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A Financial Management Guide For New Graduates

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Congratulations to all you newly minted graduates! Four years have come and gone – five years for you slackers. Armed with your diploma, you’re now a full-fledged independent adult, ready to face the world on your own.  But expect this freedom to bring a lot of changes, particularly to your financial status. Do you have questions about your money? Don’t worry — we here at Mint would like to offer you a little graduation present: a financial management guide filled with personal finance advice that we hope you’ll find helpful.  Okay, it’s not a new car, but we can make it easier to save for one.

Create and Track Your Budget

Once you’re out on your own, your cost of living can skyrocket. At first, you may find yourself running on empty and operating with a very lean budget. Use Mint.com to set up and track your personal budget. This should help you determine whether your current financial behavior is sustainable. Most likely, you’ll need to make temporary cuts before you can move on to afford a more comfortable lifestyle.

Student Loans

If you’re carrying some student loans, be prepared. Your loans will enter repayment within 6 to 9 months. You’ll want to compile important information, including:

  • Whom you owe
  • How much you owe
  • Your loans’ interest rates
  • When debt repayment begins
  • Payment plan options
  • Any relevant due dates

Pay at least the minimum payment established for your loan(s).  More than the minimum if possible!  And always pay on time: late payments can adversely affect your credit score. If you’re unable to make payments, talk to your lenders about forbearance and deferment, which are good ways to help you postpone payments for 6 months to a year. Read the Smart Student Guide To Financial Aid for more information.

Mint Tip: Here is some personal finance advice for those just starting out: if you have little or no student loans, funnel your savings towards an emergency fund.  If you’ve got disposable income or some money left over, put money into a retirement account such as an IRA or Roth IRA, and behold the power of compound interest: contributing $4,000 a year for 10 years into a retirement account will yield half a million dollars upon retirement!   Find out which IRA you qualify for here.

Credit Cards

Graduated with some credit card debt?  You’re not alone.  The average college grad leaves school with a $3,000 balance.  It’s important to keep on top of your financial management responsibilities by ensuring that you pay your bills on time, since even one late payment can increase your interest rates and damage your credit score.  See if you can make that easier, immediately, by reducing your interest rate.  Check out Mint’s personalized recommendations for you on your Ways to Save page.

Mint tip: If you qualify for a zero percent interest card, you can reduce your monthly payments and buy yourself some time to reduce your debt. Consider the use of these cards, but read the fine print for disclosed fees and details on any limited time offers.
Here are the most popular 0% APR cards that Mint is currently tracking.
Citi® Platinum Select® Card
0% APR for up to 18 months. No annual fee.
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Chase Platinum Visa® Card
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Career Planning

During these tough economic times, you may find that the only work you can land is temporary, but don’t despair: Suze Orman worked as a waitress for 7 years before becoming a renowned financial management guru.

Mint Tip: For great web sites to aid you on your job search, you can visit Craigslist, Indeed.com, Simplyhired, or Yahoo!HotJobs.  And continue to tap your school’s career center for potential employment leads.

Moving and Housing

If you do move, get your friends and family’s help to keep moving costs down.  And you’ll likely want to find a roommate to keep your monthly rental costs down, too.  You can connect with potential roommates through online sites such as Craigslist, roommatelocator.com, roommates.com, metroroommates.com, roompals.com, and roomster.net, just to name a few.

Food

Restaurant food costs more than home cooking.  To help you plan your healthy and cheap meals at home, you can check out Amazon.com for a few highly rated cookbooks and recipe books like “Cheap and Easy Cooking; Cheap, Fast & Easy Cookbook” and “Cheap.Fast.Good!”   Join your local CostCo or Sam’s Club, use coupons at local grocery stores, plan out your meals carefully and be creative with your leftovers.  This is one area of your personal budget where spending some time can save you significant money.

Transportation

Avoid buying a car unless it becomes absolutely necessary, as monthly car payments, insurance and maintenance costs can weigh heavily on a tight budget. Public transportation is not only good for your bottom line, it’s also great for the environment.  Or use a car sharing program such as Zipcar.com, which allows you to rent a vehicle on an hourly or daily basis. Finally, if it turns out that you’ll really need to own and drive a car, then buy used. New cars depreciate rapidly and many people end up owing more on their car than it’s worth.  Check out our car buying advice in:  Young Professional’s Car Buying Guide. Have you faced some financial challenges we haven’t covered here? Anyone find other sites or tips helpful in making ends meet as a new grad? Share here…readers (and Mint employees not that long out of school ourselves) will thank you! Related Mint Tips: Personal Financial Planning Online Financial Planner Online Personal Financial Tracking Personal Financial Advisors