The Way to Work

personal finances, mistakes graduates makes, budgeting after college

The Way to Work: Finding Your Financial Footing

July 28, 2008
by Rachel Balik
You spend the better part of your life at work. Our weekly feature, The Way to Work, offers tips and guidelines to help you succeed in the office. This week, figure out to manage all that money you earn at your job, so that your hard work will pay off for years to come.

Fatal Faux Pas

A college education is no route to easy street, warns The New York Times. Researchers at MIT found that while college graduates make slightly more than people who don’t go to college, recent college grads don’t immediately start reaping the financial benefits of education. Furthermore, the formula for gaining wealth is a more complicated than “driven kid + bachelor’s degree = cash.” A small percent of the population still holds most of the wealth, and it doesn’t flow easily into the hands of young people.
Although wealth takes work, don’t automatically assume that work should happen in an institution of higher learning. For many, graduate school seems like a logical next step, or at the very least, an escape from the tedium and stress of the so-called “real world.” But unless you plan to be a doctor or lawyer, or want an MBA, the professional school you attend might be an unnecessary financial burden. SmartMoney interviewed one young man who attended grad school, ended up $10,000 in debt and got the same job he would have gotten if he’d remained an intern. Make sure that graduate school is absolutely necessary in your field before you accrue more debt.
Speaking of debt, what makes you feel you’re still in college, but provides no intellectual stimulation, Frisbee or beer? Yes. It’s your student loan bill. It seems pretty horrendous that you’ve got to devote a chunk of that early paycheck to keep paying for school, but it would be even worse if you got scammed into paying even more. Sometimes, student loan consolidation programs that promise to help you get discounts can include something Young Money calls “gotchas.” For example, if you consolidate your credit card debt and student debt into one, you’ll save a bit of headache, but you’ll also lose your low student loan interest rate. On other plans, making a single late payment will disqualify you from your discount. Always read the fine print.

Making the Most of Your Money

If you’re debating whether you should begin saving money in your 20s, just stop. A little simple math makes it quite clear what you need to do. According to MSN Money, “If you are able to sock away $4,000 a year into a Roth for 40 years, and if it earns 8% annually, you'll be a tax-free millionaire at retirement.” Of course, for some, $4,000 is not a feasible amount. But even if money is tight, think about skipping a few frills and putting $20 or $100 in the bank whenever you have it. Then, once you’ve piled up a nice chunk of savings, don’t limit yourself to putting all into a savings account or government bonds.
Before you can plan your future, you need to understand your present. Start by asking yourself: How am I doing financially? Money Answers, a blog by financial journalist Jordan E. Goodman, will help you start to answer that question and start making improvements in a section called “Smart Money Strategies: 20s and 30s.” The tips are most useful for those already drawing a steady paycheck as they focus on “establishing your financial foundation.” Get comprehensive answers to questions about taxes, investing, owning vs. renting and how to make the most of what your company offers you.
Wi$eUp targets women in Generations X and Y, but anyone can benefit from the numerous financial planning tutorials on the site. Wi$eUp will teach you how to start thinking about your financial future, analyze your current financial situation and employ tools to help you reach them. Wi$eUp is thorough, interactive and cuts to the chase. Get more help from the site’s financial expert Q &As, seminars and webcasts.
Finally, if you were the kid in college who just scraped by looking up answers from the back of the book or borrowing from friends, never fear. You can be financially successful using the same strategy with Money Smart Life’s “Cheatsheet for Managing Your Money.” Get tips for budgeting, understanding health insurance, managing your loans, investing wisely and choosing the best credit card for you.

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