So, you have just graduated and you are searching for your first full-time job. Saving money might not be the first thing that comes to mind. It is easy to think there is plenty of time to worry about that once you are older and earning a steady income, but the truth is it is never too early to learn good financial habits. In fact, the day you start your first full-time job is when your dollars become the most powerful ones earned in your career.
Smart budgeting is key, but before you give yourself an allowance, you have got to know what you have and what you owe. Start by totaling all your income and your debt. Although income may be easy to calculate, debt might be a little trickier. Student loan repayments can be deferred for a while, but they will not stay that way forever. Contact the lender to get your most recent statement. If you have got credit cards or other monthly payments, make sure to include them in your debt tally. After adding up your monthly income and subtracting monthly debt, you will see what you have to work with.
Think about your budget goals. With a student loan, a major goal might be paying it off quickly. A savings goal is also important. A few months’ worth of living expenses in the bank can be the difference between staying afloat or getting into serious financial trouble. Also, it is never too early to think about retirement. Saving a small amount each month now means not having to invest large chunks later. Mint.com has budget solutions for all stages of financial development. You can see your money at a glance from anywhere, and get alerts when bills are due. A budget should include all your monthly expenses plus a small amount for leisure, but keep in mind that your new living expenses will also come from this amount.
Your new costs of living are going to be vastly different from the dorm and college life you are used to. Even if you rented a house or apartment while in school, your first home after graduation might bring some surprises. Aside from a rent or mortgage, there are utilities such as electricity, water, gas, trash and sewer. There are also entertainment options, such as Internet or cable. You can ask utility companies for a property’s history, which will show the average bills for the past year or more, but ordinary monthly expenses can still be a shock to someone who is not used to paying them. You might have to adjust your expectations, at least temporarily. For example, if you cannot afford the apartment that you want, you might need to get a roommate.
Credit card offers can be tempting, but you should always avoid any unnecessary new liability. A new car, furniture, or anything else that you cannot afford in cash might seem appealing, but debt is actually a dream killer. If you owe money, you might have to pass on a lower-paying job that you might have loved. If you miss payments, debt will quickly become a roadblock to any job where the employer checks your credit. It is easy to be dazzled by the idea of small monthly payments in exchange for the things you want, but remember that any new obligation equals a whole new monthly payment and your original budget will get smaller with every new expense.
Having a good time does not have to cost a lot of money. Find free and fun things to do by checking local calendars. Many libraries and parks also hold free events, like concerts and movie nights, that are open to the public. Museums often offer free admission once a month. You could also host a pot luck dinner or a game night with friends.
You can also look for freelance work or a side hustle. If you have any secret talents or skills, or even a car or parking space, you can use it to your advantage to rake in some income. Graphic design, jewelry making, dog walking, ride sharing are all good examples of earning extra income.