Managing Money After College? Here are the 13 things I wish I’d done.

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On a recent trip with my best friend from college, we started talking about all the things we wished we'd known during those first few years out of school. The topic inevitably turned to money; we didn't have any back then so the stakes were low, but there were still a handful of things we could've done that would've set us up for even greater post-college financial success. 

So, I decided to write a post about it.   

College is a time for making mistakes and learning from them. By the time you reach graduation, you’ve probably made plenty of money missteps. So what are the first steps for navigating money after college?

Here's a brief rundown of the best things to do for your finances after college:

 

  • Step 0: Opened a big-girl checking account
  • Step 1:  Checked my credit score ASAP after graduation
  • Step 2: Avoided credit mistakes
  • Step 3: Negotiated my salary
  • Step 4: Created a budget sooner
  • Step 5: Saved up my first $1,000 “rainy day fund” sooner
  • Step 6: Calculated how much I'd need for retirement
  • Step 7: Got the 401k company match
  • Step 8: Contributed to my IRA
  • Step 9: Learned more about investing
  • Step 10: Tackle debt earlier
  • Step 11: Get a side hustle earlier
  • Step 12: Fight lifestyle inflation (hard)
  • Step 13: Learned how to set financial goals earlier

 

Okay, let's go!

 

Managing Money After College: The 13 Things I Wish I'd Done

 

 

Managing money after college step #0 – Open an adult bank account

 

This one is kind of a “gimme”, but I wanted to mention it here nonetheless. Once you are out of school, you should have your own bank account. If you've still got a student checking account from when you first started school, great. If not, look into opening a separate checking account (or more than one, depending on how you'd like to manage your money. I always had two, one for spending and a separate one for paying bills automatically.) 

 

Being financially untethered from your folks is great. It's also important to have the right tools for your financial success. Here are some great online-only options. Personally, I think online-only banks offer more in terms of mobile/online banking and better interest rates because they don't have to dump money into managing brick and mortar banks. They also come with substantially fewer fees than some of the bigger banks (Ahem. BofA, Wells Fargo, CHASE)…and that's always a win.

 

Just wherever you go, make sure it is a FREE checking account. You shouldn't be charged money….just for having your money.  

 

Here are a few I like:

 

  • Chime Bank – Free checking account with zero fees, early payday feature, plus when you sign up you get both a “spending account” and a “savings account.” Which is pretty cool!
  • Radius Bank – Free checking account, 1% cash back on purchases, o fees, and free ATM fees.
  • Axos Bank – Zero fees, no minimum balance, 1.25% APY on checking account balances with rewards checking, 

 

Get a FREE separate checking account that rewards you for your purchases. The Rewards Checking account from Radius Bank offers 1% cashback on purchases, plus zero fees and free ATMs. It only takes 3 minutes and $100 to open. Click here to learn more.

 

 

Managing money after college Step #2 – Check your credit score

 

 

 

The first thing you need to do is take an inventory of your credit. 

  • This means getting a hold of your credit report and making sure the information on there is correct.
  • Then finding out what where you are on the credit score scale.

Your credit score is important because it will dictate how much financial power you have and will determine how much credit may be extended to you by lenders. It can also dictate whether you can get a good place to rent and/or good insurance rates.

 

Important Credit Terms to Know

 

  • Credit Report – contains detailed information about your personal and financial history. It has information about your name, social security number, any addresses, phone numbers, employer’s information, current, and past loans, bankruptcies, repossessions, liens, and whether or not you’ve had any late payments or collections against you.
  • Credit Score – is a numerical value given to your credit file based on the current financial activity of your credit report (based on your current use of loans and credit cards). This number is used by lenders, landlords, insurance companies, and some employers. Your score is used to determine your overall financial reliability and will fluctuate from month to month depending on how you manage your credit.

Knowing where your score is on the scale (high or low) and making sure all the information on your credit report is correct and up to date, will set you up for the rest of the steps to financial success. Need to clean up your credit? Click here to read. 

 

The TL:DR: You can check your credit score for FREE with Credit Karma. It’s what I use and I love it because it is 100% free and you can get a new, updated score each month. Click here to get your score with Credit Karma. You can also get a free credit report from each of the four credit reporting bureaus by visiting the Federal Trade Commission’s Website. 
 

Once you get your credit report and score, make sure you’re not making some of these common credit score mistakes.

 

Step #2 Avoid the 6 Deadly Credit Score Mistakes

 

 

#1 – Closing Out Old Cards…And Opening New Ones

 

You’ve likely heard the phrase “use it or lose it” right? Well, that is the exact opposite of what you should do to maintain a healthy credit score. 

Since credit scores include factors such as the average age of accounts and debt-to-credit ratios, keeping older credit cards open that you have paid off will help your overall credit utilization ratio. It looks much better to potential lenders that you have an older card with a lower balance than to have only newer cards.

My mistake: When I paid off all my debt while living in New York City, I got so excited to be debt-free and closed out all but two of my cards. Much to my chagrin, my credit score went down even though I'd just paid off all my debt. The lesson here is to pay off your cards, but keep them open so your average “age of credit” is higher. Once you close, the age on those accounts goes away!

 

#2 – High Credit Utilization

 

Having multiple credit products can look good on your report (Again, you can click here to get a free credit score/report with Credit Karma), but not if they’re all maxed out.

Ideal credit utilization should be below 30% of your total credit limit for the card – meaning it may be a good idea to whittle down the balances of cards over that limit first. 

