The day finally arrives—the mind fills with grand thoughts of independence, exploration, success. Graduation appears to be the means through the final threshold of adolescence. Like many wide-eyed, fresh off the podium alumnus soon realize, crossing into the world of 401ks and spreadsheets can be quite the rude awakening. Recent grads may have a job lined up via a college internship, an acceptance to a graduate program, or (similar to my experience) could be scrambling to find any semblance of direction—even just an employer willing to pay a 22-year-old a full-time wage.
Anxiety and stress are two terms that may encapsulate the sentiment of this time in a young graduate’s life. These feelings of uneasiness often seem inescapable, regardless of what is lined up once the graduation caps hit the ground. As a relatively recent graduate who has experienced multiple shifts in career direction since this moment, there is some advice I deem as important to those experiencing some of these post-graduate growing pains.
First and foremost, it is paramount that a well-crafted and curated resume is created. The word curate is of particular import here, as many resumes have an excess issue rather than a content issue. My advice would be to keep it sweet in simple, focusing on experience pertinent to the position being applied for. If you are applying for an entry-level administrative job, showcasing your background in jobs that have required skills such as typing and data entry would be important. Describing your experience as your school’s mascot may not be so relevant.
Once you have your resume perfectly assembled, it is important to cast a wide net in your job search. Rather than only apply to jobs you may want or feel qualified for, apply for every job you can. The more jobs you apply for, the more opportunities you have, and the less of a chance you have to be unemployed for a long stretch of time. Obviously, if you want to work in a particular field, it would be beneficial to get a job that reflects that, your objective. However, it is all too common that people put themselves in tricky financial situations waiting for the “perfect” opportunity to come along. Instead, recognize that most first jobs are merely a stepping stone to something greater; if you gain experience in the professional world while making some cash you may otherwise have postponed, you are actually setting yourself up for better job offers in the future.
Now that you have found the right starting position for you, it is imperative that you begin to keep track of your cash flow. For some, this may already be ingrained into your financial habits, conscious or not. For others, it is an important step to understanding what steps need to be taken to achieve financial goals. Cash flow is simply a running tracker of all your income minus expenses. It is a snapshot of how much money you are earning, spending, investing, and possibly saving. The best way to do this is through the use of some sort of budgeting sheet or software. There are thousands of budgeting sheet downloads you can find on the internet, but in today’s day and age, particularly for the younger generations, I recommend using a cash flow app such as Mint or YouNeedABudget. These allow you to plug in your credentials from your bank or financial institution, and automatically track your transactions and spending habits without needing to individually itemize. Not only does this save a tremendous amount of time, but it also makes it easier to see the big picture over a large period of time without having to flip between dozens of budget worksheets.
In setting up your cash flow system, it should now be apparent where you are spending your money. The simple process of keeping track of every dime you spend for a few months will focus a spotlight on the areas which can be improved. Sure, it could be that you have impeccable spending habits in line with your income, but as for most young adults, it is highly unlikely. In my experience, I found most of my excessive spending came in areas such as dining and going out. This is not uncommon for most twenty-somethings and is not inherently negative either. The key is not spending beyond your means. If you have bills, debts, or even a substantial savings goal, it is imperative that you create a stable influx of cash into these categories. Set yourself up for the best possible situation, one which involves little to no guess
ing work when it comes to taking care of the mandatory expenses. If you are fortunate enough to have leftover money, you are now in a position to save money for emergencies, vacations, and random expenses such as buying a car. As you grow your income and savings over time, you may be in a position to invest and start getting your retirement plan in order. One step at a time.
To most starting off in the working world, retirement seems to be this distant concept that can be put off into perpetuity. While it is not necessarily feasible to begin saving for retirement at such a young age, there is no doubt that the earlier you begin, the higher your chance of meeting your retirement savings goals. Obviously, there is a confluence of factors that determine these goals, such as income level, retirement age, return on investment, etc.
As I will get into in another blog post, there are a few ways to save for retirement. The most traditional ways are with different retirement accounts such as 401ks (often set up and matched to a certain extent by employers) and IRAs (individual retirement accounts). Without getting too
granular in the weeds, it is important to note that these accounts are investment accounts. This means that, rather than keep your retirement savings in a traditional savings account or cash, your money is invested in equities, bonds, or other types of investments to get a higher return on savings, thereby increasing the final amount of retirement savings.
Okay. I know this was a lot of information. Take a deep breath. Stretch. Go for a quick walk. If you are reading this, you are taking the first step. It may be daunting, but if you tackle one thing at a time, you will find success. Money is important and essential for a comfortable life, but it does not reign supreme. Every person needs to find their own equilibrium when it comes to their relationship with money. Do not let money anxiety rule you. Find your own process and stick with it. After all, your path to success has just begun.