This is the time of the year that college graduates around the country are collecting their diplomas and heading off into jobs.
Nobody wants to be told how to spend their money. However, young professionals often need to be given a few pieces of advice about personal finance before they go out into the professional workplace.
In an effort to save my students headaches, anxiety and heartburn, I share these six pieces of financial advice with them before they embark on the rest of their lives. After all, it is our job as educators to set our students on the right financial path.
1. Uncle Sam Gets His Cut
It’s important to remember that taxes will take bite out of your paychecks before you can even touch it. Required withholding taxes—federal, state and local—and required taxes—Social Security and Medicare will amount to about 25 percent of the paycheck—something to consider when balancing a budget. When all of this is said and done, with other deductions such as healthcare costs or retirement contributions, only about 70 percent of one’s base pay is left as take-home pay.
2. Build a Budget Around Take-Home Pay and Not Your Yearly Salary
For a college grad earning $48,000 a year, or $4,000 a month, the take-home pay would be cut down to about $2,800 per month after deductions. I encourage graduates to build their budgets around this amount, but many often follow a lifestyle that their salary cannot support. Living within one’s means is important to avoid debt or financial hardship in the future.
3. Save, Save, Save
Some employers offer a voluntary savings plan, in which the employee contributes a percentage of their earnings to a 401K retirement account. If an employer offers a match, employees should take advantage of that free money. In 20 years, you’ll be glad you did.
Those who are living with a significant other will have two incomes to consider when making lifestyle choices. My advice for couples is to build a budget around the take-home pay for only one paycheck. They should invest the second paycheck after taking out a certain amount of personal expenses for that wage earner. Doing this for five years will provide a good cushion to cover any future financial ups and downs.
4. Your Living Arrangements Don’t Define You
After years of living in cramped dorms, many young professionals think they deserve a two-bedroom apartment in an up-and-coming neighborhood that’s close to the bars to crank up their social life. But all of that is wasted if your work is going to dominate your life for the first year or two.
For example, one of my students accepted a job as an IT consultant—a position that required 60-70 hours of work per week and lots of travel. At my urging, the student rented a small, one-bedroom apartment near the airport and bought a “beater” car. He spent so little time at home or using his own car that it saved him a bundle.
5. Your Travel Arrangements Don’t Define You
Over-investing in transportation is also a mistake some graduates make. Unless one’s position requires a fancy car, it’s advisable to stretch collegiate transportation as far as possible. If a new car is absolutely necessary, grads could consider buying or leasing a reasonably-priced car to keep expenses down, but those who can rely on public transportation or walk to work will find themselves in a better financial position.
6. Your Wardrobe Does Define You
One element that is important to invest in is a good work wardrobe. Young professionals should buy classic, traditional clothing that won’t easily go out of style. If treated with respect, professional clothes should last for a very long time. Now, this is no excuse to overspend on the finest of threads. A professional wardrobe is however one of the most important things a graduate can invest in.
Recent graduates should remember these tips when building their budgets and should think carefully about living within their means. Laying the groundwork early is crucial to secure stable financial footing in the future.
David Rudd is the chairman of the Department of Business and Economics at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania.