6 Things to Accomplish in Your First Year After College

Life after college is about more than just landing your first job. Here's what you should focus on.

Now that your college years are behind you, it’s time to begin another chapter in your life. While you may have been juggling school work, a part time job and a social life all at once, post-graduation brings a whole new meaning to “adulting.” In the next few years you may be looking to purchase a home or start a family, but for now, let’s look at a few things you should try to accomplish your first year after college.

1. Travel

You may soon realize that it can be difficult to find free time to travel when you start working a 9-to-5 job. Therefore, consider traveling the summer after graduation. It’s a great chance to see places you may not be able to see when you begin working full-time. Traveling can help clear your mind and relieve the stress of those last few college finals. It’s understandable to find it hard to even think of traveling with your student loan payments looming large, but you may regret not doing so when you begin working. Consider making an allowance in your budget for travel and remember not to add on any more debt! (Pro tip: A travel rewards credit card is a great way to help pay for your travel, and if properly managed, can also help you build your credit.)

2. Land a Job

Of course, the reason why you went to college to begin with was to establish a career. Chances are your first job won’t be your last. Now is a good time to start a job where you can learn new skills that can be used later in your career. Don’t be afraid to take a job that doesn’t directly align with your college major. You can learn something new in every job, and remember you are building skills and your career is a path.

3. Learn to Network

While networking may not sound so thrilling, learning to engage with other professionals and sell yourself is an important life skill. Learning to network is a stepping-stone to enhancing your career. It helps to improve your communication, build relationships, generate ideas and lets you stay current on trends related to your major.

4. Get Your Finances in Order

Graduation is a great time to revisit your finances and make necessary adjustments. Now that you’re out of college, your expenses and income will be different. This means making changes to your budget, taking into account any new expenses such as rent, travel costs for work and, unfortunately, those pesky student loans. Knowing exactly where your money is going can help free up some cash flow, which you can use to help pay down student loan debt.

Make sure you gather all your information regarding your student loans. You will soon be responsible for the repayment of these loans, so the more you know and understand about them, the better off you will be.

5. Open a Savings Account

For those who don’t have a savings account, now is the time to open one. If you’re working, consider opening an employee-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401K or an individual retirement account (IRA). While you may find it difficult to contribute when you have student loans, the earlier you begin savings in these accounts the better. Starting early will give your money more time to grow. Even saving a bit in your first year out of college will make a difference in the long run.

6. Accept Change

After college, you may be faced with a few changes you’re not quite used too. Whether it be starting a new career or moving to a new city, expect some challenging transitions in your first year out of college. This is not to scare you: Change can be a good thing, and when you embrace it, you can make the best of these changes.

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5 Smart Money Moves to Make After Graduation

There are so many decisions you need to make leading up to that first day. Here's what you need to know.

Starting your first job can be overwhelming. There are so many decisions you need to make leading up to your first day. Then there are all the decisions you need to make during the first week, so much so that you need to know the right questions to ask to avoid making any glaring mistakes.

I remember the weeks leading up to my first day. I was moving from Pittsburgh to Baltimore to work for a huge defense contractor, and I was a mess. It was my first real job, with a real paycheck. I was putting a huge deposit down on my first apartment. I bought a new car. I was overwhelmed by the huge employee manual, and my human resources rep asked if I wanted to contribute to a 401K. A 401—what?

I had no idea what I was doing.

Fortunately, I had a friend who had done this all before and he gave me some great advice. When I look back, I’m thankful for his guidance because he helped me avoid many headaches and build up an above-average net worth. Here’s what he told me.

1. Build Up Your Emergency Fund

An emergency fund is a crucial defense against financial disaster. Whether it’s an accident or something needing repair, an emergency fund helps you manage the problem without you having to go into debt. (Here are a few ways to turbocharge your emergency savings.)

When you don’t have a fund and your car breaks down, how will you fix it? You still need to get to work or you might get fired, which is worse than a broken-down car. If you don’t have the cash, your only choice is to put the costly repair on your credit card with its double-digit interest rate. Now you have a problem made much bigger by debt. (Debt can have a significant impact on your credit as well. You can see how by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

Make the choice to start an emergency fund. At a minimum, have three to six months’ worth of expenses saved. Disaster will strike, so start saving today so you are ready.

