10 Financial Basics for College Students and Recent Grads


Money is a great source of stress for many people, particularly those just starting out. How can you afford to save for emergencies or retirement on an entry-level salary? How do you go about building credit without going into debt? And what about the intimidating world of investing? If you want to create a path to financial security, you must put in some time and effort into learning how to budget, save and invest. Read on for the ten financial basics college students and recent graduates should start doing right now.


Create a Budget

The very first step to financial success is creating a budget. Determine your monthly expenses and enter them into a spreadsheet. The key to creating a successful budget is to closely monitor your expenditures and commit to sticking to your budget.

Monitor Expenses

Monitoring your expenses helps identify areas where you’re overspending. Maybe you discover that eating out too much is hurting your ability to stay within budget. You can then make plans to eat more at home and dine out less often or only on special occasions. Utility bill seem a little high? Try bumping up the thermostat a couple of degrees in the summer and down a few in the winter.

Automate Savings

Saving isn’t easy if you’re living on an entry-level salary. One way to ensure that you save regularly is to automate your savings. Once you get used to putting aside money regularly you will adjust your expenditures to accommodate the savings.

Maximize Retirement Contributions

If your employer offers retirement contribution matching, take full advantage of it. The sooner you start saving for retirement, the better. Don’t have a retirement plan through your employer? You can open an IRA or Roth IRA on your own and contribute up to $6,000 a year as of 2019.

Price CompareĀ 

Always compare prices. There are many websites and apps that help you compare prices across websites. When shopping in person, note the prices of items you regularly buy at different stores so that you know what to purchase where. Also pay attention to cost per unit. Sometimes buying in bulk will save you money, but sometimes it isn’t worth it. When shopping for services, get several quotes before making a decision.

Learn to Negotiate

Negotiating prices can make people uncomfortable. But if you’re willing to walk away from a purchase, don’t be afraid to negotiate prices. Of course, negotiating isn’t always possible. However, when dealing with service providers, negotiating a lower price may be as simple as asking or stating that your budget won’t allow for the listed price. When dealing with healthcare providers and medical bills, speak to a billing rep and tell what you’re able to pay. Usually they will allow you to work out a payment plan that you can manage.

Cancel Unused Services

There’s a good chance you’re paying for something you don’t use or really need. Whether it’s an app or magazine subscription, it’s time to purge unnecessary charges from your bank account. Sit down with your bank statement and credit card bills. Look for items that you don’t really need. Maybe it’s a cable service when you usually watch Netflix. Or a subscription box filled with products that end up collecting dust.

Take Advantage of Cash Back Apps and Websites

If you shop online frequently, you can receive money back from sites like Rakuten. All you have to do is make a purchase at your favorite retailers and get cash back. When shopping in store, apps such as Ibotta give you cash back for purchasing certain products. Over time, this can add up to significant amounts that build up your savings or put towards a major purchase.

Start Building Credit Responsibly

The weird thing about having a good credit score is that you have to borrow money or take out credit cards in order to “prove” you can handle money. You might think that by avoiding debt or credit cards that your score will be good. However, no credit history can hurt you if you ever plan to borrow money for a major purchase such as a house or car. So how do you build credit when you don’t want to go into debt? The simplest way to increase your credit score is to apply for a credit card, use it regularly for small purchases and pay the balance in full every month. This method will prove that you are financially responsible without forcing you to borrow a lot of money or carry debt.

Don’t Be Intimidated by Investing

Investing is risky. But if you ever plan to retire, you’ll probably need to invest as regular savings accounts don’t offer high enough interest rates. However, you shouldn’t invest more than you’re prepared to lose. Luckily, apps like Stash make investing easy for those with little money and investing experience. You can choose how much you want to put in, set up automatic investments and pick your level of risk. Once you get comfortable with the ups and downs of the market, you can start invest more.

It’s okay to be intimidated by money. There are so many things to think about – saving, budgeting, investing and retirement planning. But financial security is important to your mental and physical well-being. Therefore, you should work on the areas above to ensure that you are prepared for the future.