If you’ve just graduated from college, the odds are good you’re feeling equal parts exhilaration and terror. That’s understandable. Adulting isn’t easy, even for established adults.
We won’t pretend that adulting can’t be stressful at times. However, there are some steps you can take to give yourself a solid financial foundation and make your transition into adulthood much easier.
Look Over Your Debts
Unless you’re very fortunate, you’re probably coming out of college with a mountain of debt, most of it in student loans. While you probably have more positive things you’ll want to focus on, like getting a place to live and getting started in your career, knowing where you stand with your college debts is essential.
The biggest reason to look over your debts is so you know how much you’ll have to pay each month, so you can factor the cost into your monthly budget. You’ll also want to know whether you have a grace period before you need to start making repayments. Make sure you make at least the minimum payments, but like any debts you should try to put any extra money you have towards it.
While you’re looking over your debts, take some time to research the repayment assistance and forgiveness options that your lender offers. You may also want to ask about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program if you’re starting your career working in the non-profit or government sectors.
Create a Budget
If you rolled your eyes at this step, you’re not alone. For a lot of people, budgeting is about as fun as filing a tax return, and the only purpose of a budget is to make you feel guilty for spending money on things you like.
The truth is that when you make a budget, you put yourself in control of your money. You get to see where your money goes each month, and from there you can ensure you’re spending your money on the things that really matter to you. Even better, you can spend that money without having to worry about whether you’ve taken care of your essential costs, like rent, food and electricity.
Financial experts have written hundreds of books and articles about the best way to create a budget, but the core process is actually pretty simple. First, write down how much money you bring in each month. Then list all your monthly expenses, add them up and subtract that amount from your monthly income.
If the result is a positive number, congratulate yourself on having a balanced budget. If the number is negative, however, you’ll need to look for ways to reduce your monthly expenses until they’re less than or equal to your monthly income.
Start an Emergency Fund
One of the scariest aspects of living on your own is that there’s no safety net if you get hit with an emergency. That’s why you need to start building up an emergency fund as soon as you can.
The best way to build an emergency fund is to regularly put away a small percentage of each paycheck, preferably around 10% to start. You can make the process even easier by using direct deposit to automatically put part of your paycheck into a savings account. Your ultimate goal should be to have six months of salary put aside, but once you have $3000 in your savings account you should have enough to get you through most financial emergencies.
One of the big secrets to financial success is making the money you have saved work for you. Thanks to the power of compound interest, the more you put away early in your career the more time it will have to grow.
The first way you should start investing money is by funding your retirement. Find out what retirement program your job offers, and if your company will match any funds you put in. You can also open a separate IRA or Roth IRA and take advantage of the tax breaks each one offers.
Once you have your retirement set up, you can explore other ways to invest your money, including certificates of deposit (CDs), bonds, mutual funds and even individual stocks. Just remember to research each option before you invest your money in it.
Set Financial Goals
The best part about having money is that you can do the things you’ve always wanted to do, from attending regular Vikings games to traveling internationally. Having a job will give you money to do those things, but you won’t have enough to do everything you want.
This is where financial goals come in. Once you’ve built up your savings, take some time and think about all the financial goals you’d like to achieve. Write them down, and when you’ve got a list built up you can start to prioritize what goal—or goals—you’d like to achieve first.
Finally, take the goals you’ve prioritized and make them SMART goals. In other words, they should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. Doing this will make your goals more concrete, get you thinking about where you’ll get the money for them, and increase the odds that you’ll achieve them.
Make Adulting Easy With First Alliance Credit Union
It’s not easy being a college graduate and trying to be an adult for the first time. However, if you build up your savings, make a budget that will help you pay off your student loans and start investing for the future, you’ll find that adulting is much easier. Once you know your necessities are all paid, you can start saving for all those financial goals you’d like to achieve.
You can also get a lot of help adulting when you become a member of First Alliance Credit Union. The My Money feature in our online banking platform will help you create your monthly budget, and we offer multiple types of savings accounts where you can save your money. You can even invest your money by opening a CD or IRA.