Congratulations, graduates! You probably want to exhale and take it easy for the next few months, but unfortunately, that’s not an option. You are a full-fledged adult now, which means there are no breaks. And developing good financial habits now is your best bet for having the financial life you want. Set yourself up for success by committing to these 10 essential finance rules for recent college graduates.
1. All your money isn’t all your money. You just got your first paycheck, and man, doesn’t it feel good? But the first thing you’ll notice is that it’s probably less than you thought it would be. Meet your Uncle Sam. Get used to it. You’ll be paying taxes your whole life.
2. Start contributing to your 401(k) immediately. Retiring? You just started your first day of work! But retirement will be here before you know it—meaning if you don’t start saving now, you’ll be unprepared. Start by meeting your employer’s match, and then over time, increase your contributions up the government’s cap. You’ll thank yourself in 40 years.
3. Don’t overspend on housing. It may be your first time out on your own, and it’s easy to get seduced by the fancy loft downtown. But before you lock yourself into a year-long lease, make sure your rent is under 25 percent of your take-home pay. You might need to get a roommate or move further out from the cool neighborhood, but being able to afford groceries will make the sacrifice well worth it.
4. Ignore your social media feeds. For the rest of your life, you will be inundated with social media posts from your friends who seem to have the best job, the most money, the coolest vacations, and later, the perfect family. Do yourself a favor, and take a moment to realize everyone is lying. Okay, not about everything, but they are withholding the stuff that makes them look bad or even normal. Live your own life and don’t give in to the pressure from your peers on social media.
5. Get a savings account and don’t touch it. It’s pretty slick how bank accounts are so integrated these days, but the downside is they are a little too integrated. You need to start saving now, and the best way to save is to keep your savings totally separate from your checking account. Make a deposit each month, or even better, set it up to come out of your paycheck. Your goal is to save at least one month of expenses and not draw from it unless it’s an emergency.
6. Don’t buy a new car. It seems like everyone is doing it, but you are smarter than everyone else. Consider alternatives like public transportation, buying a used car with cash, or keeping what you have. Sure, a new car gets better mileage and has a warranty, but those don’t justify strapping yourself with a big chunk of debt right as you are starting your financial life. If you want a new car, start saving.
7. Don’t cash your paycheck. No one needs to be walking around with that much cash.
8. Buy your parents something nice. If you’re lucky, your parents have been your biggest cheerleaders for the past 22 years, give or take. Show them you appreciate their sacrifice by buying them a decent gift for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It’s the right thing to do.
9. Ignore engagement ring salesmen. If you plan to get engaged anytime soon, ignore everyone’s advice about how much to spend (or how much your partner should spend). Consider what the money could be better used for (a down-payment, an emergency fund, retirement) and then determine how much you are willing to take from those other goals to put towards a ring.
10. Don’t be in a hurry to accumulate everything you’ve always wanted. There is plenty of time to buy a house/watch/boat/fancy clothes. Focus on paying your rent right now. Once you’ve adjusted to your new income, you can set a goal to buy something you want and work towards it.
Being a financially responsible adult means you have to make clear-headed, and oftentimes, tough decisions. The good news is that if you follow these 10 tips, you’ll be well on your way to a financial life that allows you to do the fun things, while still preparing you for the future.
Peter Dunn, aka Pete the Planner, is an award-winning financial mind who has authored five books, hosts the popular Pete the Planner radio show and travels around the country offering financial education. His signature wit will have you laughing as you learn. For more from Peter, visit www.petetheplanner.com.