Another way to decrease your utilization (without paying off a big chunk) is if you have a low balance card that you’ve had for a long time you can also try calling your lender to see if they'll grant you a credit limit increase.

My mistake:  When it comes to me and my debt, it's pretty much all-or-nothing. I'm either not using the cards, or they're all close to maxed out. This is why at any given time my score will either be very good or very bad. Now I only put on the cards what I can afford to pay, and I’ll negotiate with my creditors for limit increases every six months or so.

 

#3 – Too Many Hard Inquiries

If you’re applying for every credit card offer you get in the mail – you may be in for a rude awakening when you look at your credit score. When applying for credit products, lenders will make what's called a “hard inquiry” on your account. Having too many hard inquiries on your report in a 6- or 12- month timeframe can be a major red flag to potential lenders, as it indicates you may be in desperate need of money. This also signals to lenders that you may be the type of person who may have a hard time repaying those debts.

My mistake: Back when I needed money to fund my runaway renovation, I applied for multiple cards/lines of credit. It was out of necessity, but I'm not proud. Now, if needed, I try to limit new inquiries to one credit account a year (with the exception being the two travel cards I signed up for at the end of 2017.) I can get away with this now that I'm out of my 20's, already own a home, and am a bit more established, but it felt like I was signing up for new accounts every other month when I was broke-as-a-joke in my early 20s.

 

#4 – Co-Signing For Other People's Loans

 

I don't recommend mixing money and friendship and cosigning can end up being a financial misstep for both of you. When you’re co-signing a loan for someone, you’re essentially saying that if they aren’t able to make the payments then you will take responsibility and pay.

That’s a big commitment even without considering how it will affect your credit.

My mistake: This is actually the only one on this list I've never done, and no one has ever asked me to co-sign. I guess I'll have to wait until I have children to experience the joy of being a co-signer!

 

#5 – Late Payments

 

Don't EVER get comfortable paying late on a credit product. Even though you may not be charged a late fee right away, your on-time payment percentage will suffer the longer you wait.

A good way to combat forgetting about your payments is to set up reminders or automating your minimum payment for the same time each month.

 

You can always make additional payments if you want to put more towards a balance, but automating the minimum will keep you from the late payment repercussions. With my very first credit card in college, I never made a payment on time and had creditors calling me constantly. I was only 18 at the time and knew ZERO about personal finance, but I even knew back then this was not a good feeling to have people hounding you day and night for their $$$.

 

The TL:DR: When it comes down to it, the best thing you can do to improve your credit score is to be aware of how your credit decisions are impacting it. If you know your credit score is low because of the age of your accounts, then don't open anything new for a set length of time. If your credit is affecting your ability to qualify for loans or housing, don't be afraid to call in the professionals for help. Companies like CreditRepair.com can help you monitor and even challenge items that are not fair, accurate and substantiated that may be listed on your credit report. (Click here to explore options with CreditRepair.com!)

 

Managing money after college step #3 – Negotiate your salary

 

 

 

All of the steps on this list are important, but of all of the ones listed negotiating your salary is THE MOST IMPORTANT because it has the biggest impact on your lifetime earning potential.

 

Setting the bar high for your first job out of college means every other job in the future will pay you more. Glassdoor estimates workers could be missing out on ~$7500 per year if they don't negotiate. 

Multiply $7500 by 45 years in the workforce and you see why negotiating becomes so critical.

If you already have a job, try to schedule some sort of performance review after graduation. Let your employer know about your new benefit and see about getting a raise. If you’re interviewing and sending out resumes, make sure that you list your degree and any applicable skills you learned while studying. When it comes time to discuss your pay, make sure you’ve looked up the average pay scale for that job. Negotiate accordingly, and remember that the worst anyone can say is no!

My biggest tips for negotiating:

  • Know your value – Research your industry to see what companies are paying entry-level positions in your area. Know your value so you have a number to negotiate with. Use websites like Payscale.com and Glassdoor.com to get detailed information on your particular field.
  • It’s not always about the money – See if you can negotiate to work from home, 401k match, more paid vacation time, or other benefits into your salary package.
  • Research classes and skills that can beef up your resume in a short amount of time – Think video editing. Graphic design. A course on Grammar or how to use the latest CRM software. My favorites for online courses are Teachable, Skillshare, and Udemy.

 

The TL:DR: Don’t be afraid to negotiate your salary just because you’re right out of college and you’re interviewing for an entry-level position. You have educational experience and personal skills that will benefit the company. Play up those skills and do your homework before you go in for the interview.

 

Managing money after college step #4 – Create a Budget

 

how to set up a budget

 

One of the most common New Year's resolutions is to implement and stick to a budget. Doing your finances can be as fun as a dentist visit, or as exciting as a successful first date depending on how you approach it. 

The biggest sticking point for many people is getting started, so I’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting for you. Below is a quick-and-dirty tutorial for how to create your first post-college budget. 

Want a done-for-you budget printable with a companion excel spreadsheet file (that includes done-for-you calculations? Check out the Financial Best Life Blueprint. With the budget template thats included in the product, you do not need to start from scratch, simply add those item lines and boom! Click here to check out all the FBL Blueprint has to offer.

 

First, what is a budget?

 

Simply put, a budget is how you keep track of how much money is coming in, how much money is going out, and what to do with the money that is leftover. There are more in-depth posts on how to create a budget, although I’ve given the basic “lay of the land” below so you can have a mini tutorial.

 

Building a budget step #1 – Track Your Spending

 

This is always going to be your first step in creating a budget, no matter what age you are. After all, you don’t want to budget $30 for groceries when you’ve been spending $130 each month.

