New College Graduates Learn Reality Bites With Personal Finances

Those screams coming from the recent class of 2004 college graduates may not be shouts of joy, but rather screams of frustration.

With each spring, an annual rite of passage takes place; thousands of college graduates will be hitting the streets in search of their first "real" job. But the "real" facts of life that often accompany the exhilaration of landing a job are poor money management and more debt. The first "real" paycheck is a very deceptive one. Most graduates feel "rich" when in reality they are not even close. Approximately 65 percent of undergraduates are already $13,000 in debt by the time they find their first job. (Source: 1997 Nellie Mae Foundation Survey)

The most common mistake that many new graduates make is not planning their finances, as they make a transition to a higher income level. Many graduates spend their money as though they are millionaires, instead of trying to get out of debt. While many graduates skimped during college on little money to make ends meet, actually living on a budget with a real paycheck can be difficult to grasp.

Financial planning is critical for recent graduates, says Randy Schuldt, a vice president with, a new Web site designed for the three out of four Americans who hate financial planning. offers visitors financial information that reflects their needs and station in life. provides loan calculators, credit card calculators, tips on how to create a solid financial plan as well as audio tips from Chris Farrell, host of PBS's Right on the Money.

"I never had much money during school, so I really stuck to a budget," says Tony Andersen of the Twin Cities. "All of a sudden I have a huge paycheck and the first thing I did was buy a new Jeep. Looking back, I could've purchased a used car and had money left over to pay off student loans. Now I'm in the situation where I need to follow a very tight budget. I can't always go out with friends or buy new clothes - I have to make do with what I have and pray for a raise."

The first time a newly, employed graduate touches their first professional paycheck, visions of new cars and shopping sprees at the local mall start dancing through their heads. For recent graduates, the old saying of "earn more, spend more" usually holds true.

Schuldt and offer 10 easy tips that new college graduates should consider to begin establishing healthy money management habits.

Track your spending. It's important to understand exactly how you spend your money. Take all your recent tax stubs, checkbook register and credit card bills and divide your expenses into categories, such as, savings, rent, bills, insurance, food, utilities, entertainment and miscellaneous and track them in a notebook for 60 days. It won't be long before you see exactly how you're spending. You will probably be shocked, actually. But this exercise will help you understand how to eliminate unwanted spending and how you can free up funds to invest.

Invest in a 401 (k). Some employers have a waiting period before you can start investing in the 401 (k), but start as soon as you can. Most employers provide a matching contribution, meaning they match your contribution up to a certain percentage. That's free money! By not investing in the 401 (k), you're not only passing up a golden opportunity to accumulate retirement funds, you are passing up free money. Contribute up to the current allowable limits, because your contributions automatically lower your taxable income.

Back to Black. We're not talking about AC/DC. We're talking about getting out of debt and back onto sound financial ground. To see black, pay off higher rate loans first (i.e. credit cards). Many recent college graduates average 10 credit cards, charging everything from beer to books to pizzas. Before they realize it, they have a hard time making the minimum payment. First step: cut up the cards you no longer need and when they are paid off, make sure you call and cancel those cards.

Besides credit cards, many graduates have student loans that must start being repaid after graduation. According to the 1997 Nellie Mae Foundation survey, approximately 12 percent of a recent college graduate's monthly income goes toward paying student loans. If you're having difficulty paying your loans, contact the loan agency immediately. Most providers are willing to work out payment schedules that are beneficial to both parties. Some loan providers reduce the percentage rate if your payments are taken from direct deposits.

Emergencies. Stick to the rule "If you can't pay cash, then you can't buy it." Have one credit card for personal emergencies only and another for work expenses. Don't use them unless you absolutely need to. Also, build up an emergencies-only savings account. Experts suggest saving an amount equal to three months' salary for emergency car repairs, sudden travel or other emergencies.

Pay yourself first. That means, out of each paycheck put $25 or $50 or so into your savings account or a mutual fund. The goal is to create a healthy savings habit, and more importantly, begin building funds to accomplish some of the dreams you want to accomplish in life. If you have difficulty saving, try's Instant Investor. Instant Investor will automatically deduct a minimum of $25 from your checking or savings account and invest it in a mutual fund. Experts say that financial success starts with how much you save, not how much you earn.

Get a roommate. You have to pay rent, utilities, food and sometimes parking. What was once a $650 a month apartment can easily turn into $850 a month in living expenses. Instead, find a trustworthy roommate and split the rent, utilities, parking and sometimes the groceries. Bring lunch to work. It's easy to get caught up with coworkers going to lunch everyday. If you spend an average of $6 per lunch and multiply that by 20 work days that equals $180 a month. By bringing your lunch to work you could be investing $2,160 a year.

Take public transportation. Most employers work with state transportation departments to provide employees with discount passes. A monthly pass could cost you anywhere from $60-$80. On the other hand, if you drive to work everyday, parking in ramps or lots could cost anywhere from $100-$300 a month, not to forget car maintenance, insurance and gas.

Get a Second job. Consider taking on a second job at a favorite store, such as the Gap or Banana Republic, which may provide an employee clothing discount. Use the extra money you make to reduce your bills as fast as you can.

Meet with a financial planner. Finally, get some expert help. A financial planner can help you get off on the right foot, by helping develop a long-term financial plan that will make your hard earned money work harder for you.

By starting a financial plan immediately after graduation, recent graduates can start to develop effective, healthy money management habits that will last a lifetime. These habits will help you reduce and avoid debt and make your money work harder for you. For more information on managing your finances, visit

Remember, financial success is not determined by how much you earn, rather by how much you save.

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