Welcome WSJ Readers: 6 Tips for Life After College

I'm excited to share with my regular readers that I was quoted in the Wall Street Journal column, Starting Out, today! And a warm welcome to all the new visitors who have landed here after reading it. The column provides financial and career advice for people in their twenties just starting out. This week's subject was Graduates' To-Do List, a checklist of things to take care of before starting out in the real world (by Anna Prior). Naturally, not all of the tips I shared in the interview made it into the column, so I am sharing the rest here with you.

These ideas may sound familiar based on topics I've written about in the past; I believe they set the groundwork for three core areas of life after college: organization, career, and money. Although they happen to be aimed at upcoming graduates, most can apply to life long after college too.

Organization Tips

1. Create "The Ultimate Reminder File" for tracking appointments If you do not have a place to keep track of recurring appointments (medical or otherwise), you will always be scratching your head trying to remember when you are next due – or forget about making the appointments completely. Set up a simple spreadsheet to track all of your recurring appointments and the relevant contact information in one place, then schedule reminders to actually make the next appointment one month before you are due. Click here to see the tracking template I use.

2. Stay organized with an online calendar Create a calendar for tracking appointments, setting reminders and generally staying on top of things after college. I recommend Google Calendar because it is linked to Gmail and you can easily share events (or the entire calendar) with family and friends. In addition to tracking day-to-day events, you use your calendar to:

  • Set-up monthly reminders to pay your rent, bills
  • Set-up reminders to schedule appointments (per tip #1)
  • Set-up annually-recurring events for birthdays and other important days to remember (like anniversaries)
  • In the settings, sign-up for text or email alerts to receive your daily agenda (or reminder alerts for specific events)

Click here to read my previous post, Going Beyond the To-Do List.

Career Tips

3. Uncover and leverage your strengths Spend time taking a few assessments to learn more about your unique strengths and personality type. These tests can also help you identify potential career paths and give you language to better articulate your strengths to future employers. Collect your results and store them in a "master file" that you can refer back to as you put together your resume or prepare for interviews.

Myers Briggs: http://www.keirsey.com/ or http://humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp Via Signature Strengths: http://www.viasurvey.org/

Click here to read my previous posts on the VIA survey and Personal Branding.

4. Do a big picture visioning exercise to find a career that fits In high school you probably spent time visualizing characteristics of the ideal college you wanted to attend (large or small, in a big city or remote location, liberal arts vs. specialized education); this next transition into the working world should be no different. If you just settle for the first company willing to hire you, you won't give yourself a fair shot at finding a great job that aligns with your career goals. To start figuring those out, set time aside to think about what you really want from your first job.

Finding a Career that Fits - Questions to consider:

  • What really excites you?
  • What is your ideal work environment? (location, size of company, nature of the work)
  • In an ideal world, what types of things would you be doing on a day-to-day basis at your job?
  • What odd jobs or skills have always interested you? What kind of activities do you seem to pick up quickly?
  • Picture your ideal self five years from now: What have you accomplished? What are you doing? Where are you living? (Think big – don't limit yourself to only what seems possible)

Click here to read my previous post, Career Exploration: Taking a Fantasy Job

Money Tips

5. Conduct a "State of the Union" for your finances, sign-up for an online money management system

It's critical that before you graduate (and forever after) you have a complete understanding of your financial situation. You should know how much you will owe on student loans, what your monthly payments will be, whether you have any credit card debt, and how much your bills and other expenses (like rent) will be each month. Even if you don't track spending line-by-line, divide expenses into "must have" and "nice to have" so you can prioritize what you spend.

Click here to read my previous post, Create a Weekend Budget.

I also recommend signing up for a money management tool online for monitoring your accounts and tracking spending. My favorite is Mint.com because you can access it from almost anywhere (and opt-in to weekly or monthly reports), and the interface is clear and easy to use.

Click here to read my previous post, 7 Great Online Money Management Websites.

6. Develop sound saving habits from the start Set up an Emergency fund and a long-term savings account (I recommend ING Direct), with automatic direct deposits from your regular checking account. Even if you only contribute $10 per month to each, it will start you off on the right foot and help you develop strong saving habits. Once you get your first job, you will already have a system in place for saving money.

Click here to read my prevous post, Ode to The Simple Dollar's 31 Days.