Your days of binge-drinking Red Bull before exams (and then cheap vodka and lemonade afterward), spending hours in the library doing anything but studying, and eating cheap food and not caring about what it does to your body are over. While you’ll certainly miss the $1 slices of pizza and immediate access to all of your best friends, the real world is calling your name.
While some are eager to get out into the adult world, many of us don’t exactly know where to start. 401K? Pension plan? Never heard of her. So, as our graduation present to you (you’re welcome), this is everything you need to know now that school is over.
1. Pay as much of your student loans as possible
This one’s a doozy, but listen up. Don’t put them off. Pay as much as you feasibly can each month. If you think your Sallie Mae balance looks scary now, just wait until you add 10 years of interest!
Most student loans have a 6-month grace period after you graduate. Don’t use those six months to go crazy and pretend your loans don’t exist! This is meant to be a time to save up and get your income situated before you have to start paying. Use these six months to open a savings account (see below!) and put as much as you can into it each month. Then, if there comes a time when you can’t pay your balance, you have some money put way to tackle it.
A lot of people sign up for the longest payment plan and only pay the minimum every month because they don’t want their student loans to take up the entirety of their income. This is a very normal and common thought process for recent grads! Instead of focusing on paying the minimum every month, create a budget that pays as much as possible every month. You can still get your Starbucks and add new items your wardrobe; you’re just pledging to put away as much as possible down to your debt.
If you can’t pay your loans for whatever reason, do not just ignore them. There are options for you! Call your lender; they might ask you for documentation on your income and can set up a different plan or give the opportunity to defer until a time that works for you. It might be uncomfortable, but being open and honest about your situation is much better for your credit and loan balance in the long run than not paying or ignoring them.
2. Update Your Resume
No more of that “exp. Graduation May 2019”! Along with updating the dates, add your final GPA, any laudatory honors you received, any internships that haven’t been updated, and anything else that’s changed since the last time you’ve taken a long, hard look at your resume.
Ready to give your resume a little more than an update? Our Landing Your Dream Job course outlines everything you need to know and includes five resume, e-mail signature, and cover letter templates! (Plus, two extras for recent grads!)
3. Prioritize your mental health
Post-grad life is a bit of an adjustment. You go from seeing your best friends every day, rolling out of bed just before class starts, and not thinking about how much ice cream you actually eat. Whether you’re moving to a new city, getting your own place, or moving back home, your life changes a lot when you don’t have to think about “back to school” in a few months. If you notice a difference in your moods, don’t hesitate to talk to a mental health care provider. Therapy is there for a reason, and it can be an amazing way to learn new ways to cope with day-to-day stress. (Yeah, just because you don’t have finals and deadline, stress will still creep up!) Especially if you’re in a new city, you’ll want to find providers closeby instead of going back home whenever you need to refill your medicine or see your therapist. Zocdoc is a lifesaver for finding doctors in your area based on your insurance. (More on this later!)
4. Pay attention to any paperwork
A lot of stuff comes your way after college. Tax forms, student loan documents, NDAs, non-competes, and more are being thrown at you left and right, and we’ll be honest, most of us don’t know what they mean either! Take the time to read through these documents before you sign and hit send.
Just because a document is already written doesn’t mean you don’t have the authority to make changes. Amend the paperwork when necessary. The same goes for a salary! You can negotiate a salary regardless of it’s your first job or fifth.
5. Open a savings account
If you don’t have a savings account yet, head to your bank and open one ASAP. Many young people assume that just because they’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, they can’t put away savings. Saving 10 percent of your income to a savings account helps assure you have money in any emergencies. (Break your phone? You’ll want that back ASAP!) Regardless of how much you’re making, it’s possible to put away a little bit of money each paycheck.
Start an initial goal to save $500, then increase the goal to $1000. This is totally doable — we believe in you!
6. It’s OK to start from the bottom
If you’ve already started a job, good for you! Be aware that the transition from full-time student to full-time employee might be a little different. You go from being in the highest position at school (the Big-Bad Seniors™️ are the coolest people at school, obviously) to the absolute bottom at work. This is normal! Working your way up the ladder is hard work, but everyone has to start somewhere. Drake was onto something!
7. Not everything on social media is a reality
Just because everyone looks like they’re living they’re best lives, making all sorts of cash, and going to brunch every weekend does not mean their lives are any better than yours. Post-grad life is difficult for a lot of people, so it isn’t something you should compare with anyone else.
8. Taxes exist
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it was when all you had to file for was your summer job. Taxes are no joke, and there are a few things you’re going to want to know.
If you’re in a full-time position (woohoo!), it’s likely your taxes are taken out of your paychecks automatically. This makes life much easier, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay on top of them. Read your pay stubs and be aware of the amount that comes out each month. This will reduce the confusion and shock when tax season rolls around!
However, if you’re working in an environment (start-ups sometimes) that does not take out taxes on their end or working for yourself (such as freelancing), taxes are a little more difficult. Your paychecks may seem amazing — you’re living life, hitting up every summer sale, rolling in the dough. Once April comes out, you might owe way more than you thought. (Been there, done that!) Pay attention to how much you’re making, but also research how much might come out of each check based on the tax bracket you’re in. A good idea might be to open a savings account specifically to remove the potential tax yourself. Don’t touch this money until tax season rolls around!
As far as filing goes, there are a few options. If you’re a pro, you can file directly through the IRS. However, for a lot of us, we need a little more help! TurboTax and H&R Block are easy ways to file online that spell it all out in terms we actually know. If you have a lot of questions or really don’t know where to start, hiring an accountant to help you along the way can be an amazing asset. While they might cost more initially, they can help you save as much money as possible in the long run.
9. Take risks now
While we’re going on and on about all the things you need to do to take care of your future, don’t let this deter you from doing new and fun things! Now is the time to take risks and do the things you might not be able to later in life. Move across the country, travel, take your dream job even if it doesn’t “logistically” make sense, and apply for The Bachelor. (You got this!) Don’t “wait” until the right time — there’s no time like the present!
10. Don’t forget to sign up for health insurance
For those of us who have had the privilege of not worrying about our health insurance and being on our parents’ plan our entire lives, this is an easy one to forget about. If you’re on your parents’ plan, you can stay on it until you’re 26 years old. Woohoo! However, don’t put off learning about health insurance until then. Your employer might have a plan that fits your lifestyle better (for example, if your parents’ plan is for an insurance provider that is local and you moved!) or there could be another circumstance that requires you to obtain insurance on your own.
This video series is so helpful if you’re just trying to learn how health insurance plans work, how to sign up, and what to know when you’re weighing a job offer.
CONGRATS, GRAD! What do you want to know about post-grad life?