The weirdest day of my life was the day I graduated from college. The long, arduous, thrilling journey all came to culminate in one short ceremony. Afterwards, when my family was on their way back home and my cap and gown were tossed onto my bed, I stood in my room with only one thought: now what?
Life after college can be an overwhelming time of transitions, but one of the most daunting aspects has to be personal finances - or lack thereof. How do I pay for rent, groceries, and coffee without the aid of student loans? Speaking of student loans, how do I pay off a large sum of money when I have little to no income? In short, I was financially illiterate. Meaning I needed to learn how to earn, budget, and save. This was ten months ago, and I've by no means figured it all out, but since this is Financial Literacy Month I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learned along the way.
Earn it: You can’t learn to manage your money if you don’t have any. Finding a job in our current market can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. I walked around my neighborhood until I found someone who was hiring. I got a part-time, minimum wage job at a coffee and yogurt shop. Maybe it wasn't what I went to school for, but we all have to start somewhere. Other great options for finding work are job fairs and staffing agencies (which is how I got hired at United Way).
Budget it: Or, find a website that does the work for you. I personally bank with Harborstone Credit Union and their website has all kinds of features to help you set a budget and stick to it, including an option to receive a text whenever you're approaching your budget limit. See what resources your financial institution offers, or try Mint.com. It’s a free website that works with any bank or credit union, and has all the bells and whistles to help keep you on track.
Know your challenges: Everyone has unique financial challenges that can make saving and budgeting tricky. Identify your personal challenges and deal with them specifically. If you’re a recent graduate like me, your challenge is likely called “student loans”. I’ve picked up a couple of tips for that too:
Know your loans: Know them like the back of your hand or the front of your face or whatever part of your body makes this metaphor work for you. When are you scheduled to start repaying? What will your monthly payments be? Who is your servicer? If you're not sure about any of this, there's a handy little thing called the National Student Loan Data System where you can find out. You may be able to defer your loans. Figure out what you're able to pay every month and make arrangements.
Consolidate: If you have private loans, you can go through a bank such as Wells Fargo. If your loans are federal, you can do it right from the Federal Student Aid website. While you're there, you can also set up automatic bill pay. They'll send you an email every month before the money comes out, so you can make sure you're not going to overdraw your account.
Be realistic: This goes for any financial challenge. It’s good to have ambitious goals, like paying off your student loans in two years, but if you're unemployed, eating ramen and trying to sneak onto the bus in a horse costume, it might be time to set smaller steps. This is okay, we all encounter roadblocks. But with hard work, planning, and a little bit of financial know-how, we can all reach our goals.
What are your financial challenges? What about challenges that you’ve overcome? What tips do you have? No matter where we’re at in life, we all have something to learn from each other. Leave a comment and share your story!