  • Track your money for an entire month, or go back and look at the previous month’s transactions in your online banking platform.
  • Tracking your spending helps you to see where your money is typically going, so you can then turn around and decide where it should be going in your budget.

 

Want to save time on expense tracking? Download the FREE Trim app. Trim automatically analyzes your expenses to see where you can save, but it also tracks your budget to see where your money goes as well. Click here to download.

 

Building a budget step #2 – List Out Your Fixed Expenses 

 

List out all the bills you have to pay each month in order to live your best life. 

This should be super easy.

  • Do you pay rent every month?
  • Have a Netflix subscription?
  • Power bill payment?

Your next step should be making a note of every monthly expense you have, along with their due dates and how you pay them. These are bills you must pay each and every month. Don’t include things like your ipsy box or Starbucks habit as this comes from a separate line item in your budget.

 

Now once you have an idea of your monthly spending and the total amount for your bills each month, it’s time to capture the numbers.

 

Building a budget #step 3 – Capture the numbers

 

For beginners, I always like to recommend the 50-30-20 budget method (50% of take-home pay to bills, 30% to debt and savings, 20% to fun money). The clear, firm guidelines of this budgeting method make a lot of sense, so I built my printable budget template in the FBL Blueprint around this method.

 

A great way to get started is to think of it as a math formula:

 

Income – Fixed Expenses (rent) – Debt Repayment/Savings = Leftover “Play” Money

 

  • Take what you learned about your spending habits from your tracking. Are you constantly spending hundreds on food each month, but not buying clothes on the reg? That’s a sign that you should give yourself more money for food than clothing.
  • The trick is to allow yourself to have fun, just as long as you’re sticking to your goals. Slot in the amount you feel you should spend in each category into your budget template printable or in your own excel spreadsheet or just a piece of paper. 
  • Once you've subtracted your fixed expenses and debt/savings goals, the rest is yours to spend as you please and is the number you should track against when you're out spending and trying to figure out how much you can afford to spend on things like travel, wedding gifts, nights out, etc. 

 

Managing money after college step #5 – Save up a $1,000 Rainy Day Fund

 

 

 

Once you've got a good, working budget, the next step is to save up your first $1,000 so you don't have to live paycheck-to-paycheck, or in fear of an unexpected expense. 

For most people saving money may seem like a low priority. Our brains are usually too tuned in to the instant gratification of spending, (uhm…me. This is me. I have this problem and it’s a lifelong struggle) but a big way to maintain financial security while battling the urge to spend is having a rainy day fund.

 

First, what is a rainy day fund?

 

 

Rainy day fund is different from your emergency fund and is known by many names: the  f*ck off fund, the regular ol' savings account, money under the mattress (seriously, don't do this).

But these are just fancy names for the true purpose of what a rainy day fund should be.

 

Where your emergency fund is used for big financial situations (think 3-6 months safety net for unforeseen financial emergencies), a rainy day fund is used for smaller financial emergencies to help keep you out of debt (like for when the car needs fixing, or a higher-than-average utility bill leaves you scrambling to make up the difference.)

 

I like to recommend having at least $1,000 saved up. This can help keep you on track in the event of (most) emergencies and will give you peace of mind while you funnel the majority of your cash to debt payoff.  

 

If you really work at it and be patient with yourself, it's pretty easy to get to $1,000 either by cutting back, finding money in your budget, or picking up a side hustle.

 

The TL:DR: Take the first step by opening up a high-yield savings account so you have a place to automate your savings to that isn't directly tied to your primary checking account. CIT Bank should be your only option (this is where I keep my savings, too!)  because of its higher-than-average interest rate (25x the national average) and no-fee structure. All it takes is $100 to open and you get rewarded for automatically saving each month. Click here to learn more about their Savings Builder program.

 

 

Where should I keep my rainy day fund?

 

Here are a few ideas on where to keep your rainy day fund:

 

  • High yield savings account (like a free, high-yield account from CIT Bank) that is completely separate from your checking account. This helps you not to touch it unless you absolutely need to.
  • An automatic money-saving app that automatically saves on your behalf (here are my favorites)

 

How do I save my first $1,000 fast?

 

 

Here are a few ways you can save up for that $1000:

 

 

You can call and negotiate bills on your own, but you can also use companies like BillCutters to do the work for you. They'll negotiate lower payments on your behalf and only take a percentage of what they manage to save for you. Then take the extra and immediately put it toward your savings each month. Click here to try it out! You don't pay unless they save you something!

 

 

Managing money after college step #6 – Calculate how much you need to save for retirement

 

 

One of the biggest financial faux pas made by millennials today is not saving enough for retirement. You might think “I have plenty of time to save, I don’t have to start now” – but that is actually the opposite of how you should be thinking. 

 

Of all the steps on this list, this is the one I regret the most. I could have SO MUCH MORE money now, if I'd started saving – and saving consistently – for retirement earlier in my 20's. 

 

  • When it comes to student loans and credit card debt, compound interest can work against you.
  • When it comes to investing, however, compound interest can work for you and be a beautiful, beautiful thing. This is why it is critical to get started as early in your 20s as you can. Because time is on your side.

 

So by starting your saving and investing early, you’re setting yourself up for major growth. 38% of retirees say that if you wait until your 30’s to start saving, you’ve waited too long!

 

How do I calculate how much I need to be saving for retirement in my 20s?

 

The first thing you should do when planning your savings strategy is figuring out how much you will need to retire.

