The world is dramatically different than it was 15 years ago when I graduated from college. Our phones do more than computers could do back then, and tablets are basically what Beverly Crusher used in Star Trek: Next Generation (except we can’t use them to do a full body scan just yet). But when it comes to finances, the last 15 years have been a stark reminder of what hasn’t changed. Here are five things that I learned the hard way that can help others not make the same mistakes.
1. Keep your lifestyle well within your means. It’s tempting to go out and party after you get that first real paycheck, then the second, the third, and so on. Suddenly, you are accustomed to living paycheck to paycheck, not because you don’t earn enough, but because you are used to spending everything you make. Creating a budget goes a long way to helping remedy that perception, but you need to be aware of what you do with your money and make sure that you save as much as possible when possible. Paying down debt should be a close second for how best to spend your money.
2. Be careful with your credit score. Make sure you pay at least the minimum payment on time. Do keep some credit open (just don’t overdo it) so that you are building up a healthy credit rating.
3. Plan your savings. This suggestion cannot be over emphasized. Create a savings plan and stick to it, even when things are lean. It is going to be too easy to dip into your savings for things you don’t really need. Save money to your 401K for later on in life; retirement may seem like a long way down the road, but it will be a lot further away if you don’t start saving now.
4. Stick to your budget. Of course, that means creating a budget too, and after you put all of that time into it, you should follow through and make sure money goes where it should. If you find you are staring at negative figures that is still better than getting an unexpected collections letter. There are also things you can do if you can’t make a payment as long as you are pro-active in contacting the people or companies you owe money to.
5. Learn from your financial mistakes. It is the best way to keep from making them again. When something goes wrong, take the time to analyze why it went wrong. After all, there is no better time or practice now that you are out in the real world. Put your degree to work making sure you have the right outlook on money. Out here it’s not as clear as pass or fail, but a weird combination of success and failure. Try to tip the scales in your favor.