By Jason Alderman
A First-Year Money Management Guide for the New College Grad
A young adult’s first months out of college are about personal freedom and finding one’s path as an adult. Building solid money habits is a big part of that.
Most grads are managing money alone for the first time – finding work, places to live and if they’re in the majority, figuring out how to pay off college loans. For many, these are daunting challenges. If you are a young adult – or know one – here are some of the best routines to adopt from the start:
Budgeting (www.practicalmoneyskills.com/budgeting/) is the first important step in financial planning because it is difficult to make effective financial decisions without knowing where every dollar is actually going. It’s a three-part exercise – tracking spending, analyzing where that money has gone and finding ways to direct that spending more effectively toward saving, investing and extinguishing debt. Even if a new grad is looking for work or waiting to find a job, budgeting is a lifetime process that should start immediately.
A graduate’s first savings goal should be an emergency fund to cover everyday expenses such as the loss of a job or a major repair. The ultimate purpose of an emergency fund (www.practicalmoneyskills.com/emergencycalc) is to avoid additional debt or draining savings or investments. Emergency funds should cover at least four to seven months of living expenses.
Retirement may seem a distant spot on the horizon after graduation, but success depends on saving and investing as soon as possible. New grads can benefit from the IRS’s Withholding Calculator (www.irs.gov/Individuals/IRS-Withholding-Calculator) to determine the right amount of tax is being withheld from weekly paychecks. From there, he or she can evaluate personal retirement savings options and employer’s plans as well – both will be necessary to retire effectively. Signing up for automatic deposits into retirement accounts and personal savings allows money to grow without the temptation of spending it first.
Insurance is crucial. Renter’s insurance is important not only to cover personal belongings that are lost, stolen or damaged, but most policies cover living expenses in an emergency and offer liability and medical coverage if someone gets hurt at one’s apartment. Auto insurance is the law in many states, and even though disability coverage may be available at work, it is important to determine whether additional individual coverage should be purchased. Finally, the Affordable Care Act has made health coverage a must for young adults. New graduates may stay on a parent’s plan until the age of 26 even if they have the option for health coverage at work. After age 26, health insurance can be bought privately or through federal and state exchanges.
Young adults should get into the habit of tracking their credit reports from the beginning. By law, everyone has the right to receive all three of their credit reports for free (https://www.annualcreditreport.com) each year, and it is important to stagger requests from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – to better check for inaccuracies and potential identity theft.
Finally, for those still having trouble making ends meet, moving home for a limited time period could be an option. New grads should negotiate an affordable rent on a fixed timetable and use those savings to create investment accounts that can pay for major goals like a home, a wedding or graduate school. If you’re working with a financial advisor already, ask them to weigh in with additional ideas.
Bottom line: The first year out of college, young adults encounter a range of financial challenges that will shape their money behavior for a lifetime. Embracing budgeting, saving and investing is crucial even with the smallest of amount of resources.