5 Tips for Mastering Post-College Finances

By Marisol Dahl

When you’re catapulted into the post-college world, it’s natural to feel a little ungrounded. You’re moving to new places, exploring new jobs, and facing The Future head-on.

On top of that, we live in an age where our career paths are constantly evolving, and 40% of us will be freelancers by 2020.

There’s a whole new level of uncertainty when it comes to “adulting.” And let’s be real here: financial uncertainty and pressures are at the top of the list.

As someone who has been fully self-employed since graduation, money management is particularly top of mind. I don’t have a paycheck with taxes automatically deducted, or an employer offering retirement benefits. Month to month, I never know exactly what my income will be.

There’s no doubt that there’s a whole bunch of practical benefits that come with really understanding your financial life. But I’ve also found that getting a handle on your finances is a great way to gain a sense of control when everything else seems crazy.

5 Tips for Mastering Post-College Finances

1. Assess your accounts

First thing’s first. Get a bird’s-eye view of your situation by identifying three things: where your money comes from (income), where your money goes (expenses), and where it’s stored.

Write everything down, including the credit cards and bank accounts you have open, any assets (like a car), any debts, and any stock. Mint.com is a great resource to quickly aggregate all of these aspects of your financial life and see changes in real time.

2. Make a budget

By creating and sticking to a budget you will be able to align your financial reality with your financial ideals. Think about your goals: are you saving for something big? Want to start putting money aside for grad school or a wedding? Want to get ahead on student loan payments? Setting a budget will help you put the systems in place to actually do these things.

To get started, check out Jenny’s Four-step Budget template and Financial Modeling template.

3. Start saving for retirement NOW

I get it. Thinking about retirement seems like the last of your worries when you have student loans breathing down your neck and next month’s rent check due next week. But here’s the thing, if you don’t start saving now—even just a little bit each year—you’re robbing your future self.

So when you land a job, make sure there are good retirement benefits and options. If you’re self-employed start saving on your own (I opened a Roth IRA, but you should investigate your options to find out what’s best for you!).  

4. Refinance your loans

The college debt crisis. Yeah, it’s pretty depressing.

That’s why refinancing my loans was my first order of business when I graduated college. I bundled all my college loans into one, with a lower fixed rate and more manageable monthly payment. It will still be a long time before I’m debt free, but I have peace of mind that I’m doing everything in my power to make the best of the situation. :)

5. Start building credit (if you haven’t started already)

The big (financial) things in life require having good credit, like renting an apartment, buying a car, and even getting your own cell phone line.

So the best thing to do is to start building your credit as early as possible, and understand what factors into credit score calculations. Credit Karma is a great resource to see your score for free and get a breakdown of what’s positively and negatively affecting your score.

Bonus Tip: Call in the professionals

Ok, a quick disclaimer: I am by no means a finance expert. The purpose of this post is to document what I did and learned after a year of diving deep into money management. And after implementing everything I mentioned above, I feel awesome. My relationship with money has never been better.

So while I highly recommend the above tips, it’s always a good idea to have a chat with an accountant or financial advisor to get more personalized and strategic advice.

Marisol Dahl graduated Yale University in 2015 and is now a full-time freelancer in communications, brand strategy, digital marketing, and content development. She loves exploring minimalist blogging and social media practices.