Graduates come out of college filled with knowledge and skills to help them earn a living in the world. But one of the survival skills missing from most degree programs is personal money management. That’s a learn-as-you-go program!
Patterns are set early in life, so the more good money habits you can adopt—and the more bad ones you can avoid—the better you’ll do in the long run. Here are just a few.
Taking on too much new debt
By the time you get out of school you need just about everything. Problem is, you don’t have the money for all that you need. For many new graduates, the gap is filled by debt. There are car loans, credit cards and retail store charge accounts just waiting to “help you” get what you want. Don’t fall for it!
If you’ve come out of school with student loan debt, you’re probably struggling to deal with that. The last thing you need is to be adding debt on top of debt. Getting buried in debt is a process that usually takes years, and it often starts when people come right out of college and the credit offers are beckoning them to spend.
Resist the desire to borrow-and-buy by buying second hand where ever possible. That means a used car, used furniture and even used clothes (at local thrift stores).
Too much living for today
Another contribution to the debt cycle comes from wanting to begin living the good life right away. Travel to exotic destinations, fine dining, boutique shopping look appealing after four or more years of doing without, and it can be addicting to a young person who suddenly has a paycheck.
It’s fine to have some fun when you start making money, but realize that spending patterns are set early in life. If you give yourself high end luxuries early, it won’t be as easy to break the preference as you might think. This is a time of your life to think frugal!
Chasing income rather than experience
If you come out of school with debt you’ll probably be tempted to accept a job that pays the most, but that can be a mistake. At this point in your career you need to get the best experience you can in order to make yourself promote-able (or at least marketable if you need to find a new job later).
Look for jobs that offer training or specific skills that are transferable, even if they aren’t the best paying. Making money is important, but building a career that will earn you more money in the future is usually a better strategic direction.
Buying a house before you have a real need for one
Family and friends often urge young people to buy a home; they’re well meaning, and yes there are advantages to owning a home. But unless you’re ready to settle down, a house can be a huge burden, financial advantages and all.
For one thing, owing a house could be an obstacle in the event you get an offer for an excellent job in a different city. What would you do with your house if you took the job? Would you pass on the job in order to keep your house? In addition, homes require money up front in the form of a down payment, but also on an ongoing basis for maintenance and repair.
Not saving money or contributing to a retirement plan
Many people starting out in life don’t save money because 1) they have spending requirements, and 2) they often feel that since they don’t have much money to save why bother? Both thoughts are wrong.
Nearly anyone who has accumulated significant savings and investments has done so by starting small. By saving just $20 per week, you can have over $1,000 at the end of the year. $50 a week will produce over $2,500. However little it may seem, start now and build for the future.
Putting all of your savings into the stock market
The standard recommendation for young people starting out is that they put their money into the stock market. 80%, 90%, 100% in stocks. The rationale is that since you’re young you have a long time to recover from losses. But this advice is not the right course for everyone.
If you don’t really understand stocks, have low risk tolerance or may need the money in a few years, you might be better off keeping your money in more conservative investments. The key isn’t to invest, but to invest in what you know, understand and are comfortable with.
They’ll be time to take on higher risk investments when you have more money to invest—and more money to hold as a cushion against market risks.
What financial recommendations do you have for new college graduates? Were there mistakes you made coming out of college that you’d like to warn others about?
Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut.