In just a few months, a new cohort of university graduates will leave behind their careers as students and begin new ones as entry-level workers. And for many, regardless of age, this shift brings a whole new financial landscape to navigate.
Gabby DelMonaco, a financial planning assistant in Silver Spring, Maryland, is expected to graduate from college this spring. She started budgeting and covering her living expenses when she started college and feels financially ready to leave school. But she’s not sure her classmates are all in the same position.
“I think a lot of people are just not aware of the reality of the true cost of living alone,” says DelMonaco.
Getting a college degree can mean you get a job and have more money to spend. It could also mean that you now have to use this income to pay for living expenses like rent and groceries. And six months after graduation, you can also expect to start repaying your student loans.
When thinking about the cost of your post-college lifestyle, consider all of your expectations. Many expenses — from food and gas to rent and your first living room couch — are getting more expensive due to inflation, which makes it a little harder to be a fresh grad on a limited income. says Andrea Clark, certified financial planner in Fountain Hills, Arizona.
“You just have a better chance of financial success if you start with a plan instead of starting haphazardly,” Clark says. More importantly, making a plan will keep you from living beyond what you can afford, adds Clark.
To do this, you can start by estimating the fixed costs you will need to cover and get an idea of how much money you have available to work with.
DISCOVER YOUR FIXED COSTS
The first step in preparing your post-graduation budget is to establish your fixed costs, says Marcio Silveira, a financial planner at the same firm as DelMonaco. These are expenses you can’t give up, like housing and transportation costs, as well as monthly debt payments.
Pay attention to these costs because you can’t reduce them once you’ve committed, Silveira says. If you have a job lined up with an employer that offers a 401(k) match — a benefit where your employer matches a fixed amount of your contributions to your retirement fund — try building that into your fixed costs, Silveira adds.
Student loans are another fixed cost you probably need to consider. Currently, 65% of students graduate from college with student debt, according to the Education Data Initiative. If that’s you, add your student loan payments to your monthly expenses if you can afford it. If that’s not within your current budget, take advantage of any grace period available to you.
Grace periods begin after you graduate and during this time you don’t have to repay your loans, but interest will continue to accrue. A grace period might allow you to do other things with your money — move house, pay off a credit card, or buy cheap furniture — but you’ll still need to plan for its end.
DEVELOP HEALTHY HABITS
Maybe you set a budget in college and didn’t always stick to it, or you made it through college without any budget. Either way, budgeting now and tracking your spending can help you build healthy habits so you’ll be prepared once you start your post-college career.
“Start tracking, start knowing where you’re spending the money,” Silveira says, and if you commit to it, it may only take three months of spending in your budget to make it a habit.
If you have a job planned after graduation, budget around your monthly take-home pay. And if you don’t have a job yet, consider how long you can continue to cover your expenses. This may give you an idea of the next step to take. it could be taking the first job offered to you or moving back to live with relatives or roommates where you can minimize your expenses.
Clark adds that if your parents or guardians are still covering any of your expenses, such as insurance or a phone bill, ask them how long they plan to do so. If you can avoid any surprises in your budget, it will help keep your spending on track.