Graduating college is as exciting a time as any. It’s a time for celebration, reflection, and ultimately decision-making. “What’s next?” is a common thought on the minds of millions of graduates this spring; maybe a career, graduate school or … well, who knows?
That’s why graduation time is also borderline terrifying.
For most of us, the college lifestyle is pretty is isolated from what a lot of us would consider “the real world”. And while there’s a lot to be proud of when you walk across that stage to receive your diploma, it’s understandable to want to turn around and run the other way towards another four years of campus-life.
The average college graduate has more on their plate right now than they might during a typical week of mid-terms, and it doesn’t help that many students graduate without much left in their checking or savings accounts. (I for one know I was pretty tapped out by the time I put on my cap and gown graduation morning.)
So for recent graduates ready to make the transition from college student to real-life adult, here are four money saving tips that can help you achieve both short-term and long-term financial independence as you consider the aforementioned question we all ask ourselves after graduating: “What’s next?”
1.) Consider a credit card spending freeze and eliminate your interest
First and foremost, I’m a believer in the idea that credit cards are a great way to pay when used responsibly. If you pay on time and in full each month, a credit card can build your credit score and set you up for low ongoing interest rates in the years to come.
However, if you’re a recent graduate who doesn’t currently have the funds to cover credit card expenses, then it’s time to put the card down before you get yourself intro trouble. It’s tough enough to pay down student loans; adding a high minimum credit card payment to the picture – especially one that’s carrying interest – won’t help the situation.
That said, if you’re already carrying a balance that’s accruing interest, it might be worthwhile to apply for a new, 0 percent credit card applied to balance transfers to start paying down your debt interest-free. According to a survey released this year by the Ohio State University, young adults are carrying a lot of bad debt (like credit card debt) and paying it off at a snail’s pace. Moving your balance to a card that does not require interest for 6-to-12 or even 18 months gives recent graduates the opportunity to save some cash while paying down their existing balance.
If you took any type of economics class in college, you know that interest fees can cost you big bucks over the long haul. Eliminate interest and pay down your debt quicker with a zero interest card.
2.) Any income beats no income
Some of us find our dream job when we graduate college. Many of us (and really most of us) do not; not immediately, anyway. That said, just about everybody has a plan – or at least something resembling a plan – when we graduate college, almost all of which require some money.
I spent the first year after college (2009, right smack in the midst of the Great Recession) working at a local pizzeria and saving up cash to move out west. It kept me busy, I ate a lot of free food, and my boss was awesome about keeping my hours flexible enough so that I could steal off for a couple of hours and freelance to build up my resume. It didn’t hurt that I almost never said “No” to a shift and kept my expenses pretty low.
Not to get preachy, but sometimes meeting your goals means making sacrifices and getting dirty – in my case literally. Not only that, I guarantee that any work will look better than no work when a future employer looks at your post-graduation resume.
3.) Get thrifty
Since thrifty became cool in the post-Great Recession years, odds are you’ve already got some of the skills that go into being thrifty down pat. Buying used, taking advantage of your craft skills, and keeping your expenses low are three things that can grow your savings account while allowing you to acquire some cool – albeit replaceable – pieces of clothing, furniture, etc.
In the years since college, I’ve moved in and out of FIVE different apartments. (I’m 26, by the way.) Every time I move, I get rid of more and more stuff. Luckily, the process is pretty simple because I don’t own a lot of really NICE things. Why? Because I’m not quite settled yet, and as I save up for family life in my late-20’s and 30’s, I know what I can live without in the interim.
This doesn’t mean throwing on rags or sleeping on floors; it means buying cheap and not getting too attached to the things you own. Odds are, you’ll be doing a lot of moving around and jumping from place-to-place in your post-graduate years. Save your money for the future and buy frugally in the present.
4.) Set goals and deadlines
It’s a cliché at this point, but the biggest motivators when it comes to saving are personal goals and deadlines. Having goals is great, but setting deadlines makes you serious about saving. This should be simple since you’re used to meeting deadlines in college, though you might want to ease up on any procrastination habits you developed senior year. (Hey, it happens.)
Maybe you want to travel around Europe in 6-to-12 months, or perhaps you’ve got your eyes on a grad school deposit. Whatever your motivation, set some realistic deadlines and get strict about meeting them; you’ll be surprised what setting deadlines can do to your self-discipline and will-power, and pretty soon you’ll have a clearer idea of what items belong in “Needs,” “Wants” and “Can Do Without” categories that were once blurry at best.
Graduating college is as exciting as it is scary. The good news is you’re educated, you’re independent, and fully capable of meeting your goals – you’re just going to need some money to do so. Follow the above tips and you’ll be able to save more, faster this summer and beyond.