When I graduated from college, finances were vaguely on my mind. But not in the “It’s time to build my finances so I can have a strong start on my future” sort of way. Rather, the thoughts going through my mind were more of this variety:
College is fun, but college can also feel very long – especially if you change your major and maintain part time jobs to stay afloat. It’s not uncommon during this time to just want to get on with life already. Sadly, the fresh start after graduation can take longer than most college graduates would prefer (myself included at the time) and the focus turns to getting anything going rather than thinking strategically about the future.
But thinking strategically about the future can be a game changer for your path after college. It helps you make the most of the situation you’re in and make mindful choices impacting your next ten years, not your next ten months. The same is true of your finances. Below is some advice to help you get those first few years after college off the ground. Your future self (and your future finances) will thank you for it.
Figure Out Your Student Loan Situation
After college I breathed a sigh of relief for the six month grace period and tried not to think about how much student loan debt I accumulated. This was the worst possible way to handle the situation. If you do this too, you’ll give yourself a near heart attack when you look at the number and will be tempted to ignore all numbers and payments from then on. You’ll also miss out on potential opportunities to pay your debt off faster.
Get your number now and take advantage of your access to the financial aid office while you still can. That way you can obtain the information you need to create a real plan to pay the debt off – or to find assistance programs if you ever need them during your repayment plan. The help is there for you – you just need to be aware of it.
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Think Outside of the Box
I spent all my time searching for jobs in those first few months after college graduation. My mindset was as traditional as they come: apply to my dream jobs first, then foot in the door jobs, then everything else. I had an “everything else” category because I was realistic enough to know that it wasn’t going to be easy to find work as a writer and sick enough of waiting tables to be willing to take just about any career-oriented job.
Honestly, I should have chucked realism to the wind a bit and thought outside the box more. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, but lacked the laser focus necessary to make it happen. I subconsciously decided health insurance and a salary were more important than crafting the career of my dreams. In hindsight, I could have stayed at the restaurant a bit longer and found other ways to chase my dreams instead of just taking the first job offer that came my way. Ironically, I would have made more money doing that too.
Don’t get stuck in a traditional mindset when you’re thinking of your five year plan. Your dream job doesn’t just exist at X company, in X position, or even in X city. Find out what you’re most interested in doing day by day and list out all the possible ways to do it, places that hire for it, and locations it thrives in. Then use your free time to build out a platform: you could start a blog, follow influencers in your field on social media (and read their blogs), and ask experts in you area for informational interviews. And whatever you do, don’t get distracted by “shiny objects” – namely opportunities that will make your life easier right now but don’t make sense long term.
Get Your Budget Together
How much money are you making right now? Make a budget for that and go ahead and include your student loan payments in your budget, even if you do have a six month grace period. If you’re not making enough money to live, consider a second job or ways to earn extra money while you’re looking for that first professional job.
Hopefully you’ll only have to live like this for a short while. But when you get that first higher earning job, don’t let the increased pay inflate your lifestyle just yet. Living like a college student for the first years after college is a great way to boost your financial status. Keeping your costs as low as possible means more of your hard-earned cash can go to things like building an emergency fund, starting your retirement savings (yes, you do need to do this now and not later), paying off your student loans faster, and even setting aside a savings for fun things like travel. Once you inflate your lifestyle, it’s pretty hard to go back. So stick to the college-like budget as long as possible.
There is so much I would have done differently when I was fresh out of college if I could. If you’re new to the game, you’re at a great advantage to map out the future you really want – even if it feels like the odds are stacked against you. If you figure out what it is you really want (or at least figure out a direction to go in that makes you happy and doesn’t just satisfy what you think you should do), maintain a laser focus to achieve it, and get your finances in order as you go, then you’re sure to have a fantastic future ahead.
Image Credit: Peter Morgan