Ah, college — the sweet, safe bubble of security protecting you from the financial realities of the outside world. Finding a job? Psh, with that liberal arts degree on the horizon you’re sure to have a number of high-paying job offers rolling in. Credit card debt? You’ll pay those back when you’ve got that six-figure paycheck. Student loans? Mom and dad, you guys have got this, right? Cool.
Fast forward to graduation day: the day the inevitability of post-grad money mistakes sets in.
Of course there are plenty of 20-somethings out there well versed in money management, but even the most financially savvy among us are bound to make a misstep here or there after graduation. We talked with some financial experts and regular folk alike and rounded up a few of the most common, dangerous and hilarious post-grad money mistakes.
Mistake: Not planning for the future
Debt Princess: Living a royal life on a borrowed dime
“When I was in my 20s, I was living on my own, without any roommates, teaching full time, having a blast on the weekends and in seriously in debt. I was buying clothes, shoes, dinners out and drinks with friends — completely on credit cards. I was able to pay my rent, basic bills and minimum balances on my student loans and credit cards, but I wasn't saving money or planning for my future.”
40-Something Frugalista: A little goes a long way
“If I had one piece of advice to give my 20-something self now I would say, ‘T.L., a little goes a long way!’ Say you’re just graduating from college, and you landed your first 'real grownup job.' You might not be making that much money. You might be living with seven other roommates and drinking cheap beer and eating Ramen noodles, but there is always just a little you could be doing right now to start saving.”
“Don’t make life harder for your future self,” says Danielle Seurkamp, a certified financial planner. “Create a budget that includes some savings and try to stick to it. Looking at what you have coming in and going out gives you the perspective that every dollar in your pocket isn’t spendable cash. Trust me, you’ll look back and thank yourself.”
Mistake: Racking up credit card debt
Debt Destroyer: Post-grad credit card hell
“It was not long before I had amassed more than $5,000 in credit card debt. I began to feel very embarrassed and angry over the pile of debt I had accumulated. It was hard to feel happy with life when I knew I had such a burden over my own head. For a long time I tried to ignore it, but debt never lets you forget for long.”
Daily Money Shot: The financial sting of a $200 sunburn
“When the salesperson rang up my total, I thought nothing about pulling out my credit card and buying [$200 worth of] makeup. I didn’t think about paying it off later or how I didn’t need most of it. I had my card and that meant I could have it all.”
“Many college grads leave school thinking they are going to walk into a high-paying job right away,” Seurkamp says. “The danger in this type of thinking is that it allows you to justify big purchases on credit with the thought that you’ll pay it off as soon as you make more money. In the meantime, you’re making less and have the extra burden of interest and minimum payments which can lead to stress and unhappiness … and more debt.”
Mistake: Putting off paying down student loans
Dealing with Money: Being haunted by the ghosts of student loans
“I believe one of my biggest mistakes was not getting rid of student debt while I was still employed and had the opportunity. Having been out of work for nearly six months now, I've found, strangely enough, that getting rid of debt is a bit more difficult when you don't have a shovel to dig your way out of the mess.”
Newlyweds on a Budget: I auto know better
"But the love affair [with my new car] quickly ended when my student loans came into repayment six months after graduation. Suddenly, I had way more bills to pay, my car insurance shot through the roof, and I was stuck with a $434 car payment on a six-year loan. I look at that number now, and it almost seems laughable."
“When you accept a job, use websites such as paycheckcity.com to determine your net pay,” says Lazetta Rainey Braxton, a certified financial planner. “This figure will help determine how much you can afford for major expenses — housing, transportation, and student loans — before making financial commitments. Set up a budget using mint.com to monitor spending, savings and account balances.”
Mistake: Making extravagant or unwise purchases
50-Plus Finance: Make your mistakes early so you can be embarrassed by them longer
“My first job was with a construction company. There were several job sites I needed to visit every day for inspections and supervision. I had the bright idea that I needed a cell phone to conduct business. These were the days when the cell phone was just coming into broad use, and the average cell phone cost about $5,000.”
Post-Grad Reality: Know when you've got a sunk cost
"I kept telling myself that I couldn't afford a new car, and stayed determined to drive [Klunky] into the ground. Having such affection for my sweet little rusty bucket prevented me from seeing every single time he was begging to be put down. In the end I spent $2,000 for the car, and roughly $6,000 in repairs on a car that got maybe 19 miles to the gallon with the wind at my back."
“Plan your spending around your current reality to avoid boxing yourself into a tight month-to-month living situation. Don’t overextend yourself. For example, if you’re not ready to meet the financial obligation of buying a house, keep renting or living at home until you can handle the next step. Give yourself some time to save up for future goals or for unexpected emergencies,” Seurkamp says.
Mistake: Not negotiating your first salary
Little Miss Moneybags: Know what you're worth — negotiate your first salary
“I had been interviewing for months, and was about to run out of money. I was desperate for a 'real' job — and I really, really wanted this one. I had figured out a salary amount that would allow me to stay in New York City, covering my basic bills but without much wiggle room. I did manage to name a range with that number as the low end, but I didn’t shoot high enough, and I accepted the first offer the company made me.”
I Am 1 Percent: Don't let your first salary sell you short
“When I graduated college, I was lucky to have a job offer on the table. I negotiated a bit on salary, but not as much as I should have, as I was happy that I was about to be employed. It was my first job out of college! However, when I started my second job, I broke the first rule in negotiations. Never show your hand. When the potential employer asked me for my current salary … I told them. This was one of the biggest financial mistakes in my career.”
“Once you know the ‘value’ of the position, rank what is most important to you and begin negotiation discussions that acknowledge appreciation of job offer and desire to start off on the ‘right foot’ by matching skills and commitment with the value the firm has placed on the position,” Braxton says.”
What was your worst post-grad money mistake? Tell us and we can share in the shame together.