2. Save for Retirement

When you start making real money, it’s time to start thinking about retirement. Retirement is a long way off, but your decisions today can have a huge impact on when and if you’ll be able to retire when you want.

If your employer offers a retirement plan, learn the details on how you can benefit. Many employers that offer a defined contribution plan, like a 401K, usually offer incentives for you to contribute. My first employer matched 50% of my contributions up to 4% of my salary. When I contributed 4% of my salary, they added an extra 2%.

With investments, time is your best friend and saving early is key.

If your employer doesn’t offer a 401K plan, you can still invest in a taxable brokerage account or turn to an IRA. In those accounts, you can take advantage of index funds, which are some of the cheapest and best ways to invest money.

3. Keep Housing Costs Low

Remember this important money ratio: Keep your housing costs less than 30% of your income. It’s easy to fall in love with an awesome apartment or house in a new area. And it’s easy to commit to a high monthly payment because you tell yourself it’s worth it. But don’t fall into that trap!

By keeping your monthly fixed costs low, the largest of which will likely be your housing, you can save more money or use it to pay down debt like student loans.

4. Get Enough Insurance

Insurance is something you pay for and hope you’ll never need to use. If you end up needing it, however, you’ll be glad you have enough.

How much is enough insurance? That depends on your financial and family situation. If you’ve had time to build up a sizable emergency fund, you can increase your deductibles. If you don’t have a big emergency fund, you can keep your deductibles lower for now. Once you build up those reserves, increase the deductible to something with which you’re comfortable.

5. Build Your Social Network

This may not seem like a financial decision, but it is. Work toward building a network of friends and professional contacts in your field. The vast majority of jobs are not filled by being listed on a job site but through referrals. I got my second job, and a 15% raise, because of someone I knew.

Building up a network doesn’t have to feel slimy. It’s as simple as maintaining existing relationships and finding places to meet new people. It will also help make life a little more interesting.

Image: SolStock

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7 Things People Don’t Tell You About Life After Graduation

Adult life can be tough. Here are some hard truths new graduates should know as they head into the world.

I got my first job out of college pretty quickly. In fact, I started the day after I wrapped up my full-time internship. In hindsight, I probably should have asked for at least one day between, but I was too eager to please my bosses to do so.

Within two weeks of accepting the offer, I managed to find an apartment and a roommate. I left the last day of my internship with a mattress stuffed into my Honda Accord, enough clothes for the work week and little else. I figured I could move the rest of my things on the weekend.

That night, I ate takeout Chinese food on my mattress on the floor, and read my roommate’s copy of William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” until it got too dark to see (I hadn’t brought lamp with me). That was how adulthood started for me.

Life after college gets real. Adjusting to being on your own can be a struggle, especially if you’ve been reliant on your parents to pay your taxes and schedule appointments and tell you to wake up before noon.

Here are some other things people might not tell you about life after graduation.

1. You Might Not Get a Job in Your Major

If you majored in basket weaving or worse, journalism, you might not find your ideal job right away. That’s OK. You have little experience. (Here are 50 tips for recent grads looking for work.) There’s no shame in taking an internship or even volunteering to brush up your resume.

You may also end up taking a job completely unrelated to your field of study. This is a good idea if you have student loans coming due. And you might end up loving the job. I have a friend who majored in geology and works as a computer programmer, and another who studied anthropology and works in property development and they’re both doing great. Your path will take you to unexpected places. Changing direction isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

2. You’ll Probably Change Jobs. A Lot

If it isn’t already, the idea of holding the same job for your entire career is fast becoming antiquated. Changing jobs is sometimes the best way to get a raise or a better title.

Because of that, you need to make sure your resume is tip-top, you’re charming in interviews and you don’t burn any bridges. A broad network of colleagues is going to be important throughout your career.

3. Money Isn’t Everything … But It’s a Big Deal

Taxes, saving for retirement, dealing with student loans, rent, dinner and everything else you’ll shell out for as a grown-up will occupy a big part of your brain power. Be sure you’re getting the right information on all these things. There’s plenty of advice on Credit.com and elsewhere online.

Many job-related questions should be directed to your human resources department. Your parents or peers can help you with budget advice. Be sure to ask if you’re confused about anything. Complacency with money can lead to long-lasting and damaging consequences. (That includes damage to your credit. Check on yours with a free credit report snapshot on Credit.com.)

