After all the blood, sweat and tears you’re finally here, taking the first steps on the path to your career. For many 20-somethings your first job is rite of passage into adulthood. For many of you landing a job out of college represents your first regular source of income. No longer being dependant on financial aid or parental generosity to get by, can make your head spin with the possibilities for your first paycheck.
It’s important to remember that the newfound financial freedom comes with its own share of obligations. Meeting monthly payments for rent, household bills and outstanding college debt while dealing with the demands of a professional life can be a lot to handle, especially if this is your first time seriously budgeting. So we’ve compiled a handy checklist to guide you towards a healthy and successful financial future.
While it may be tempting to jump at the first offer you’re given from a new employer, remember that youth is on your side and you’ve worked hard to earn this position. Even if the salary is non-negotiable don’t be afraid to ask questions regarding benefits, vacation time and work hours. Positioning yourself as a tough negotiator within reason won’t get you anymore than a denial, and if it works you’re setting yourself up well for the future.
Just because you’re earning money now doesn’t mean you should feel obligated to change your lifestyle. If you’re happy living with your parents and taking the bus, continue to do so, the financial prudence will only serve you well in the long run.
On the other hand making big purchase decisions early on, such as leasing a new car will hamstring your career path for some time to come as you’ll be restricted in the jobs you can take based on the amount needed to pay off new debt. According to a Fidelity Investments study, 70% of 2013 college graduates had an average of $35,200 in debt, which is an overwhelming amount to owe for someone who just starting their career. The longer you spend saving, the less you’ll need to borrow when it does come time to buy a house or car, which means lower interest payments in the long run.
Instead of incurring new debt and living beyond your means, create a plan for paying off existing student loans in eight to ten years. While your loan may come with a grace period that allows you to forego payment for a time, the interest on your principal amount is still sitting there accumulating so it’s in your best interest to start paying it down as soon as possible.
If your loans are federal attempt to consolidate them to allow easy one-time payments and check whether you qualify for programs such as PAYE that will allow your debt to be forgiven if you make regular payments for a long period of time. Now that your credit score should be on the rise, you can see if it’s possible to refinance any private student loans in order to provide a more manageable rate of interest.
After a few months you should have a good idea of what your real take-home pay is after deductions for tax and retirement. Keep a running total of your monthly expenditures to tally your income against, and find out how much you’re saving each month if anything. Apps like Mint, Pocketguard and Mvelopes for Android and iOS are great for helping you track your money.
The modern job market can be volatile and many first jobs will be taken on a temporary basis with the possibility for permanent employment later on. It’s important to realize that your income may not be guaranteed in the long-term and to have money put away for such emergencies to allow yourself some flexibility.
A good emergency fund should be able to last you about 3 to 6 months. It’s advisable to keep this money in a separate savings account at a different bank to discourage yourself from using the money, shop around and the bank that offers the best terms so you can take advantage of the varied benefits. You may even want to set up auto transfers into your saving accounts to save yourself the temptation of touching the money, and to get you used to living on what you have as a remainder.
While you’re in your 20’s taking care of your health doesn’t seem like the most pressing concern, but falling severely ill can really hamper your ability to earn and your quality of life. While your employer should hopefully be providing some form of insurance, this may be very rudimentary. Get yourself more comprehensive private coverage that will cover you even if you’re between jobs.