Your Wallet
July 31, 2012

Your finances after college

The excitement of graduation has long passed. You’re in an apartment office about to take your first step into adult life. The ink on the lease hasn’t even dried and your mind begins to wander.

You’re imaging the housewarming party you’ll throw, buying that big screen TV that’s waiting in your Amazon cart and how you’ll decorate your place like those trendy apartments you incessantly pin on Pinterest. Then you realize…you have no money.

Welcome to the first year of life after college. This was the first of many fiscal realizations I’ve had since graduating. Over two years, I’ve learned a thing or two. I’m no financial expert, but I haven’t gone backrupt yet. For those new grads, here’s how I got my financial bearings.

Step one: find a job

Unless you invented a popular social network in college, chances are finding a job is your No. 1 priority after graduation. That’s easier said than done. But, without a job, no amount of financial advice can help. So, get searching! I gave myself six months to find my ideal job. After that, I’d search for and take whatever. Set your limit and stick to it. Don’t worry; sometimes dream jobs just take a bit longer to find.

Turn on autopilot

You already know you need a budget. Once you create it, how do you ensure you’re following it? Easy. Try setting up an account on Mint, Wesabe or You Need a Budget. Then, quit using cash. Yes, I said it: avoid cash.

Those websites will automatically update with your credit/debit transactions. You can see where and how you’re spending, with charts showing how good (or bad) you’re doing. Unless you like entering transactions manually, cash can’t do that.

Out of sight; not out of mind

Your budget is automated. Awesome. Now don’t forget about it! I schedule time each week to review my Mint account. It takes 10 minutes, but the insight shapes my spending for the month. Schedule a reminder on your phone. No excuses.

The savings struggle

Yeah, yeah, yeah…savings is important. I get it. However, if you’re barely making ends meet, advice to save 10% of each paycheck doesn’t help. I set a goal of saving 3% of every paycheck. It’s not much, but it’ll get your emergency fund started. Once you begin earning more or have a solid rainy day fund, focus on retirement. Here I also set a goal of 3%, which I’ll increase later this year (one of my 2012 resolutions).

Perhaps the most important realization is something I touched on earlier: you can’t have everything. In fact, that’s probably true for any stage of your career. So, enjoy young adulthood, save and work hard. Before you know it, you’ll make some of those fantasies a reality.