6 Things I Wish I Knew About Money Before I Graduated
Feb. 4 2015, Published 2:30 a.m. ET
As we approach the launch of spring commencement ceremonies, there are millions of stressed undergraduates about to enter the proverbial “real world.” Leaving our comfortable college bubbles is a big deal, and on top of that there’s the whole job thing and likely a mountain of student loans to be paid off.
Unfortunately, many of us are not entirely prepared for some of the new stressers in our real adult lives. We now have to focus on our finances and managing our money in ways that we’ve never had to deal with before (largely because we’ve never had this much money to manage). Not to mention the harshest of realities: 5 cent beers at college bars are a thing of the past.
Here are six other fundamental truths that I wish I knew about money before I graduated.
1. Saving Is Harder than It Seems
When receiving your first few big paychecks, the temptation to spend constantly is going to be huge. The designer shoes will be calling your name, believe me. However, it is outrageously important to resist the urge.
Not only will saving put your mind at ease and give you better financial standing, but you never know what might happen. The real trick here is to take a specific amount out of every paycheck and immediately deposit it into a savings account.
If, on the other hand, you get a natural high from watching your savings rise — there are so many ways to save.
2. Spend Wisely (Or Don’t Spent at All)
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Even though you feel like you’re making bank, it doesn’t mean you should spend like you are. Think a little less Crate & Barrel and a little more Salval (I’m told that’s what the kids are calling Salvation Army these days).
Learning to be frugal is one of the most important lessons for a recent grad. Additionally, it’s crucial to know when to spend at all. There are certain things, like beach vacations and a brand-new car, which could really just end up being money down the drain.
3. Keep Records — Seriously
We all thought we were overwhelmed as college students, but life as a working adult takes it to a whole new level. The days are short and there’s hardly enough time to sit down and enjoy your favorite TV show, which is all anyone really asks for.
Busy schedules make it very easy to forget important dates, numbers and tasks. This is why it’s super important to write as much down as possible. Bonus: you’ll be especially grateful for these records when tax season rolls around.
Beyond that, it’s vital that you keep track of what you’re spending and what you’re saving. Everyone knows budgets are no fun, but you can’t avoid it any longer — it’s time to create a budget.
4. Pay Attention to Your Debt
As a young dreamer with big aspirations, there is nothing that could stand in your way more than an enormous cloud of debt floating over your head. Don’t avoid the debt that you may currently have.
The six-month grace period before your payments start is glorious, and loan services often make it easy to defer payments for a myriad of half-excuses — but you’re still accruing interest during these periods and will have even more to pay off in the long run.
Make it a priority to pay down debt. This might mean having a specific amount from your paycheck going towards debt relief or just mapping out your payment goals.
5. Avoid Excessive Spending on the Necessities
Whether or not you’re graduating with a big chunk of debt, moving in with your parents could be a great option. While maybe not ideal after living a life full of freedom and independence, moving back home can be a real money-saver.
But if you really are looking for a place of your own, be mindful of the amount of rent you can actually afford — not what you think you could maybe, probably afford.
When it comes to extremely adult matters such as utilities and insurance, be sure to read the small print. Be aware that you will now likely pay a penalty for not having health insurance, and that car insurance has always been necessary. Fortunately there are plenty of ways to save if you’re willing to do a little research.
6. Learn, Learn, Learn
You’re new at this; it’s OK. However, if you’re really having trouble handling your cash right off the bat and if you don’t feel like you’re getting the hang of it, it’s time to ask for some assistance. Call in for reinforcements — whether it’s an older friend, a parent, or a financial professional.
As exciting as graduating from college and starting a brand new career and life in the real world can be, it is very important to avoid the mistakes that so many make (ahem). By taking the time to master these tips, and to do some more reading of your own, you can position yourself for the successful future you’ve been working for.