The months following college graduation can be chaotic.
Starting your first salaried job, adjusting to a new city, trying to keep in touch with friends — it’s all part of the post-grad life.
But along with that comes financial responsibility. Developing bad money habits straight out of the gate could hinder your ability to build wealth throughout your life.
Below, check out 3 of the biggest money mistakes she sees recent college grads make, and how to avoid them:
Racking up credit card debt
Having credit card debt is never a good thing, but falling into the rabbit hole just as you begin your professional life can have lasting consequences.
“Of course, that can hurt you down the road,” she said. “It can hurt your credit score because you may want to buy a house or buy another car, or something like that, and that can hurt … if you’re not good about making those payments.”
Perry says young people often find themselves in credit card debt when they’re trying to keep up with their peers’ lifestyles, even if they’re aren’t making as much money.
“I’m not a proponent that says credit cards are terrible, don’t ever use one, because they do have their place,” she said. “However, just be careful of the balance that you’re holding, because if you’re not making very much and you’re spending a few hundred dollars in credit card payments every month, that’s money that could be in your pocket to support your lifestyle.”
Ignoring your company’s 401(k)
Chances are, retirement is the last thing you’re thinking about on the first day of your new job.
As far as benefits go, you’re probably more concerned with the gym membership discount or the generous vacation policy. And that’s fine, but the 401(k) plan could actually be the best benefit your company has.
Still, many young people don’t take advantage of a 401(k) because they don’t understand how it works. It’s fairly simple: Setting up a 401(k) allows you to contribute a percentage — be it 2% or 10% — of your pre-tax paycheck to a retirement fund. That money is taken out of your paycheck before you even see it, so the earlier you set up a contribution, the better, because you won’t miss the money if you never had it.
When you’re young, it’s not so much about how much you put into your 401(k), it’s more about when you start (so that your money has time to earn interest and grow into more money), and how often you contribute. And if your employer offers to match the money you put in, Perry says you’d be “foolish” not to contribute.
“Even if you only put a few per cent away and your employer matches it, it’s better than nothing,” Perry said. “Even if it only equates to $US20 or $US30 a paycheck … it’s still better than nothing, you’re still invested and that’s the important part.”
Having no plan for paying off student loans
The unfortunate reality is that an increasing number of college grads are drowning in student debt. But paying back that debt is unavoidable, no matter how long you put it off or pretend it doesn’t exist.
Perry says she often sees recent grads start a new job or sign an apartment lease without factoring in student loan payments.
“I tell people, look at that as long-term debt, incorporate that in your monthly budget every month like you would a car payment, like you would your electric bill,” she said.
“So when you set up your monthly budget — which you should do whenever you start a new job or have new expenses — how much goes out every month for cable, or cell phone bill, or food? Student loans should be one of those,” Perry said.
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