Graduating from college and entering the “real world” can inflict total chaos on your life: Suddenly, you have to figure out how to feed yourself without the assurance of your money power. Your closest friends, who used to be just a room away, are now scattered across the country. Your parents are less willing to send checks upon request. On top of that, you have to start paying rent, find and keep a job, and somehow convince yourself to start saving money for retirement, which is about four decades away.
This are some of the most common mistakes we make in the process ;
1. Taking on too much debt–or not enough. Too much debt can weigh down recent grads, forcing them to spend more money on interest and fees than on fun activities and other goals. New credit card regulations make it harder for anyone under age 21 without their own income to take out cards of their own, which could make post-graduation overspending even more tempting.
At the same time, the recent recession has led many young people to take the debt-is-bad message too literally. Sometimes, student loans for graduate school or a mortgage are good investments. Being responsible for credit accounts also allows 20-somethings to build their credit history, which is required if they want to take out a mortgage, auto loan, or other type of loan in the future.
The solution: Build your credit history slowly and steadily by opening up accounts in your own name and paying them off on time.
2. Becoming victim to rapid lifestyle inflation. You’re a recent college grad, so that means you probably need a new car, new apartment, new sofa, and a new…Wait a minute. Not only do you not need all those things, you probably won’t appreciate them much, either. A little theory called the “hedonic treadmill” explains why. We adapt all too quickly to improvements in our lifestyle.
The solution: Instead of using your first paycheck to make your new home look like a sitcom set, spread out your purchases over time. Maybe you need a bed right away, but that embroidered quilt sheets and Persian rugs can wait.
3. Falling into bad money habits. Bi-weekly $20 happy hours, daily $10 lunches, and nightly take-out are just a few of the bad habits that eat into new grads’ bank accounts. While the occasional lapse isn’t a problem, repeatedly wasting money on a weekly basis for years will cost you, big time.
The solution: Learn to cook by enlisting the help of friends, family members, or best of all the power of Google. The habit can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year, and turn your home into a popular destination for friends. It’s a skill that lasts a lifetime.
4. Waiting to save and invest. Sure, you don’t feel like you have “extra” money yet, and you’re still getting used to seeing your name on a paycheck. But that makes it the perfect time to start saving at least a quarter of your income for future goals, including retirement. The first priority is to establish an emergency savings account with at least three months’ worth of expenses that can get you through any unexpected bumps, from unemployment to a car accident. Then, start saving for retirement.
The solution: If saving any money seems daunting, start by funneling a modest 2 percent of your income into a high-yield savings account or money market fund. Then, slowly raise that percentage. Once you have your three-month emergency fund stored away, consider investing a portion of your longer-term savings in low-fee index funds and other, more aggressive investment vehicles.
5. Failing to negotiate for a higher salary. Even in this economy, employers expect some haggling over salary and benefits. In fact, doing so is a sign of professionalism that shows you, a recent college grad, understand how the working world works. A simple request after expressing enthusiasm and appreciation for the job offer can eventually lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars more in lifetime earnings.
The solution: Practice your job-offer conversation before receiving any potential offers so you’re ready to land a better deal, and research your field ahead of time so you know what to expect. If the salary really is fixed, consider focusing on other benefits, which can be worth as much as a third of the salary, but that job seekers often overlook. What are the health care benefits? Retirement account perks? Vacation days? Work-at-home flexibility? Decide what’s important to you and get ready for some professional haggling; it usually just takes one round of back-and-forth.
6. Thinking you’re done studying. Sure, you have your degree, but unless you attended one of the few schools that teach personal finance, you probably know relatively little about how to build wealth. That makes the post-graduation period the ideal time to take matters into your own hands.
The solution: Look for ways to learn more about smart personal-finance strategies. This doesn’t have to be boring. Dozens of blogs, websites, and books make learning about money fun, and many local community colleges and universities offer personal-finance courses for local professionals. You might also want to consider forming a money club with friends, in which you meet up once a month to talk about your money questions, goals, and research.
The bottom line: Add “getting on top of your finances” to the list of things to do after graduation day–and try to make it at least as fun as cleaning out your dorm room.