Graduation season is here, and freshly degreed college graduates will soon be embarking on the next chapter of their lives as they begin their careers. Life after the final semester typically ushers in more independence, which typically means more responsibility and more control over personal finances.
“College life certainly provides a taste of what’s ahead, but many students are fortunate enough to have the backing and support of their parents while in school and are not operating fully on their own funds. Receiving that degree is usually the catalyst marking the transition to full financial independence and responsibility,” says Jonathan Boudreaux, Senior Vice President with Lakeside Bank. “A college education does many things, but one of the things it doesn’t always do is prepare students for all the challenges that come with taking control of your own finances.”
According to Boudreaux, the best way to start is to create a personal budget. Even if you have been working from a budget, you’ll need to adjust to fit this new phase of your life. He explains that a budget doesn’t mean you calculate bills and expenses in your head — it’s an actual document (on paper or online) that details your bills, expenses and spending habits in black and white. There is no one way to create a budget. Some people prefer spreadsheets while others might prefer an “old-school” ledger they write in. There is also a wide variety of online apps and programs to help you set up a budget. Boudreaux says the key to budgeting success is finding a method that works for you and that you will stick to.
Once you have a budget, Boudreaux says the next stop is making sure you have a clear understanding of how much disposable income you have. “A vital aspect of effective budgeting is keeping track of what’s going in and out. If you swipe your debit card 10 times in a week and transfer funds through a mobile app like Venmo or PayPal and forget to document those transactions in your budget, you’re already falling off the financial train. “If you spend it, enter it” is a good budgeting rule to follow, particularly in the early stages of setting up your monthly budget and shouldering the financial responsibilities of the life that awaits you post-graduation.”
Another good post-graduate idea is to get a copy of your credit report. Chances are you will now need access to more credit, whether it’s buying a car or opening a credit card. It’s a good idea to find out where you stand. If your credit score is low, you may find it difficult to rent an apartment or finance a vehicle. If you haven’t accumulated much credit during your college years, you may find that your score has been affected by that as well. “Also, as a college graduate, you probably haven’t had much time to build up a solid credit history for creditors to hang their hats on,” says Boudreaux. “Whatever your situation, it’s a good idea to know what your score is and what you can do to get it to the highest level possible.”
Speaking of credit, now is not the time to fall into debt. Chances are, you already have some. Resist the temptation of getting more, stresses Boudreaux.
“The average college graduate in the United States has close to $30,000 in debt when they graduate,” adds Boudreaux. “It can be tempting to accumulate even more, especially on an entry-level salary. But, if at all possible, don’t pile on more debt onto your existing obligations. If you do, you could be 40 or older old before all of it is paid off.”
He says another good step in establishing a solid foundation for your future financial success is establishing a relationship with a banker. “A trusted banker can help you analyze your budget and current finances, as well as your savings and credit-building goals, as you put your college degree to work to secure your future.”