anything. They’re part of your employment package, after all, so you might as well make the most of them.
8. Keep a Good Credit Record
When you’re starting out, you want to have just the right amount of debt. Not so much that you’re collapsing under the weight of all those bills, but not so little that you won’t be able to build a credit history, either.
Before you take on any debt, be 100 percent sure you’re able to pay it off in the future. If you rationalize your debts with anything like “I’ll probably be able to pay that, when I have the chance,” find something else. Believe me: The heartache from doing otherwise isn’t worth it.
9. Borrow Things From Friends
Is your favorite movie out on DVD? Instead of blowing your hard-earned money on it, you can borrow from a friend who owns that DVD. Offer to watch the movie with her, so you two have something to talk about on your girls’ night out.
10. Stay With Your Parents to Save on Rent
Granted, Mom and Dad probably won’t be pleased with the idea, but if you can’t find a place of your own for any reason, convincing them is worth a try. Tell them: “Mom, Dad, I’ll try to find a place to live by (insert realistic deadline here). If I can’t do that, I’ll have to stay here. I promise to help with chores in the meantime, OK?”
11. Learn About Money in Your Spare Time
I’ll admit it: personal finance isn’t exactly the most exciting subject under the sun. However, if your eyes glaze over at words like Dow Jones, asset allocation and IOU, you won’t be able to take advantage of set-it-and-forget-it investments. You can learn more about these from CNN Money’s Personal Finance 101 section.
In case you’re looking for specific books to read, here’s a secret: instead of combing over the same rehashed advice from gurus, read about the people who’ve actually succeeded in what you want to do. Study both their successes and failures, and learn from them.
12. Indulge in Experiences, Not Material Goods
If diets have cheat days, so do money-management systems. Treat yourself to your favorite, decadent dessert every other Saturday. Call up your friends and arrange a trip to a never-before-visited foreign country. Lie down on your sofa and drink your favorite cup of tea.
Whatever you do, don’t deprive yourself. You don’t want to grow old muttering “Bah, humbug!” for the rest of your life, do you?
Keep these tips in mind, and managing your money won’t be a pain, no matter what your situation may be. In the meantime, good luck with your job hunt, and may the goddesses of wealth be in your favor.