You’ve done it: On previous advice, you’ve gotten your college degree and been set loose into the working professional world.
There’s a good chance you have lingering student loans.
If you’re one of the lucky ones, you don’t have loans, but you’re still strapped for cash since it all went toward your education.
And, of course, being a new degree-holder, your job is likely entry-level and not paying as much as you would like, or as much as you were earning in a previous career.
1. The First Step – Identify
The first step to arranging finances, of course, is a source of income. If you’re not one of the ever-smaller percentage of graduates with a job straight out of college, let the search begin. In addition to sending out resumes and applications, don’t forget to work those contacts you’ve just spent four years collecting.
Most colleges have a career center that will help with finding leads and even acting as references. Professors, assistants, and fellow students may know somebody in your field who needs help. Call everyone even remotely connected to what you want to do until one of them finds you a lead! Even an internship will have the potential to turn into a career once you knock their socks off.
2. Debt Elimination
Once you’ve got a source of income, the next step is to eliminate debt. Paying off student loans can be daunting, but it’s important to at least pay back the minimum amount each month, and more if possible.
Remember, the more you pay now, the less you’ll pay later! In the madness, it’s important not to forget about other sources of debt – credit cards, car payments, mortgages. Your credit score plays a huge role in this process and companies take specific care to target the recent grads (think DUNS number, although there are plenty out there).
Figure out how much you need to pay per month to pay them off by a certain date, and do it! These payments need to take priority.
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3. Cut it Out!
After calculating how much money per month goes toward debt and necessary expenses such as groceries and gas, decide where you can cut back on expenses. Take advantage of technology and print grocery coupons off of the Internet – Safeway has a program that lets you save money before you even get to the store, and most grocery stores put their weekly ads online so you can comparison shop without driving all around town. For entertainment and other luxury expenses, consider sites such as Groupon to save cash.
Once you’ve started to eliminate debt and you’ve got a handle on expenses (and this step can take months or even years, so don’t feel bad about it!), it’s time to start saving for retirement. Of course you should alway set aside cash for unexpected expenses such as car troubles, or even for planned expenses such as a home, but planning for retirement is a whole different ballgame. Take advantage of a 401(k) program if your employer offers one.
No matter how young you may be, planning for retirement is essential – the Social Security Board of Trustees just announced this week that funds for the program could run out by 2033.
Saving for retirement should be nobody’s responsibility but your own – because no one else can be trusted.
This general roadmap to finances post-college may seem overwhelming or as if you’ll never have “fun money” again, but remember that living frugally now – by paying off debts, saving for the future and cutting back on expenses – is the key to financial prosperity in the future, especially if the economy should nosedive again in your lifetime.
Take it a day at a time, and be responsible with your funds, and you should be able to live comfortably and not be deprived.
This guest article was written by financial journalist, LeighAnne Zinsmeister : A journalism and good food enthusiast, LeighAnne spends her time at the Arizona Republic as a wire editor and designer. Writing everything from sports to politics, LeighAnne has a true passion for all things news.