Graduating Soon? Be Ahead of the Curve with a Financial Plan
For the Class of 2021, this senior year has already been unlike any in recent memory.
Because of the pandemic, campuses across the country have closed, moved classes online or shifted to hybrid instruction. The economic landscape has also changed dramatically.
As a college senior, you have goals. Check out this guide for managing your finances to help meet those goals as you prepare to toss that graduation cap.
Ready to Graduate?
First things first. Make sure you’re on track to graduate. It never hurts to check – and double-check – especially if you’ve been away from campus attending classes remotely. While you’re at it, check in with the career services office and tap into other helpful resources only available to students.
Knowing exactly when you graduate – even if that means an extra course next semester – could save you time and money, and could give you the green light to apply for any promising job openings that might soon come your way.
Budget for Your Best Life
Being financially healthy starts with setting and following a budget.
Budgeting is all about choices – some are big, but most are small, day-to-day decisions that reflect good habits and financial discipline. It’s as easy as deciding how to make your income support your goals – and keeping track of where your money goes.
Consider the money management tips below for college seniors.
Be your best budget self.
A good place to start: exploring a 50/30/20 budget. By dividing monthly expenses according to three categories – 50% for needs, like rent and groceries; 30% for wants, like entertainment; and 20% for savings, this budgeting approach offers simplicity and stability, while creating opportunities to treat yourself later.
#goals. Define what you want to do – now, tomorrow and later. Want your own place? A newer car? A pet? Your budget should give you an idea of when you can responsibly take on new financial commitments.
Peace of mind. Budgeting well brings more freedom for spending your discretionary funds. Maybe it’s renting a cabin in a secluded spot with your significant other, or upgrading your computer, but following your plan allows you to move ahead without worrying about how you’ll pay for these activities.
List your expenses - and update them.
Prices change all the time, but many costs are predictable. Keep them current to know just how much to set aside.
We’ve all been told it’s impolite to ask how much something costs. While that may be true in some areas of life, keeping an accurate ledger involves accounting for taxes, fees, tips and all the rest.
Commit to saving, and stick to it.
Saving is your investment in the life you want to have. To keep your savings growing – especially in an age of extremely low interest rates – you must feed them a steady diet of deposits.
Try savings automation. Take the decision-making out of the equation: have it happen automatically with common banking tools like EasyUp®, which rounds up your debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and transfers them into your savings account.
Time is on your side. Take advantage of your lack of recurrent payments, such as a mortgage, to build your savings.
Start thinking about your retirement. Yes, even now. Claim any employer match to your 401(k) or 403(b) contributions and build recurring payments into your monthly budget. Starting early can produce fantastic gains over time, with compounding interest and sound strategy.
Rainy days. Help cushion yourself against life’s not-so-welcome surprises. Start by trying to build six months’ worth of income – someday you’ll be thankful it’s there.
Give yourself credit.
As you look ahead to graduation, you’re no doubt aware that the majority of college graduates carry student loan debt – averaging nearly $30,000, according to recent estimates. Steady debt management helps build your credit score which, in turn, helps secure lower interest rates when the time comes to borrow money for a car or a house, or when applying for a credit card.
Tell those who helped you along the way how much you appreciate it. Don’t forget to celebrate your own accomplishments too – achieving one goal gives us fuel to aim even higher.
“Budgeting is all about choices – some are big, but most are small, day-to-day decisions that reflect good habits and financial discipline."
Embrace This Moment
Get started now, and more importantly, stay the course. Personal finance for soon-to-be college graduates is a matter of organization, diligence and flexibility – skills you’ve already shown in spades over your educational career.
Keeping these guidelines in mind – and returning to them when you have a misstep – will help pave your path with stability and opportunity. You’ve got this.