There are a wealth of retirement calculators out there that will help you decide how much you should expect to save to replace your monthly income. 

  • We recommend NerdWallet’s retirement calculator to help you figure out how much you should save monthly.
  • Remember that your retirement savings are meant to replace your income once you leave your job.
  • So, plan to save enough to cover your lifestyle (whatever that looks like!) in retirement. Will you be traveling the world? Or staying at home working part-time? Consider this when calculating your retirement costs.

 

What if I can't invest that much because I'm living on a low salary? How much should I save now?

 

According to NerdWallet, you should try to save 2x the amount of your annual pre-tax salary by the age of 35.

 

This means if you make $40,000 a year pre-tax, try to have $80,000 in your retirement savings by the time you’re in your mid-30’s. This will help your money grow to its fullest.

 

  • CNNMoney also has a super-handy graphic showing how much you should have saved by age 25 depending on your income. Check it out!
  • Another rule of thumb would be to try to save 15% of your monthly income. This can either be post-tax (if your employer doesn’t offer a 401(k) or pre-tax (try setting up automatic debits from your paychecks!)
  • I also like this retirement calculator from Fidelity Investments.
  • Or, if you want something a little more interactive and a LOT more fabulous, you can fill out a free Ellevest investment plan here (Yes, this is an affiliate link and I may receive compensation if you decide to work with them).

 

The TL:DR: While these numbers are nice and easy to use as guides or goals for savings…sometimes they aren't realistic. The key here is to just save something in a retirement account, even if it's only $500 a year.

 

 

Managing money after college step #7 –  Sign Up For 401(k) And Get Company Match

 

 

Your company's 401(k) is the easiest way to start investing in your 20’s. And man, have I missed out on A LOT of retirement money from not taking advantage/going to work for myself during those crucial retirement money years in your 20s.

Here's what you do: Call or go to your HR department and they will gladly help you through the process. Most companies have an online option.

It may be that your company plan has high fees so you don’t want to put all your investments in. If that’s the case at least invest enough to get the company match.

 

The TL:DR: A company match is essentially free money, or rather money you’re owed. Don’t cheat yourself out of the money you’ve EARNED and are entitled TOO. I repeat, at the bare minimum, if your company has a 401k matching program, you need to be signed up for it! I promise you won't feel the money coming out of your paycheck each month.

 

Make Regular Contributions

 

When you are investing, it is important to put in extra dollars to grow your investment, whether you are contributing to retirement or simply a standard investment account. You can either contribute a monthly amount to “max out” your Roth or SEP IRA, or contribute enough to get the employer match on your 401(k) (the match is FREE MONEY, always do this. I'm serious, I know I just said this about but it is so important.

 

Even if you do really stupid sh*t for the rest of your 20s and 30, and ignore everything on this list, always save enough to get your employer match.

 

The best way to ensure you meet the match is to calculate what that is (usually your employer will contribute some percentage of your income, like 3-5%.) So, for example, say you make $50k annually. Your employer will match 5% of that if you put in 5%. This is $2500 annually. Divide this by 12, and you'll need to put in $208.33 each month. Then, at the end of the year, you'll have $5,000 saved for retirement because your employer also kicked in 5%. 

 

Need more ideas on where to cut back?

 

  • Here are 83 ways to save and the five quickest/no-pain things to cut when you're just starting out. Saving is hard – it has to be worked like a muscle in order for you to increase your strength.
  • Either way, putting aside money works in much the same way as saving for other goals: best when you “pay yourself first.”
  • For 2019 the maximum contribution to a 401(k) for single people is $19,000. 401k contributions are pre-tax,  allowing you to lower your taxable income if you contribute. So, if you make $50k and put in $19k for the year, you'll only get taxes on $31,000 which will lower your tax burden substantially.

 

 

 

Managing money after college step #8 – Open an IRA

 

 

Having a 401k and an IRA is like personal finance extra credit. You want to get the match if your employer offers one, but maybe you don't have any additional funds to save for retirement. 

If you want the extra credit, or if your employer doesn't offer any type of retirement savings/incentive you will need to open another account: a Roth or Traditional IRA.  

 

What is an IRA?

 

Even though the tax code is tens of thousands of pages long and way too complicated for many Americans to understand, it still offers benefits to the average American taxpayer. One of those benefits is the Individual Retirement Account (IRA).

The concept of an IRA is based on a provision in the tax code that allows you to save for retirement with certain tax advantages. You want to be able to preserve as much of your wealth as possible, so when you’re ready to celebrate your sunset years you can do so with vacations and fun novelties.

There are several ways you can open an IRA account. Try contacting your local bank, a mutual fund company or an online brokerage. (Ellevest also offers IRA accounts. The investment plan shows, in plain language, how much you’d need to contribute in order to achieve your goals, and it might surprise you how little it takes to get started. Click here to fill out your form and play around with your goals. This is an affiliate link, btw.)

When you decide to create an IRA account, you should know there are two types of IRAs to choose from: Roth and traditional IRAs.

 
What is the difference between a Roth and a traditional IRA?

 

  • Traditional IRA – Your tax burden is reduced while you contribute to the account, but you’ll pay taxes when you withdraw money during retirement.
  • Roth IRA – You put after-tax money into your account. You won’t pay taxes when you withdraw money from the account later.

 

If you’d prefer to pay as much of your taxes during your working years as possible and have peace of mind knowing that Uncle Sam will take a smaller tax bite out of your income later on in life, you should opt for a Roth IRA.