Money is complicated and not always in your hands. The economy can tank unexpectedly. You’re going to screw up. You’re going to have setbacks. But if you start laying a solid foundation now, you’ll have a better chance of bouncing back.

4. You Need to Develop Good Habits on Your Own

Adults don’t have gym teachers forcing them to exercise. Adults don’t have people telling them to wake up on time to pack their lunch.

No one’s going to make doctor’s appointments for you or remind you to brush your teeth. A big part of adulthood is doing all that stuff yourself, even though it’s boring, because it’s good for you.

5. You’ll Probably Live With Your Parents Again

Rent is expensive. Starting salaries aren’t great. That combination, plus the inevitable tumult of your 20s, will probably lead you back to your childhood bedroom, perhaps more than once.

This is not the end of the world. Many people aren’t lucky enough to have a fall-back place to crash. If you’re really worried, we threw together a few tips on moving back home.

Living at home might cramp your style, but it can also help you save money. Savor mom’s cooking, washing machine, couch, cable subscription and all the other perks while someone else is paying for them.

6. Your Best Advocate Is You

No one else is going to ask your boss to give you the raise you deserve. No one is going to make a better case for your promotion than you.

You might feel grateful just to get your first job after college, but you should absolutely negotiate your salary and make sure you’re getting paid what you’re worth. Even after you get the job, you need to continue to advocate for yourself for raises, for added responsibilities or for promotions.

You might not feel comfortable with what can seem like bragging, but you can’t depend on your superiors noticing on their own how great you are. You need to advocate for yourself.

7. It’s Not a Race

You probably have Facebook, which means when your cousin or classmate lands their dream job or buys a house before you, you will know about it and feel like a loser.

Don’t compare yourself. Life is not a race. There is no prescribed timeline by which you’re supposed to make your dreams come true.

Someone, somewhere, will always be doing better than you. But if you are reading this on an electronic device under a roof, you are probably doing just fine.

It is unhealthy to base your happiness on how well they are doing. You, like everyone else, will get some helping of triumph, tragedy, boredom and ideally, about a third of the time, sleep. Your mileage may vary, but you need to deal with it on your own terms, not anyone else’s.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

Image: FatCamera

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The Top 10 States Grads Ditch After College (& The 10 Where They Stay)

States-Grads-Ditch-After-College

The state where college students graduate isn’t always the state where they take their first job. In fact, some states are “simply terrible at holding onto their grads” according to a recent study by Zippia, a career analytics and information website. They looked at 127,403 resumes to determine the percentage of graduates who left the state where they graduated for their first jobs after college. The results? Smaller, northern states tend to lose the most graduates while more populous states retain theirs. But why?

The cause of these departures can be attributed to many factors, the study found. Some of the states with the greatest college graduate “brain drain” have some of the lowest unemployment rates, with only two being above the U.S. average of 4.5%. Also, the same states that lose their graduates at the highest rates tend to take in more out-of-state students. There also was a strong correlation between the number of graduates who stay in the state where they graduated and how much those states spend on public universities. Those that spend more see more students remain after graduation.

Whether you’re planning on ditching the state where you went to college or staying for your first job, it’s good to know where you stand financially. Your credit can play a big role in landing your first apartment, and even your first job. You can keep track of your credit scores by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

Here are the 10 states students ditch the most, plus the 10 where they stay put.

States Students Leave the Most

10. Arizona
Grads Who Leave: 57.14%

9. Montana
Grads Who Leave: 
57.82%

8. Maine
Grads Who Leave: 
59.23%

7. Missouri
Grads Who Leave: 
63.17%

6. New Hampshire
Grads Who Leave: 
64.31%

5. West Virginia
Grads Who Leave: 
65.05%

4. North Dakota
Grads Who Leave: 
65.44%

3. Rhode Island
Grads Who Leave: 
69.43%

2. Vermont
Grads Who Leave:
69.54%

1. Delaware
Grads Who Leave: 70.69%

States Where Grads Stay the Most

10. New York
Grads Who Stay: 
62.65%

9. Kentucky
Grads Who Stay: 
62.94%

8. North Carolina
Grads Who Stay: 
63.29%

7. Washington
Grads Who Stay:
63.63%

6. Arkansas
Grads Who Stay:
63.69%

5. Nevada
Grads Who Stay:
64.60%

4. Minnesota
Grads Who Stay:
65.17%

3. Illinois
Grads Who Stay:
65.33%

2. California
Grads Who Stay:
79.62%

1. Texas
Grads Who Stay:
80.16%

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How to Build Wealth After Graduation

You've just graduated college and you'd like to be wealthy someday. Get started now.

