Money Advice from Top Recent Grads

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By Chip Cutter, AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — It's graduation season. That means hordes of newly-minted MBA students and undergraduate business majors will soon be entering the work force.

They've spent years studying the intricacies of business and finance. Now, they're ready to start dispensing that financial wisdom on Wall Street and everywhere else.

What will they say? And what tips do they have for the rest of us?

To find out, The Associated Press reached out to some of the top grads at colleges around the country. They shared their advice for saving, managing money and investing during volatile times.

Embrace college frugality

College students excel at living on the cheap. Low-cost meals such as cereal, ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese are staples. And students develop a knack for zeroing in on everything from the cheapest place to do laundry to the best happy hour deal.

Young adults, and everyone else for that matter, shouldn't forget those thrifty philosophies after they move into a higher income bracket, said Brandon Garrett, 22. He recently graduated with the highest grade point average from Texas Tech University's personal financial planning program.

"Frugality shouldn't end with career security," he said.

Garrett keeps a handle on his discretionary expenses by following the "envelope budget." With his wife, he develops a budget every month for things like groceries and entertainment, and places cash for those items in separate envelopes.

"Once those envelopes are empty," he said, "then we're done spending money on those things."

Rachel Nabatian, an undergraduate finance and accounting major at New York University's Stern School of Business, also uses cash and sets a daily budget to make sure she sticks to her goals.

Take the long-term view

Saving is one thing, but investing is another.

The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index is down 11.4% from the high it reached April 26, and some young adults remain skittish about getting into stocks after watching the market tank from 2008 to early 2009.

But Sarah McGinty, a 29-year-old MBA student at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, has some advice. She threw out the passwords to her retirement accounts with Fidelity Investments, and stopped checking the daily price fluctuations.

That's helped her to stay calm during volatility and remember that investments are meant for the long-term.

"If you put money into the markets with the goal of it growing over time, you have to honor the spirit of that investment," she said.

Others agree. Mike Ragan, an MBA student from MIT's Sloan School of Management, said investors are much more attune to losses than gains. So declines of 10% or more can feel painful, motivating people to sell their shares.

His tip: Don't panic if a stock price drops if you still feel comfortable about the company's business.

"If nothing has changed, and it's actually cheaper, you should buy more," he said. "You shouldn't necessarily think that you did something wrong and sell out of it."

Beware of individual stocks

Yet even business students say it's risky to buy individual stocks, unless you have time to dig into a company's earnings and do plenty of research.

Alan Rich, 29, will graduate with an MBA from Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business next month. He says most Americans should look to low-cost mutual funds that track a broad market index such as the S&P 500.

Those funds may seem boring, but they carry less risk than buying shares of individual companies.

"It takes a lot of work to understand how to pick stocks," said Ian Sexsmith, who graduated with an MBA from University of California Berkeley's Haas School of Business about a week ago. "That's a full-time job for a mutual fund manager."

Remember your college curiosity

And, if you still don't think you're ready to start investing, think back to your college days.

On campus, students often felt empowered to question everything — from hard-to-understand lecture topics to the menu selections in the dining halls. That same curiosity should apply to personal finance and investing, said Tanya Louneva, who recently graduated with a bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

If you don't understand something, speak up or ask questions. Louneva recently did that while helping her parents secure a new mortgage, and found it helpful.

"The best financial advice is to be a sponge," she said. "This is the time for us to learn."

That's an enduring lesson, even for those students who attended the top business schoools, said Tom Fazzio, a 26-year-old MBA student from MIT's Sloan School of Management. To be smart investors, it's essential for consumers to keep asking questions.

"You have to know what you don't know," Fazzio said. "I think that's real intelligence."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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