On the other hand, if you need money for income now and would like to take advantage of the tax code to make contributions to your retirement account, select a traditional IRA. You'll need a brokerage account first. 

 

How much can I contribute to an IRA each year?

 

You can’t make endless contributions to your retirement account in an effort to amass a fortune when you’re ready for retirement. There are limits to how much you can contribute.

For 2019, single people can contribute as much as $6000 per year to a retirement account while you’re under the age of 50. After that, you can contribute as much as $7000 per year to the account (contribution rates change each year).

Although your IRA portfolio will grow tax-free, the amount of money that you can deduct from your taxes depends on a couple of other factors, such as your tax bracket and whether you have a retirement plan at work.

This year, those filing single will lose the tax advantage for a traditional IRA once their modified adjusted gross income (AGI) reaches $74,000. Those filing jointly will lose the deduction benefit once AGI reaches $123,000 or more.

This year, those filing single will lose the tax advantage for a traditional IRA once AGI income reaches $137,000. If you file taxes jointly, you lose the deduction once your AGI income reaches $203,000.

 

Can I contribute to both a 401(k) and an IRA at the same time?

 

You may work for a company that offers a 401(k). That benefit will not only offer you certain tax advantages similar to an IRA, but you might also get a bonus if you’re employer matches your contributions.

A 401(k) account places an annual limit on how much you can contribute. So if you’ve maxed out your 401(k), you can still contribute to an IRA. If you maxed them both out (Again, we're talking REALLY GOLD RETIREMENT STARS HERE), you would be capped at contributing $19k for the 401k and $6k for the IRA. 

 

Can I withdraw from an IRA if I need it?

 

Even though the money in a traditional retirement account is technically yours, you’re not supposed to withdraw it prior to retirement. The IRS will assess a penalty if you do so.

 

As of this writing, you’ll pay taxes on the withdrawal amount based on your tax bracket plus an additional 10%. For example, if your tax bracket is 35%, you’ll pay almost half (35% + 10%) of your withdrawal in taxes. Yikes! This is why it's not a good idea to keep your “emergency fund” in any type of retirement investment vehicle or use retirement funds for an emergency. 

 

This is why many financial advisors tell their clients to have about 3-6 months’ worth of expenses in the bank. That way, they’re not tempted to withdraw money from their retirement accounts.

Roth IRAs operate a little differently, though. If you withdraw money from a Roth IRA, you won’t be subject to a penalty because you’ve already paid taxes on the money you contributed to the account.

Federal law allows you to put aside money for retirement in a way that offers tax advantages. Be sure to talk with your financial planner and select the plan that will best prepare you for your golden years. 

 

 

For getting started with investing, especially with IRAs, I like to recommend Ellevest. Ellevest is the only digital investment platform of its kind — a gender-specific approach created for women and designed by women. What I love is that Ellevest helps women unleash their financial power with a customized, goals-based approach in one beautiful platform. You just fill out the goals worksheet and they tell you how much is needed to get there and how investing can help you meet your goals. Click here to fill out your FREE assessment.

 

 

Step #9 – Learn about different investment types

 

 

 

Investment terminology is unnecessarily complicated. And I'm not saying you have to become a Wall Street wiz over night. I'm just saying (and this is an article about what I WISH I'd learned in my 20's about personal finance) that boning up on some investment knowledge is a good idea.

 

This FANTASTIC article by Lifehacker details the specific types of investments you can make (Click here to read, I highly suggest it!) But basically, there are three kinds.

 

  • Ownership Investments: Stocks, Real Estate, investing in a business (yours or someone else's) and tangible items like art, jewelry etc.
  • Lending Investments: This is where you play the bank. There is less risk associated with these, but you do have to have a certain amount of capital. Well-known examples of these are bonds (where you essentially lend companies money) and CDs.
  • Cash & Alternatives: Alternatives include commodities, gold, and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT's…read a great article about these here.)

Funds are also worth mentioning here, although they aren't a type of investment, but rather a product you can pay for which gives you a bunch of different types of investments that are hand picked and managed by an investment company.

You pay a small fee for the convenience of having the fund managed by “experts.”

Well known types of funds include: mutual funds, index funds, target date funds, exchange-traded funds (ETF's) and hedge funds (where I used to work, actually!)

 

What do I need to know about index funds?

 

An index fund put simply is a fund you buy that owns a large portion of the stock market that has smaller amounts. So instead of buying a single stock of Google, Apple, and Snapchat, you buy an index fund that includes those in the fund.

Index funds are popular because of how simple they are, but they don’t work fast. Funds aren't super exciting but it’s the best way to grow your investment in the long term.

 

 

What about dividend-paying stocks?

 

Divident paying stocks can be a “golden goose.” Even after 30 years, if the stock price hasn't moved an inch, but you've been earning yearly dividends of 5% (and have been automatically reinvesting the money) then you will have made a LOT of money.

When it comes to student loans and credit card debt, compound interest can work against you.

When it comes to investing, however, compound interest can work for you and be a beautiful, beautiful thing. Below is just a small example.

 

  • You start with $1,000
  • End of year 1-$1,050
  • Second year-$1,102.5
  • Third year-$1,157.62
  • Year 30-$4,322

 

This is how the rich get richer: By letting their money make them money! Even if it is a small amount at first (as in our example), every little bit helps. Plus, it's been proven that any money you contribute in your 20's in worth more than money in your 30's and 40's. 

Take a shortlist of companies/things you're potentially interested in investing in and go to Google finance (or Yahoo or whatever you prefer) and search for the stock symbol and pull up a chart of that stock.

