For new college graduates, receiving that first post-degree paycheck can be almost as exciting as getting the diploma itself. But it also presents a challenge: Given the many demands on a young person’s budget, how should those funds be managed?
We asked five money experts to share their best personal finance strategies to help this year’s college grads successfully launch their financial lives. Here’s what they said.
FIND YOUR BUDGETING STYLE
To figure out how to allocate your money toward needs, wants and everything else, Erin Lowry, author of the “Broke Millennial Workbook,” says that instead of following the latest budgeting trend on TikTok, it’s helpful to just sit down with a pen and paper. “Write down what your big expenses are,” she says.
After accounting for large items like rent, car payments and food, you can then see what nonessentials also fit. “You might want to go out to dinner with friends, build up new work attire or adopt a dog,” Lowry says. Writing out the budget helps you figure out what you can afford and when, she adds.
“We conceive of budgets as restrictive things that keep us from having fun, but you should be thinking of it as a way of controlling how your money is spent. If you don’t know, you’ve sacrificed all control,” Lowry says.
FACTOR IN TAXES
Melissa Jean-Baptiste, a financial educator and the author of the book “So… This Is Why I’m Broke,” says it’s easy to forget to account for taxes, so you might have less take-home pay than you anticipated. Retirement contributions and other deductions can further lower that amount.
Jean-Baptiste suggests setting aside some time to really understand your first paycheck and all those deductions. “Take yourself on a money date so you understand how much you’re bringing home and how much you have left to save and invest,” she says.
Even if they’re paying off debt, Alex Rezzo, a certified financial planner and the founder of Andante Financial in the Los Angeles area, urges new grads to start saving for retirement right away. “There will always be a more immediate excuse to delay saving for retirement,” he says, but he urges people to find a way to save at least 1% of each paycheck and to increase that amount over time.
He also suggests parking your direct-deposited paycheck funds in an online bank that offers a competitive high-yield account and is backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. That way, the money likely will earn more than it would sitting in a traditional bank’s checking or savings account.
PROTECT YOUR CREDIT
As you build your independent financial life, making at least the minimum payments on your student loan and credit card accounts can help protect your credit. Missing a payment, Lowry says, could damage your credit score. She suggests focusing on paying down any high-interest debt first to reduce the total amount going to interest.
Lowry also suggests freezing or locking your credit, which makes it much harder for identity thieves to apply for new credit in your name. Just remember that if you freeze your credit, you’ll also have to thaw it if you want to apply for credit yourself, she says, adding, “you might want to wait until you’re through a period of time when you’re applying for new accounts.”
MAKE MISTAKES AND LEARN FROM THEM
Kennedy Reynolds, chief education officer at Acorns, a financial services company, says mistakes are part of the learning process, whether it’s overspending or accruing credit card debt, but the key is to learn from the experience. “If you have debt to pay down, take that paycheck and split it up” toward those bills until they are paid off, she says.
“Try to picture yourself later and know that the choices you’re making now will have a long-term impact,” she adds.
LOOK BEYOND YOUR PAYCHECK
Linda Whiteman, a personal finance teacher at Outschool, an online learning platform for kids, teaches her students to think entrepreneurially. After all, she tells them, most millionaires are business owners.
“You don’t have to work for someone,” she says. She asks her students to consider what they can teach others, whether offering piano lessons online or creating digital art. Pursuing additional income streams outside of a paycheck can help grow wealth, she adds.
Jean-Baptiste found success doing exactly that: She used her experience as a teacher to create and sell lesson plans online. “I was bringing in $10,000 a year that I could put toward debt,” she says. Her lesson plans eventually turned into the financial literacy business that she operates today.
Earning additional income outside of a paycheck, she says, “can be a game-changer” — financial wisdom that applies at any age.
Kimberly Palmer is a personal finance expert at NerdWallet and the author of “Smart Mom, Rich Mom.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @KimberlyPalmer.