5 Money To-Do's For Recent College Graduates

Finishing college is one of the most exciting times in a person's life. It's filled with possibilities and fun experiences ahead. It can also be one of the most intimidating. All of a sudden, you're responsible for personal bills such as rent, utilities, and groceries. Not to mention your student loan payments kicking in six months post-graduation. 

And if you've landed a job, some of the discussions you'll start having — or at least hearing about through the Human Resources department — might revolve around retirement. 

All of this can sound overwhelming — and it is! I was lucky enough to have an excellent financial education growing up. However, I've realized that this education was a huge privilege that not everyone has access to. This is one of the reasons why I started Her First $100K, and why I give actionable financial advice to millennials.

Over the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to work with tens of thousands of women all over the country through my workshops and private negotiation coaching. There are five things that I tell recent grads, especially when they’ve recently finished school, to do immediately to help them get started on the $100K path while developing smart financial habits. 

  1. Automate money going into a savings account every month.

    This is something that can be easily done through online banking or your payroll platform at work. It’s the easiest way to help build an emergency fund, which should be your first financial to-do. Start with as little as $25 per paycheck. The savings, especially if you funnel it towards   a high-yield savings account, can go a long way, including interest. Remember once it’s in a savings account, pretend it doesn’t exist unless an emergency comes up — such as job loss, medical emergency or an unexpected car repair.

  2. Build Credit.

    It’s important to build a credit history. Your credit score is like your adult GPA. It monitors your responsibility as a money borrower and lets lenders assess the amount of risk they will take when loaning you money.

The higher your score, the more likely you are to get better interest rates. It takes time and commitment to build up to an 800 credit score level, but there are ways to fast track your score and be eligible for those awesome rates. Here are some ways to increase your credit score. 

A great way to get started is by opening up your first credit card. That’s why I’ve partnered with Deserve, which is perfect for those who are building credit. Deserve isn’t your average credit card company, they value educating their customers about smart buying habits. Their process to approve credit applications is more comprehensive than standard industry practices. Deserve uses an algorithm to look at the borrower’s comprehensive financial health and their previous spending habits to determine credit limits and interest rate. I love that each card has a unique spending reward system for users practicing good spending habits. 

Deserve is committed to educating you about credit, personal finance, and more — so you can make good decisions that have a lasting impact on your financial life. Now that’s integrity, y’all. 

3. Avoid High-Interest Debt.

It can be tempting to start spending like crazy right out of college. But check yourself before you wreck yourself — you shouldn't be putting something on a credit card you cannot afford. 

Credit cards and payment plans generally come with very high-interest rates, especially for those who haven't established credit yet. A lot of times, new credit users think that even when they do borrow money, they only need to pay the minimum, and that will make the purchase affordable.

Wrong. 

The average credit APR is between 17-27%. To put that into context, imagine that you borrowed $1000 to buy a bed. If you only paid the minimum payment per month, let's say an average of $25, it would take you 5.1 years to pay off the loan in full. OVER 5 YEARS. You'd pay an extra $511.74 in interest to the credit card company or establishment within that time.

That's a lot of extra money you could be saving by either paying in the bill full, making larger payments, or (better yet) waiting until you can afford the purchase outright. Emergencies happen, but this highlights the importance of an emergency fund, so you're not going into debt trying to pay for something.

4. Negotiate Salary.

When you first start your career, you might think that you should be grateful for a job offer and that you might not have enough relevant experience to ask for more. Before settling on that assumption, make sure that you've done your market research on the industry to see if the company is even within a competitive market range. 

You should also look back at your college classes, extracurriculars, and previous work history. There are plenty of skills that you learned that you can advertise as marketable experience- increase your overall years of experience, which adds value to your offer. And if they ask you what your desired salary or current salary is, follow these tips

By negotiating your salary, you could be making hundreds of thousands to millions more throughout your lifetime? Who wants to miss out on that? (And if you need more guidance, check out my negotiation course held monthly.) 

5. Take Advantage of a 401(k) or IRA.

If you don’t know what they are, a 401(K), and an IRA are tax-advantaged retirement plans. Here’s a quick breakdown of what these accounts mean:

401(k) contributions are pre-tax deductible retirement accounts set up by your employer. This means that the money you contribute here will not get taxed until after you withdraw  it (59.5 years or older preferably otherwise there are MAJOR tax penalties). The yearly maximum is $19,000 Keep in mind you can contribute anything UP TO $19,000 — so if you can only do $2,000, that’s just fine!

And if your employer offers this benefit, in many cases, they will offer some sort of match. A typical match is 3-6% of your salary based upon the amount you contribute. If you contribute 3% — they will too. This is FREE MONEY Y’ALL. And who wants to say no to that? Do everything you can to contribute enough to get the match.

One last thing to remember about a 401(k) through an employer — the money that the employer contributes might not be yours until a vesting period is complete. This can take several years, depending on the company policy. Your contribution, however, is 100% yours from day one. 

An IRA is similar to a 401(k), but is an individual retirement account. You can have both a 401(k) AND an IRA (and probably should!) Check out my beginner’s guide to retirement here for more info about IRAs.

If these five tips seem too overwhelming, some employers, banks, and credit companies provide financial education (as well as yo girl, because um that's what I do for a living!) Deserve is not only an excellent platform for individuals to establish credit — they also value credit education for their customers. 

Adulting is often overwhelming. It's okay if you don't have all these things figured out right now. But following the steps above will set you up for incredible financial success — and I'm here with you every step of the way.


This post was sponsored by Deserve, but as always, all opinions are my own. I will never partner with a brand or organization I do not personally use and/or believe in.


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