Money Tips: Set Goals
Put some thought into what you want to do with your first real salary. "You have to give your money purpose and direction," says Farnoosh Torabi, host of the podcast So Money and CNBC's Follow the Leader. "Think about where you want to be in a year, and what you're willing to give up to accomplish and afford those things." If you're aiming for grad school, consider moving back home with your parents so you can put extra money away for tuition. Maybe you need to save up for a used car or the deposit on your first rental apartment. Having a specific goal makes it easier to say no to the things you don't need right now, like a new pair of boots or a splurgy dinner out with friends.
Money Tips: Start Saving Right Away
It may seem impossible to squeeze savings out of an entry-level paycheck, but any cash you can start putting aside will be extremely valuable in the future. If your company offers the option of contributing to a 401(k) plan (meaning, putting pretax dollars from each paycheck into a retirement fund), sign up stat, even if you can only sock away $25 or $50 a month. Many companies will match a portion of your contribution, which is like free money since it's in addition to your salary. "Time works in your favor," says Annamaria Lusardi, an economics professor at The George Washington University. "Saving a small amount at a young age results in a larger amount later via the power of interest compounding."
Money Tips: Be Smart with Your Credit Card
Sure, travel rewards and cash back are nice perks, and you should definitely find a card that doesn't charge an annual fee. But no matter which card you pick, it's key to get in the habit of paying off your balance every single month. Although it's tempting to rely on plastic and worry about the bill later, don't go there—you won't believe how quickly credit card debt builds up. Bottom line: "Never charge something to your credit card that you can't pay off in full when the bill comes," says Manisha Thakor, director of wealth strategies for women at the BAM Alliance.
Money Tips: Use Tech Tools
New grads have to deal with major money obstacles, from high rent to student loan debt, but technological innovation is in your favor. "Use an app like Mint to track what you earn and spend," suggests finance blogger Stefanie O'Connell, author of The Broke and Beautiful Life. Or try Sweep, which keeps you on top of upcoming bills, expenses and goals. You can do your taxes online through IRS.gov or TurboTax. And if you have a steady paycheck, set up automatic savings and web payments so you're never late on your utility, cellphone and other bills.
Money Tips: Live on (Way) Less Than You Earn
Get used to living below your means, says Teresa Ghilarducci, a labor economist at The New School and the author of How to Retire with Enough Money. Create a budget that covers your fixed monthly costs and includes regular savings but also leaves wiggle room to cover the inevitable surprise expense. For example, if your take-home pay is $2,200 a month, allocate 90% ($1,980) toward spending and savings, and put $220 into an emergency fund. After a year, you'll have more than a month's pay in reserve in case something unexpected happens—say, your roommate moves out with minimal notice or you need a root canal. You'll have it covered without a visit to the Bank of Mom and Dad.
Illustration By Miguel Porlan