Looking at the chart we can see the current stock price, any major trends over a long period of time and (most importantly) stock splits, and dividends.

It will show every dividend ever paid, the dollar amount and the percentage when compared to the stock price at that point.

 

Anxious to learn more about investing? I cannot recommend the book by my friend, Erin Lowry, enough. Broke Millennial Takes on Investing is a simple, easy-to-understand read packed with a ton of knowledge on what novices need to know about investing. Click here to get your copy.

 

Managing money after college step #10 – Create a debt repayment plan

 

 

Getting out of debt is one of the best things you can do for your finances, especially in your 20s. Getting out of debt ASAP means you'll have more money later on for big-picture financial goals like retirement and saving up for your first home.  Being student loan debt-free (thanks mom and dad!) helped me to get into my first home, and later on, paying off all my credit card debt helped me to start my own business. 

Suffice to say, none of that would've been possible if I'd been saddled with debt. 

In the short term, creating a debt repayment plan not only increases your financial security, but it will also leave you more money to save and invest every month, reduce your stress, and greatly improve your credit score!

Here are the steps you need to take to create a debt repayment plan that will help you get out of debt faster.

 

Calculate How Much You Owe

 

If you don't already know how much debt you owe, calculating it up is the first step.

Because I'm a finance person, I knew exactly how much I owed because I tracked it in my Net Worth Spreadsheet and in the Debt Tracker that is now in my Financial Best Life Blueprint.

I know it isn't easy to take a good, hard look at this type of number, but I promise it is worth it. You can’t create a plan without knowing what you’re working with.

If you want, you can separate your debts by type (credit card, student loan, vehicle loan, etc), this can help you break down which debt to pay off first and it will make the next step easier. 

 

Choose Your Strategy

 

There are two very popular debt pay off strategies that you can use, the Snowball and Avalanche pay off methods. They were made popular by Dave Ramsey.

Here is a quick break down of both:

Snowball Payoff Method

 

 List your debts smallest to largest and put all your money to pay off the smallest debt first (while making minimum payments to all other debt). Then move along to the next debt rolling the payment amount from the previous debt into the next debt. 

For example, you were paying $245 for debt #1 and debt #2 is $300. You would now pay $545 toward debt #2 to pay it off faster, thus “snowballing” the payment.

 

Avalanche Payoff Method

Make all of the minimum payments on each account, and then put the remaining money you have to pay off debt towards the account with the highest interest rate. This method takes longer to accomplish but will help you reduce the amount you pay in interest. People use this method when they have a lot of high-interest rate loans to pay off.

Once you find your debt pay off strategy, stick to it until all the debt is paid off! You’ll thank yourself for it. And while you’re busy paying off debt, you can try and find ways to save more.

 

 

Find Ways to Save More

 

Let me slap you in the face with this bit of honesty–cutting back on spending is one of the biggest components to successfully paying off debt. But what do you cut? Where do you start?

It can be hard to discern between the things you love, want and need.

 

  • Trim Expenses – Cut out/down on alcohol, eating out, buying clothes, travel, books, and magazine subscriptions. (Tutorial here!)
  • Negotiate bills – use apps like Billcutterz, Trim, and Billshark to help negotiate with some of your utility and subscription bills. They can negotiate lower payments on your behalf and only take a percentage of what they manage to save for you.
  • Try a No-Spend Challenge – While frugality isn't something I preach, write about often, or even enjoy – I'll admit being uber-frugal can come in handy when you're trying to pay off debt. Trying a no spend challenge for a month or two can prove advantageous when you’re trying to find ways to save more money.

Cut all you can, but still want to try saving more?! Consider giving Qapital a try, (especially if you struggle with saving each month). It's one of my favorite money apps. It's free for the first month and then $3 thereafter. I saved $75 my first month with Qapital and the best part is that I didn't feel it. Click here to sign up for Qapital.

 

 

 

Accelerate Your Debt Strategy

 

Paying off debt requires a diligent strategy. Paying it off quickly requires being strategic with your efforts, and the best way to be strategic with your debt is to pay as little interest on your debt as possible. 

There are a few ways to lower interest rates on your debt or negotiate balances but it depends on your credit score and individual circumstances. 

 

 

Student Loan Refi

 

Refinancing is when a lender pays off one loan, and you take out a new one at a different (lower) interest rate and different terms. Refinancing your student loans can save you a ton in interest over the life of the loan, plus, it can lower your monthly payment. This is why it's definitely something worth looking into. Below are a few REPUTABLE companies I like to recommend for those with student loans they're looking to refinance. 

 

 

For those with lower credit, I recommend Earnest as a way to consolidate high-interest credit card or student loan debt. They factor in work history and school records to give you the best rate possible. Click here to discover your rate in under two minutes, with no impact to your credit score.

 

 

 

 

Balance Transfer Offers

 

Credit Card companies sometimes have an introductory 0% interest balance transfer for new customers with good credit scores (usually above 750). This a great way to make progress in paying off your credit card debt if you have high-interest credit card balances.

Not so good if you forget to pay off the debt before the intro end date because you don’t have a debt pay-off strategy already in place. Also, make sure there is enough time to pay off the balance before interest starts accruing (read the fine print), and make sure there is no fee for transferring your balance from another credit card.

 

 

Want to see more balance transfer offers available by credit score? Compare more 0% balance transfer offers here.

 

 

Debt Consolidation

 

This method combines all debts into one big loan with a bank or credit union. All other debts will be paid off and you make one payment under one interest rate. This option may help you save on interest but may increase the time it takes to pay off debt.

