5 Quick Personal Finance Tips for Recent Graduates

By: Brittany Mollica

You’ve finally gotten your degree and landed your first adult job – congrats! Entering the “real world” can be overwhelming; between starting a new job, navigating a new city and making new friends, dedicating time to think about your financial situation might be low on the priority list. However, the sooner you can take a proactive approach to your personal finance, the better. As a recent college graduate myself (Go Heels!) and a Certified Financial PlannerTM professional, I can affirm that these 5 quick tips will help you get started in the right direction:

  1. Read your employee benefits handbook –

While it may be tempting to just skim through the details of your employee benefits, it is extremely rewarding to have a good understanding of your benefits. For example – how many days of paid vacation do you get? Are you allowed to take extra time off to go volunteer? Does your employer match your contributions to your 401(k) plan? Do they offer a stock purchase plan or any other kind of retirement savings plans?

If you don’t completely understand some of your benefits, don’t be afraid to ask questions! People like to help, so whether you’re asking the HR department, your parents, or a financial advisor, there is certainly someone who would be glad to explain what benefits you are entitled to.

  1. Contribute to your company’s retirement savings plan –

If your employer offers a retirement savings plan (ex. a 401(k), 403(b), etc.), one of the most important things you can do for yourself is to begin saving into it as soon as possible. The contributions will be taken straight from your paycheck, so you’ll never even have to budget for it or see the money leaving your bank account; you will just automatically be saving. Retirement readiness made easy! Saving to a company retirement account is especially important if your company offers to match a percentage of your savings – try to save at least enough to get the full match. Don’t miss your chance at free money.

  1. Set up automatic savings to a bank account –

Building wealth is about making a habit out of saving. In addition to your company retirement savings account, it’s also very important that you set aside some cash in case of emergency expenses (ex. a car repair, unexpected medical expenses, a necessary vacation to the Caribbean, etc.). As a rule of thumb, your goal should be to set aside cash equal to 6+ months’ worth of your living expenses. It may be smart to open a savings account with your bank and establish an automatic transfer from your checking account to this savings account – weekly, monthly or with every paycheck. This way, you’re regularly adding to your cash reserves without having to do any extra work.

  1. Be mindful of your money –

You don’t need to give up every luxury, but making small sacrifices consistently will enable the savings I’ve already mentioned. Although it isn’t fun to track how much you’re spending on smoothie bowls or rent or Beyoncé tickets, it is so important to be aware of where your hard-earned money is going. There are several easy ways to track your expenses – for example, you can use the budget tool on the Hilltop Wealth Portal (let us know if you’d like access to this). Or you can download an app like Mint or SIMPLE or create an Excel spreadsheet. Simply being aware of where your money is going can make it much easier to drop bad habits.

  1. Establish a budget –

Once you’ve spent a few months tracking your spending habits, it’s time to create a budget! Rather than setting a strict budget that you’re unlikely to stick to, it is probably more useful to give yourself some loose guidelines regarding how much you’d like to spend in certain categories each month. Look at your previous monthly expenses to get an idea of how much you usually spend and, if you have any extra cash flow or unnecessary expenses you can minimize, try to factor in some additional savings each month. Most tools that help track your expenses can also help you create a budget – our Hilltop Wealth Portal budgeting tool is a very user-friendly option. Once you’ve created your ideal budget, keep tracking your spending every month to see if you can stay close to your goal. This will help you be grateful for what you have and mindful of where you are going.

These tips just briefly touch on a few important personal finance topics, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions. Also, try not to feel too overwhelmed about planning for your whole future. Even though you probably don’t have much money saved up (yet), there is a very valuable resource that you do have – your time. Make it count. We wish you the best of luck setting yourself up for financial success!


This material is provided as a courtesy and for educational purposes only. Please consult your investment professional, legal or tax advisor for specific information pertaining to your situation.

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