The New Grad’s Guide to Staying Out of Debt Part 2

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For the class of 2008 it is time to prepare for some life lessons beyond Econ 101.

"Just managing your expenses and realizing how expensive everything is," can be real shocker once you leave the dorm, says Anya Kamenetz, author of Generation Debt.
And while for some grads, the "real world" will mean cashing a big signing bonus, for others, it will require trying to stretch an intern's salary far enough to cover rent.

No matter where you and your diploma are headed, MainStreet has a two-part roadmap to financial well-being.

START TO ESTABLISH CREDIT
Upon graduating, you should get a copy of your credit report for "a first look at where things are," says Kamentz. She suggests annualcreditreport.com, which offers a credit report once every 12 months.  Tory Johnson adds that even if you’re a total newbie and you don’t think you have anything on your credit report, you should check anyway to make sure it does not have any inaccuracies on it.

And even if you don’t have a credit score yet, you can start to transition any contracts that may have been under your mom or dad’s name – such as your cell phone or your car payments – to your name, adds Johnson, founder and CEO of Women for Hire. That way you’ll establish good credit by paying your bills on time, which will help you rent an apartment in the future, among other things.

LEARN HOW TO NEGOTIATE
One of the best ways to achieve a reasonable living budget is negotiating the highest salary possible at your first job. According to Johnson, most job candidates do not negotiate, although men are four times more likely to haggle over their salary. As a result, Johnson says, most women, can lose out on approximately $500,000 in earnings over the course of their career. Check salary.com or payscale.com for ballpark entry-level salary figures in your industry. "You may never, ever be comfortable with [negotiating your salary]," says Johnson. "But you have to do it anyway.”

UNDERSTAND YOUR BENEFITS PACKAGE
If you are fortunate enough to have a first job out of college with a benefits package, get intimately acquainted with the benefits because they can be as valuable as your paycheck. Be especially on the look out for benefits that can help you penny-pinch, says Johnson.  For example, some companies will reimburse the whole or part of your commuter expenses, she says.

SET UP A PERSONAL FINANCE BLOG
Set a financial goal for yourself and create your own personal finance blog to kept yourself on track, says Kamenetz. You may gain readers who will encourage you along the way. For inspiration, try reading some of the personal finance blogs on pfblogs.org, or on MainStreet's daily blog roundup.

JOIN A MONEY CLUB
A money club can encourage you to say out of the red and give you a sounding board for tough financial decisions. “Get about four or five people together and pick a book about money to read like a book club,” says Christine Hassler, life coach and author of 20 Something Manifesto. Should you put that new laptop on your credit card, or save up until you can pay in cash?  Should you take a second job on weekends, or ask your current boss for overtime pay? Ask your club!

START SAVING FOR RETIREMENT
We know, you just started working, and it is already time to plan for when you stop? With an entry-level job salary and student loan debt staring you down, starting to save for retirement might sound insane.  But it’s best to start now so interest will grow over the coming decades. “Begin investing right away – you do not have to be making a lot of money to invest,” says Hassler. “Most young people don’t know you can start with as little as $100!” Kamenetz suggests an individual retirement account, or IRA, as an option for those who do not have a 401(k) retirement fund at their place of work.  If you do have a 401(k), make sure to ask if your company will match. Got it? OK. Class dismissed.

And congratulations graduates!


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