1. Shoot to Continually Expand Your Net Worth
Financial coach Kelsa Dickey at Fiscal Fitness Phoenix in Mesa, Arizona says this is key. "For the new graduate, that current net worth "might be zero or negative," she says. "And that’s okay." Just keep debt down while also increasing savings, and there's a good chance you'll end up in a strong financial position.
2. Create a Budget
“A budget actually gives you freedom — with some boundaries,” says Rachel Cruze, co-author of The Graduate Survival Guide: 5 Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make in College. Cruze advises using a zero-based budget, which is a budgeting method in which income minus outgo equals zero. For instance, if you earn $3,000 per month, every penny saved, spent, invested and donated should equal $3,000. Here’s how it works: • For each month, list all monthly income sources (i.e., full-time work, freelance, other side jobs) Note that the expenses will likely vary from month to month so she advises to "focus on one month at a time." • List all monthly expenses (i.e., rent, food, cable, car payment, cell phone bill, money going into savings) At the end of the month, money spent/saved and the money earned should even out. “If you have extra money left after filling out your budget, evaluate where you are financially,” advises Cruze. “If you have any debt, put the extra funds toward that first until all of the debt is paid off. Once the debt is paid off, you should assign the extra money toward your emergency fund until you have three to six months of expenses covered.”
3. Find Affordable Housing
That’s what Boston-based Victor Miltiades, 24, did after completing graduate school at the University of Georgia in May 2015. “I had a group of friends in a similar housing situation, so we pooled our resources,” says Miltiades. He and four roommates reside in a five-bedroom townhome and split rent, utilities, cable/Internet expenses. As a result, he says he saves $400 to $500 a month versus if he lived alone.
4. Quit the Comparisons
A quick way to drain your bank account is to drool over what your friends are driving, wearing or doing on social media - and then try to compete. Nearly four in 10 U.S. adults with a social media account say that seeing other people’s purchases and vacations on social media makes them look into similar items, according to a Harris Poll on behalf of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). “Comparing your lifestyle to others’ not only steals your joy, but also your paycheck,” says Cruze.
5. Start a Side Gig
Look into some extra work that is enjoyable and can help to pad the bank account, advises Miltiades, who is paid $50 by an outside vendor to host a bar trivia event once a week. “The extra money can help you to set aside fun money,” he says. “It’s like receiving a weekly bonus.”
6. Funnel Money into an Emergency Fund
“Set aside 5% to 10% of your pay in an account that’s safe from market risk and easy to access," says Spencer Williams, CEO of Retirement Clearinghouse, a specialty financial services firm in North Carolina. Have the money automatically deducted from each paycheck and transferred to a savings account, he says. “By saving these funds early on, you’ll suddenly feel calmer about your ability to handle the unexpected,” he says.
7. Invest in a 401(k)
Once an emergency fund is filled, “take that same 5% to 10% of your pay that you were diverting to your emergency fund and redirect it to your 401(K),” says Williams. “Invest enough (in the 401(K)) to get the company match because it’s free money,” he says. Contrary to some financial advisers who advocate an emergency fund cover three to six months of expenses or longer, Williams says one to two months of ready cash is adequate for most people. One reason behind his thinking: He says this allows young employees to start saving in their 401(k) as soon as possible to take advantage of the pre-tax savings and the employer matching funds. What was your favorite piece of advice for achieving financial freedom post graduation? Do you have any advice for other recent college grads? Let us know in the comments!