However, because a debt consolidation loan extends the time you’ll be paying off the loan, there is a possibility that you’ll be paying more in the long run. Also, not all types of debt may be available for a debt consolidation loan.

 

For those with lower credit, I recommend Earnest as a way to consolidate high-interest credit card or student loan debt. They factor in work history and school record to give you the best rate possible. Click here to discover your rate in under two minutes, with no impact to your credit score.

 

 

Debt Management

 

Debt management is also known as “debt settlement”. Debt settlement/management is where you find a debt management company to negotiate a reduction of your debt balances.

 

On the surface, this sounds like an awesome deal but it comes with a large fee to the debt management company and a big hit to your credit score. And you still have to pay the creditors.

 

There are also many debt management companies out there with nefarious motives; it could be difficult to weed out the good ones.

 

The TL:DR: You should consider a debt management company if your debt has become unmanageable, you’re getting a lot of calls from creditors, and you need professional help getting out of debt. If you're in this situation, we like to recommend Accredited Debt Relief as a reputable provider. Click here to schedule for FREE debt consultation with Accredited Debt Relief.

 

Managing money after college step #11 – Get a side hustle

 

 

Not only will a side hustle make you more money to help bolster your savings and pay off debt faster, but it can also help you develop new skills and network industries outside the one you’re currently in. Not to mention, you can save up pretty darn quick for that $1,000 emergency fund, or any other vacation, trip, concert ticket, or experience your heart desires.

And that is what your 20's are for my friend – experiences. 

You know the saying, “Never keep all your eggs in one basket.” Having a side hustle can help keep you solvent and flexible for the future…you never know.

There are a thousand ways to earn extra money in the new gig economy, and below are a few ideas that can help get you started.

 

Passive Side Hustle Gigs Online

 

These side gigs can easily make you money while you do other side gigs or your full-time job. They just take some time for initial set up but once you get them up and running, you can make some passive income.

 

 

The best side hustle I can think of is blogging, which isn't possible until you buy a domain name and hosting. I recommend Hostgator for the cheapest industry pricing and easy WordPress installation. Investigate Hostgator options here. Using my link you can get hosting for as low as $2.75/month.

 

 

Self-Employed Side Hustle Gigs

 

These types of gigs will take up more of your time but these can be done after work, over the weekends or on your days off but they will make you extra money…and fast. 

  • Drive for Lyft or Uber – Whether or not you have a car, you can drive for one or both platforms. Yes, Uber and Lyft will let you rent a car through their program to drive for them if you don’t have your own car!
  • Care for people’s pets – If you love working with animals, check out Rover. You can puppy sit dogs and cats, watch someone’s turtle while they’re on vacation, or just take dogs for a walk and get paid to do it in your spare time.
  • Babysit with a site like SitterCity.
  • Become a house sitter and literally get paid for your free time with Trusted House Sitters.
  • Deliver food – Get people their food on time with DoorDash and/or Postmates.
  • Be a mover – Help people move furniture and housewares with Bellhop.
  • Help with odd jobsTaskrabbit can help connect you with people who need help with odd jobs like cleaning, painting, plumbing, etc. Click here to download the Tasker iOS app.
  • Virtual Assistance/ Freelance – If you’re good with typing, writing, or transcribing, check out Rev. You can make money as a transcriptionist, captioner, or subtitle translator. You can also make extra money if you know a second language.
  • Teach English Online – Teach ESL online with companies such as EF Education First, Teach Part-Time, and VIPKID.

 

My favorite “quick side hustle gig” to recommend is Instacart because with Instacart you can't go wrong. Since dinner time is one of the most popular delivery, hustlers can easily work a full-time job, then side hustle for a few hours in the evening to make extra cash.   Click here to sign up for the Instacart shopper program  .

 

More Ways to Make Money on the Side

 

These are not traditional side hustles, and you won't make a ton of cash, but if you're like me and believe that when saving and paying off debt “every little bit helps”, then check out the ones below.

  • Earn cash rebates – Use apps like Drop , Rakuten (formerly Ebates), and Ibotta to earn rewards or cash back on things you already buy. Purchase or redeem items through the app and receive cash back..
  • Sell clothing and accessories – If you have gently used or never used designer clothing, sell them on ThredUp or The RealReal. They are luxury online consignment stores.
  • Sell used books – If you have used books or textbooks, find out if BookScouter will buy them back.
  • Sell household items – Declutter your house using the app OfferUp to see if anyone in your area would be interested in buying your household items.
  • Sell DVDs and electronics – If you have CDs, DVDs, books, games, or tech just lying around the house not being used, sell them on Decluttr. They’ll pay a premium price for things like older Sony Playstations, DVDs, Kindles, cellphones, iPods, and tablets.
  • Sell your crafts – Do you make things like jewelry, soap, or other types of crafts? If so, look into selling them on Etsy or Ebay.

 

 

There is really no limit as to how many ways you can make money outside of your regular day job. 

Consider this: Everything in your home used to be money. Why not take the time you save not shopping to earn extra from your old items as well. Click here to order a thredUP closet cleanout , or click here to learn more about consigning high-dollar designer items with TheRealReal.

 

 

Managing money after college step #12 – Fight lifestyle inflation

 

 

 

Personally, I think lifestyle inflation is the hardest battle to fight in your 20's and early 30’s. Especially once you graduate college and you’re earning more money. Before you even know it, your spending creeps up and boom! You’re wondering where the money went at the end of the month.

