Getting Ready for Graduation: Money and Life Advice for College Graduates
Life after college graduation is an exciting time of new beginnings and unlimited possibilities — many new college graduates are truly out on their own for the first time in their adult lives. And while it can be bittersweet to leave behind the days of campus activities, football games, college parties and living with your best friends, most college grads discover new sources of fulfillment in the larger world beyond academia.
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This is what you’ve been studying and preparing for all these years: the chance to build a career and create a life as an adult working professional.
With that in mind, here is some advice for college graduates on how to get the most out of their money — and their life — in the “real world” beyond college:
Decide Where to Live
One of the most important decisions you make when starting your life after college is deciding where to live. Maybe you want to stay close to family, or you already have a job offer in the city where you went to college, or maybe you have already started a family and you’re feeling settled in your current location. But if you are open to making a move and you want to maximize your opportunities as a college graduate, it helps to choose a city wisely.
NerdWallet did a study of the best cities for recent college graduates, analyzing which cities have the best combinations of job opportunities, affordable cost of living and a large percentage of young adult population.
Of course, there’s no one right answer for what makes a great city. But, in general, these cities tend to have a lot of positive attributes that young college grads like to see in their choice of places to live. Choosing the right city will help you get connected to better career opportunities, meet a wider network of other educated young people who can be your potential future colleagues (or future romantic partners) and have better prospects for lifelong prosperity and happiness.
Get a Job
Even if you already have a job or an offer in hand (congratulations!) it’s worth keeping in mind that most of today’s young college graduates are not going to stay at the same job forever. A 2016 study by LinkedIn found that today’s young college grads are changing jobs much more often than their parents did.
This is twice as much job-hopping as Gen Xers, who graduated college from 1986 to 1990 — that generation of college grads only averaged about two job changes in the first 10 years of their careers.
There’s nothing wrong with changing jobs, so long as you’re doing it for the right reasons. Ideally, you should change jobs because you are excited about a new opportunity and the new job is giving you better pay and better potential for growth — not because you’re having trouble staying employed and you have to keep jumping around to keep from getting fired.
Choose a career field with strong future growth prospects. According to U.S. Department of Labor data, some of the fastest-growing job fields for college graduates include:
Pay Off Debt
Whether you have student loans or other credit card debt, it’s important to make a plan for paying off debt. Now that you have your first “real” job out of college, sit down and make a budget. Figure out your monthly income and living expenses, and plan to pay off your highest-interest debts first, while still making at least the minimum monthly payments on the others.
One of the biggest financial challenges for many new college graduates is paying off their student loan debt.
Which state you live in and where you went to college tends to affect your overall student loan balance; some states have higher average monthly student loan payments than others.
If you’re a Discover customer, you can use Discover’s Paydown Planner to set a target date for paying off your balance. Or use the free Student Loan Repayment Calculator to estimate your monthly payment and get a handle on paying off your student loans.
Even if you have a college degree and a promising start in a growing career field, your first job’s entry-level paychecks may not go as far as you would like. Get creative about saving money. Build up an emergency savings fund of three to six months of living expenses, and start saving for retirement right away — especially if your employer matches contributions to your 401(k) or other qualified retirement savings plan. Other ways to save money:
- Think before buying a new car. Your car can be a major expense when you’re just starting out. Try to avoid taking on a lot of debt. Consider whether you could buy a used car instead, and put the extra money toward long-term savings or to paying off other debts. Cars are meant to be a form of transportation, not a financial burden.
- Consider moving home for a while. There’s no shame in moving home with your parents for a while after graduating from college, especially if it can help you build up your savings.
- You could live with roommates. It might be tempting to splurge on your own apartment as a new college graduate, but you can save some serious money by living with roommates, especially if you’re in a high-cost city.
In general, even though you’re finally making money as a “real adult” with a job, your bank account will be better off if you can spend the first few years of your career living like a college student — with roommates, in an affordable apartment, with simple furnishings and driving a used car (if you own a car at all). Put your money into savings, focus on your career and you’ll build the foundation for a better financial future.
Of course, making money as a new college graduate is not all about paying bills and saving for retirement. Now that you have a real income, you want to have some fun, right? One of the biggest consumer trends for today’s young generation of college graduates is that they are spending their money differently than previous generations: Today’s college graduates are buying “experiences” instead of things.
Here is an important point: If you spend money on experiences instead of on material possessions, you are likely to be happier. That’s because experiences give you more pleasant feelings of anticipation, longer-lasting memories and they create more opportunities for social interaction. Spending money on experiences is how people express their values, passions and purpose in life. Today’s college graduates seem to have the right idea about smart spending: It can be more fulfilling to splurge on wonderful experiences than to clutter up your life with more “stuff.”
Congratulations on starting your new life as a college graduate! You have a wonderful opportunity to build a prosperous career and pursue a life of meaning and purpose. Use this advice for college graduates, but, above all, just remember to work hard, save money, pay off your debts and, most importantly, make memories and have fun along the way.
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