7 Things I Wish I Had Known the Day After College Graduation

Written on 6/19/2008 by Jim who writes about money & personal finance at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity.

If you are a new graduate, congratulations! Everything you’ve worked for during your college career has come to fruition. If you thought college was fun, this next chapter has the potential to be way more fun. You can stop doing homework, at least for a little while, and actually relax at night and on weekends (and be able to pay for it!).

I graduated college several years ago and, in looking back, wished I knew then what I know now about personal finances and money.

I’ve distilled these ideas into the seven tips you see below. None of them are difficult to do, they’re just difficult to remember. If you can do all of these tips you’ll be ahead of the curve.

Set It and Forget It Retirement

When you start your new job, the last thing on your mind is what you’ll be doing when you retire in forty years. However, what you do now will pay big dividends in forty years so be sure to take advantage of the retirement options you have.

Contribute to a 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plan if you can, especially if your employer offers to match a percentage of your contribution. Contribute to a Roth IRA to the maximum every year you can because, hopefully, eventually you will earn too much to contribute and you’ll want to take advantage of tax-free growth while you can.

Need proof of this: If you contribute only $100 a month and it appreciates at 10% a year for forty years, you’ll end up with over $632,000. Set it and forget it.

Seek Mentors

Find people who know more about the world than you do and learn as much as you can. One of the greatest lessons you can know as a young person is that you don’t know a damn thing. All the greats always credit the ones who came before them, the giants’ whose shoulders they stood on – find your giants.

Continue Learning

You may have just graduated college but don’t stop learning. If your new employer offers education reimbursement, use it and use it as quickly as you can. Education reimbursement is like getting a raise in your salary. And, when you’ve completed yet another degree, you’ll be able to command more in the marketplace for your skills and knowledge. All that costs you is time and effort.

Always Be Networking

Networking is really the fancy term for making new friends. Find opportunities to meet new people by participating in as many things as you can. Join local groups interested in what you like, attend work functions (especially if they’re geared towards new employees), and actively participate in local charities or philanthropic groups. Friends give life richness, make as many as you can.

Pay Off Debts

If you have any credit card debts from your freewheeling college years, begin paying those off in earnest. Credit card debt is a weight that will hold you back from your dreams as long as you let it. Your dream isn’t to sell your future so you can have fancy new clothes or glittery new electronics, your dream is to make a good life for yourself and the ones you care for. Credit card debt, and other debts, are holding you back so get rid of those 20% a year interest rate behemoths as soon as possible.

Keep Rent Low

When you move to a new place, don’t immediately go for the swanky new apartment. You just spent the last four years living in college dorms or off-campus housing, hardly Ritz-Carltons, so don’t go locking yourself into high rents for the next year. If you keep your rent low, you can save more and spend more on other, more important, things (like paying off debts).

Enjoy Life, Have Fun!

I went to an engineering school where a lot of people spent a lot of their time hitting the books. I had my fair share of fun but there comes a time when you need to start enjoying life and not focus 100% on work. Remember work-life balance. You can burn the candle at both ends in college because it was only four years, you may be working for forty… your candle isn’t as long as you think. Work hard, but remember to play as well or you’ll end up miserable.

Congratulations once again and go celebrate!

-Jim

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