Five Smart Money Tips for College Grads

May 21, 2006

Most likely your college education didn’t include financial planning, which is too bad.  Personal finance is a skill that everyone should learn BEFORE they start careers, families, etc.  Unfortunately, most of us learn these five smart money tips too late in life:

1.  When choosing between different job offers, review the benefits carefully.  Health insurance costs have increased dramatically, so a company offer that will cover health insurance may be more attractive than an offer with a higher salary but no health insurance.  Look for companies that offer 401K matching contributions, pension benefits, education assistance, etc.  A great benefit package can be worth far more than a straight salary package.

2.  Enroll in your company’s 401K as soon as your eligible!  Contribute as much as you can from day one.  The most important thing you have when you’re young is time.  Every dollar saved in your 20s, is worth far more than the same amount saved in your 40s.

3.  Create a spending plan.   Nobody likes to keep track of every penny they spend, but you should at least know where your money goes.  Keep track of your spending in a spreadsheet or software program like Quicken.  Identify priorities and spend accordingly.  If you know where your money goes each month, and you plan ahead for priority items (new house, new car), you’re much more likely to meet your goals. 

4.  Be smart about credit.  You probably received dozens of credit card offers while in college.  Pay off any credit card debt you have and avoid adding more.  Pay cash when you can, and use credit wisely when you need to.  Good credit can mean the difference between a good interest rate and a bad interest rate when you need it (like for your first home), so treat your credit well!

5.  Educate yourself!  I know you just got out of college, but the real learning is just beginning.  One of the best things you can do is to educate yourself about personal finance, including saving, managing debt, saving for retirement, investing, etc. 

Some great resources are:
Kiplinger’s Personal Finance


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Kristine McKinley, CFP®, CPA, is the founding principal of Beacon Financial Advisors, LLC, an independent, fee-only financial planning firm located in Lee’s Summit, Missouri and serving the greater Kansas City area.

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Investment News – Kristine McKinley discusses the 0% Social Security COLA (for 2016) in No Social Security cost-of-living adjustment in 2016.

Kiplinger Magazine/NAPFA – Kristine McKinley answered reader’s tax questions during the 2013 Jump Start Your Retirement Plan Days sponsored by Kiplinger magazine and the NAPFA Consumer Education Foundation.