You’ve graduated college, congratulations! Now comes the hard part — finding a job, paying off your student loans, and getting settled. The Class of 2014 graduates have an average of $33,000 in student loans to pay, according to an analysis of government data by Mark Kantrowitz, publisher at Edvisors, on behalf of the Wall Street Journal. And not only are students graduating with higher amounts of debt than ever before, but a greater share of them are also using loans to fund their education. According to Kantrowitz, a little over 70 percent of graduates receiving bachelor’s degrees this year will leave school with student loans to pay.
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Even worse, graduates are entering a hostile job market, where they will have to compete with the nearly 10 million people who are currently unemployed. Though the labor market is showing slow signs of improvement, young adults under the age of 25 face dim job prospects. In fact, a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that 8.5 percent of young college graduates are unemployed.
For graduates facing a tough labor market, it can be easy to become depressed and make bad money choices. If you are a recent graduate, you need to avoid making money mistakes at all costs. Here are 10 college graduate money mistakes to watch out for:
1. Wasting money
A fancy trip would definitely be nice after graduation. A few months lounging about sounds incredible. Splurging on a new car as a gift to yourself for four years of hard work is definitely a treat. But all of these extravagances can definitely wait. If you receive these rewards as gifts, by all means enjoy them, but don’t waste unnecessary money by giving yourself a fancy gift instead of stashing that cash away. Without income coming in, you have to be careful with how you spend your money. And the last thing you should do it is waste it.
2. Not budgeting
Whether you’re earning a steady paycheck, just making a few dollars on the side or relying on your parents’ handouts, you have to set a budget. It’s particularly imperative that you set one once you get a new job. Budgeting will enable you to take a closer look at your spending habits and help you manage your money in a responsible way. Good habits you develop today will pay dividends in the long run.
3. Being lazy
It’s time to get your life together. Don’t be lazy about applying for jobs, going to networking events, or updating your resume. Consider the millions of other Americans who are out of work or the other graduates searching for a job. You have to get your name out there and you have to be persistent if you want a job in this tough labor market. At the same time, if you are out of work, there are things you can do to stay busy and build your resume. Consider volunteering, interning, or taking small jobs like babysitting or tutoring to earn a little money while you continue your job hunt.
4. Not letting yourself get cut off
Nothing will force you to grow up more quickly than not allowing your parents to help you out. While it’s not always financially feasible, if you do have the means to survive on your own for a few months, you should do it. The life lessons you will be able to learn living on your own are priceless.
5. Not investing in yourself
While you’re searching for a job — or even if you’re gainfully employed — you should take steps to improve yourself and your skills. Think about it. Next year, thousands of other highly employable students will graduate and they might have different and more skills than you do. You should not rest on your laurels. You need to continually grow your skills set to stay competitive with the young folks. Whether you teach yourself a new language or just You don’t have to take a class to do so either. Rent a book, watch free videos, or take online tutorials to teach yourself new skills.
6. Not saving for a rainy day
Emergencies happen and mom and dad won’t always be there to bail you out. So you need to sock a little of your money away once you get a steady paycheck. That way, if your car breaks down, you have a health scare, or you suddenly lose your job, you will have the funds to support yourself — at least for a few months.
7. Overspending on credit cards
If you’ve already got a pile of debt, the last thing you should do is add more to it! Credit cards are particularly dangerous because some cards can have high interest — above 20 percent, which means you’ll be forced to pay the interest off before you can even make a dent in your debt. A recent study found that younger Americans take on more credit card debt than older generations — and pay it off at a slower rate. Accumulating big debt early on will only make it harder for you to get rid of it. So remember that every swipe means you’ll have to pay that amount (and sometimes the interest, too).
[Related: 4 Smart Ways to Manage Your Credit Card Debt]
8. Not contributing to your 401(k)
Listen: You are not too young to start saving for retirement. In fact, if you start saving when you’re in your 20s, you will earn more over the long run due to compounding interest. Unfortunately, many of America’s youth just don’t have the ability to save like older generations did. A recent study by Aegon found that the retirement shortfall for employed young adults between the ages of 20 and 29 was due more to a lack of opportunity to save, rather than a lack of will. But don’t give up. Save as much as you can for retirement and you’ll be thanking yourself 40 years down the line.
9. Not taking care of your health
The Affordable Care Act has made it much easier for young Americans to get access to health care. But it’s one thing to have health care insurance, it’s another to actually utilize it. Not taking care of your health at a young age could take a toll down the road, potentially costing you thousands of dollars. Get regular check-ups, see the doctor if you get sick, and be sure to get examined if you think something is wrong. You have health insurance, so use it.
10. Not asking for help
Unfortunately, many Americans don’t know the basics of personal finance — in part due to a lack of education on the subject. In fact, in a recent survey conducted by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 41 percent of U.S. adults, or more than 92 million people living in America, gave themselves a grade of C, D, or F on their knowledge of personal finance. If you have any questions regarding anything to do with money or personal finance, don’t be afraid to ask and to seek help from your family members, friends, and professionals. You aren’t expected to understand everything about retirement, loans, or credit cards, so turn to others with your questions.
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