Happy New Year! I know that I have been busy, but I do come bearing gifts (of wisdom).
Graduating from college is a big deal. Not just for the education obtained, but for the commitment of focusing oneself for 4-5 years on a goal. All of those years of taking courses, managing your time, balancing assignments of varying priority, dealing with emergencies, and making it to the finish line. It’s definitely more than an academic endeavor. College in many ways shows prospective employers that you are ready to take on the rigors and responsibility that come with real work in the real world.
In my contemplation of graduates, I thought that it would be cool to share a few financial words of wisdom as they prepare to venture out into the real world. Here are my ten pointers for young professionals coming out of college:
1. Save 25-35% of your net pay. You never had the money before, so you will never miss it. Start building your war chest of savings now, because it will come in handy later.
2. If you have student loans, use every disposable dime (after saving per #1) to pay it off. I’m serious. Get rid of those loans.
3. INVEST money in 1-2 custom-made suits, custom-made shirts, some high-quality shoes, and a nice coat. It will cost some serious money, but if you are on the lookout for deals (i.e., finding a quality tailor, looking out for yearly deals from stores like NORDSTROM, tagging along to a friends and family event at a luxury retailer, etc.), you will be amazed by the money that you can save. There will be times when you need to look like you have a million bucks. Be ready.
4. Start developing a Secondary source of income. Start off with a Stock Dividend Fund, a Municipal Bond or Treasuries. Then, consider investing in an investment or rental property. Invest in a business or restaurant. Whatever. The point is, you will do yourself a favor by growing a source of income that is NOT from your job. Don’t be a slave to a paycheck.
5. Sign Up for Match – As in your 401(k) Match. Since your income is expected to be relatively low, here’s a retirement savings trick that I would recommend – Contribute to your 401(k)/Roth 401(k) just enough to secure the company’s match (which is free money), stop contributing after that and max out a ROTH IRA. Many employer Retirement Savings Plans have mediocre investment options at best and are full of hidden fees. Having a Roth IRA allows you to build assets that you can control with many cost-effective, high performing investment options.
6. CASH rules EVERYTHING around me (CREAM). If you can’t pay for it with cash (and I’m not referring to your savings), don’t buy it. Credit is not an extension of your income. It is BORROWED MONEY. Nothing is sadder than seeing a young adult paying on a credit card balance for clothes that he/she bought a year ago, or for a trip that you took two summers ago. Learn to live your life and pay your bills with cash. You will thank me for it later.
7. Be Pennywise… and I don’t mean that big-headed clown from It. Live frugally. Notice that I did not say “cheap”. Being frugal is all about being an informed and vigilant consumer. You take the time to shop for the best deal possible, You take the time to research alternatives and options (rummage sales, goodwill stores, etc.). You make informed decisions. You set limits for how much you will spend and you try your best to stay within those limits. You budget and save for big purchases and you set aside funds for splurging. You understand who you are, what your attitude is about money and try to protect yourself from yourself. It takes practice, but you will be thankful that you did this now vs. later.
8. Understand that all things that glitter, isn’t gold. You will have friends that have a new car, bought those $100+ jeans, partied last weekend in VIP at ‘the club’. They’re living this fabulous lifestyle. However, they have no assets, bank account is just above the minimum (if not constantly incurring overdraft fees), and they’re barely making ends meet. This is not a judgement – just an observation. When you’re young, its natural to want to go out and have fun, but you have to be smart. If you need a car, buy a used one with cash (you will be amazed by what you can get for $5-10k). Budget for that fun and don’t get carried away. Leave charge cards at home and pay with cash. If you plan to do it up big, plan for it a month or two in advance and work it into your budget (Note: that you will have to cut back somewhere, so be prepared to paper bag your lunch for a few weeks). The point is, everything has a cost, so be considerate of what frivolous spending can have on your long-term goals.
9. Luxurious Living costs you big time. Thinking about moving to the “hot urban areas” with the brand new apartment complexes? With one bedrooms costing nearly $2,000/month ($24,000/year), you say “what the heck… you only live once, right?” That may be true, but if you were able to find a studio a few miles away at $1.250/mo ($15,000/year), you can save $9,000 year which could go towards, savings, investments or retirement. That same $9,000 saved in that one year could grow to $235,197 in 40 years towards your retirement (assumed the 30-yr return of the S&P 500 of 8.5%).
10. Speak to a professional. You may not necessarily be ready to work with a financial advisor year-round, but it doesn’t hurt to pay a few hundred dollars to meet with an accountant and a fee-only advisor to discuss tax, budgeting and investment strategies for the ensuing 6-12 months. Also, you can utilize tools like Mint.com , Betterment.com, Learnvest.com, if you feel comfortable and savvy enough to navigate through this with a little help.
Well, I hope that this information is useful to you. Please provide me with feedback via twitter. I would love to hear from you. Thanks and watch those pennies!