You’ve just graduated college and you’d like to be wealthy someday. Problem is, you have no clue how to make it happen. First, you’re broke and may be drowning in student loans. Second, no matter what the experts might say, it feels like there are tons of fellow grads fighting over a handful of jobs. Third, though you don’t mind hard work, you don’t want wealth to come at the expense of a social life, a family and the chance to do some good in the world. Should you give up the dream and content yourself with an average life?

Not at all. It’s completely possible to become a multimillionaire before you retire. Right now you have an advantage you never will again: youth.

Many young people have no concept of how simple it is to build wealth. Not easy, because hard work and self-discipline are required, but simple. Any intelligent person with an ordinary career trajectory can do it. But now is the time to get started. With every year that passes, your window of opportunity closes a little more. Sounds good, right?

Understanding the Astonishing Power of Compound Interest

If you take a penny and double it every day for a month, how much would you end up with? A hundred dollars? A thousand dollars? How about a million dollars? Not even close. Starting with a single penny, if you double it every day for 31 days, you end up with $21,474,836.48. That’s compound interest. That’s how you get rich. And that’s why, when it comes to wealth building, your age gives you a major advantage.

Starting with your first job out of college, you can try investing 15% off the top. By the time you retire, you’ll be a multimillionaire. Yes, you’ve heard the “pay yourself first” principle before. But you probably don’t realize just how wealthy it can make you. Let’s say you start making an average graduate’s starting income (which, according to The National Association of Colleges and Employers, is $52,569 a year, as of 2016). Assuming you are good at your job and get consistent annual raises of 4%, you’d be making $77,815 a year 10 years from now, and $252,385 in 40 years. Not only will you be making more money, but you will also be able to save more money. If you consistently (and that means every year) deposit 15% of your income into investments, compound interest will begin to accumulate like you wouldn’t believe. Assuming a return of 10% a year, you’d be worth more than $5.4 million when you are ready to retire. (Assuming, of course, that you put this money aside and aren’t spending it on things you shouldn’t be.)

Where Should My Money Go?

First, pay the government because things can get troubling if you don’t. Second, pay yourself. Put the aforementioned 15% of your income in some sort of investment. Third, pay the interest on your debts, such as credit cards, student loans, car loan, etc. Keeping debt low is critical. (Your credit utilization level — the amount of debt you carry in relation to your overall credit — is a major influence on your credit scores. You can find out where yours stand by viewing two of your scores for free on Credit.com.) Fourth, pay for non-critical parts of your life like entertainment, travel and toys.

Don’t succumb to the temptation to pay for prestige. A big part of being able to save the requisite 15% involves not blowing your paycheck on expensive cars, high-dollar meals and trendy couture. But that needn’t mean depriving yourself. Beautiful, comfortable clothes are not cheap, but they don’t have to cost a fortune. You can buy a great pair of slacks for $150 or you can spend 10 times that amount. The difference will be the label on the waistband. The point is this: The best material things in life are affordable. They are not cheap (quality never is), but if you buy them selectively and use them with care, you can enjoy a life as materially rich as Mark Zuckerberg on an income that wouldn’t get him through lunch.

Landing That First Job

Of course, this advice hinges on your finding a decent-paying first job. (To start, you can read these 50 things recent grads can do to score their first job.) Depending on where you’re applying and your prospective industry, you may also want to consider the following ideas during the application process.

  • Forget the standard resume-cover letter program. Instead, write a direct marketing letter that lets your prospective employer know you understand what their problems are and that you have the solutions.
  • Call the office of your prospective future boss and ask for a short, informational interview. This is a great way to get in that locked door and find out a lot of personal and professional information about your prospect.
  • If you feel you might not get the job you are seeking, suggest that you can do a project for the company on a freelance basis, perhaps for free.

Right now, you may think becoming a millionaire is not a laudable goal. You might say money doesn’t matter. Well, it may not matter now, but it will when your kids are applying to colleges or when you’re approaching retirement. Financial independence frees you to live a rich, fulfilling, authentic life. And that’s the true definition of wealth.

This article originally appeared on The Dollar Stretcher.

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