 

And after being poor and broke for so long, it feels so good to finally have a bit of discretionary income. I get it.

 

But here are some steps you can take to fight lifestyle inflation to prevent it from taking over your finances and putting you back into debt. 

  • Understand what lifestyle inflation really is and when it can happen Lifestyle inflation is when income increases spending increases. For example, the lottery winner goes out to buy a luxury vehicle or mansion. It happens to everyone during bonus time or whenever there is extra cash.
  • Master the money basicsManage your money well, build a budget and stick to it (even when you get a raise or bonus). Save up your emergency fund and rainy day fund and pay off all your debt. Put any extra money toward debt, savings and/or investments.
  • Work on being frugal – Try a no-spend challenge for a month or two just to see what it’s like not to spend on extra stuff. You’d be surprised at how little we need to get buy to be perfectly happy.
  • Identify your wants vs needs – When making a big purchase, try the 24-hour rule. Give yourself 24 hours to mull the purchase over. Ask yourself if it’s a want or need. 
  • Remember, “the Joneses are broke!” – So don’t try to keep up with them. Hang out with friends who have the same financial goals as you, that way you’ll be less tempted to buy the stuff you probably don’t need.
  • Don’t tie your self-worth/success to material possessions – You are not what you own. Your material possessions can be stolen or broken. Focus on what truly matters to you, because chances are…. that probably doesn’t come with a price tag.

 

And don’t beat yourself up if you get caught up in lifestyle inflation, it happens to everyone because it’s a normal process of how we naturally deal with money.

The TL:DR: Live like a frugal/broke college kid as long as you can!

 

 

Managing money after college step #13 – Learn how to set strong financial goals 

 

 

What's the best way to set a financial goal? And what do financial goals even look like? Maybe you had a goal setting class in high school or college and maybe you didn't. Either way, one thing I wished I learned earlier on in my 20's was how to set realistic, attainable financial goals. This way, I could've had something to work toward rather than just spending all of my money in the month. 

I encourage you to think of some of the important financial goals that are important to you right now. Here are a few ideas (and some are even borrowed from action items in this very post!!):

 

 

Here's what is important to remember about setting financial goals:

 

Remember, these goals are your own personal finance goals. So listen to your inner voice and ask yourself these very important questions:

  • What do you want to accomplish financially?
  • Which goal completion would make you happiest?
  • Which goal completion would free you up the most to do something you really want to do? For example, what would you do if all your debt was paid off?

Once you’ve answered those questions, use the S.M.A.R.T methodology to see if the goals you are about to choose are relevant and attainable.

 

How to Take Your Goals and Make Them S.M.A.R.T

 

Let’s take the goal “Save a $1000 emergency fund in 45 days” and apply the SMART methodology as an example.

S – Make your goals Specific: Saving $1000 in 45 days is specific and quantifiable and better than just saying “I want to save money.”

M – Make your goals Measurable: $1000 in 45 days is also measurable by the amount of money we want to save and the time we are giving ourselves to save it.

A – Make your goals Achievable: Based on your financial situation, can you save that much in 45 days? If not, feel free to adjust your goals so it is achievable. Maybe you can save $1000 in 3 months.

R- Goals must be Relevant: How relevant is this goal to you? Do you even need to save $1000? And why do you need to save it in 45 days?

T – Goals must be Time-Bound: Setting a target date is important for your goal. In this case 45 days to save $1000 meets the criteria (or your new target date after going answering the Achievable goal section).

 

 

The Final TL:DR

 

Okay, so this post is almost 9,000 words long. Holy crap. I know I threw a lot at you. So, for those who are looking for a “skimmed edition” below are what I believe to be the most important steps to do when managing money after college. 

  • Chances are that during college you made some not-so-great money decisions. (Been there, totally.) Forgive yourself. First and foremost.
  • One of the most common is foregoing any sort of savings. Once you’ve finished school, you need to open and actually use a savings account! (Here's the one I recommend)
  • Learn more about emergency funds here, including more detail about what it is, why you need one and the recommended amount for an emergency fund.
  • See if your employer will match retirement contributions or if they offer a 401(k). Then make regular contributions – most times you can get them taken right out of your paycheck so you don’t even miss it!
  • Negotiate your salary. 

 

Okay, there, I did it.  I need a long bath now.

 

*Post contributors: Anum Yoon @ Current on Currency, Kevyn Bowling, Torie Winkler

 

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  1. Reply

    Having and respect a busget teached me what are real priorities, like a new mattress and no new clothes….loving this kind of post, thanks for sharing

      • Lauren Bowling
      • May 25, 2017
      Reply

      Yes. It can be hard to tell ourselves “no.” Setting a budget acts as a written reminder. It doesn’t replace will-power and discipline – but it’s a start.

  2. Reply

    I love your line “START SAVING FOR ALL THE THINGS” 🙂

    Sounds like we’re both David Bach fans with the retirement/emergency/dream savings plan! Do you have certain rule-of-thumb percentages or amounts you recommend for each of those savings accounts?

      • Lauren Bowling
      • May 25, 2017
      Reply

      I actually haven’t done much David Bach reading, but I try to aim for setting 30% of my income aside. Depending on what’s most pressing is where the bulk of the money goes. When it was building up and EF – that’s where it went, then retirement. Qapital at least takes care of the rainy day fund as it’s automatic so I don’t have to worry about it. I tend to take the “bigger” dollar amount items on one by one and then move on to the next, but I know others prefer to save incrementally for everything – if that makes sense 🙂

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