Quick tips for financial independence after college

Good job guiding your child all the way through college! Now that he's done with the textbooks, he has to learn how to balance the books financially for success in life’s next chapter. You can help him get started by discussing these important money topics. Grab a coffee and start the conversation.

Young man writing while holding phone

Key takeaways

  • Take a good look at income and expenses.

  • Keep a close eye on credit and debt.

  • Start planning for future responsibilities.

Consider covering these basics together

Your household expenses may finally start to wind down, but your child’s are just beginning. While you’ll always be there for support, you want your child (who really isn’t a child anymore) to be financially self-sufficient.

Budgeting finances

As your young adult transitions from college to career, he will face new spending decisions every day. Take this opportunity to sit down with your recent grad to give him some guidance about managing his finances.

First, take a close look at the amount of money coming in and going out. What does he earn and what does he owe? To track his expenses he can download an app that makes budgeting easier. Some track daily spending or monitor bank accounts so he can review and adjust his spending.

Next, add up all the monthly expenses, including necessities like rent, food and loan payments. Then make sure to include some fun in the budget, like movies or dining out. Financial independence isn't just about paying bills, it's about prioritizing and making choices that fit your lifestyle. If your child loves living alone, he can save money by making coffee at home or bringing lunch to work. If he's reluctant to give up his lattes and nights out with friends, he can consider living in a smaller place, or with roommates in order to cut costs.

Tackling debt

For many recent grads, the biggest expense in their budget is paying off student loans. Make sure your child understands how the payment schedule works — and has a plan for managing it wisely.

It’s important to understand that, even if a loan may grant a grace period, the interest is always accruing. The sooner he starts paying off the balance, the better. For federal loans, he can look into establishing a repayment plan based on income.

Managing credit

Make sure your child understands that it's important for him to know his credit score. Explain that this simple three-digit number will affect how much he'll pay for loans, his ability to rent an apartment and sometimes even eligibility for a job. It reflects his creditworthiness and is based on how much he owes and his payment history.

While he chips away at loan debt, be wary about owing even more. Talk about how to keep credit history as clean as possible. For instance, don’t be late on car payments or rent. Get in the habit of paying off the entire credit card balance each month in order to save a lot of money on interest and fees.

Saving for a rainy day

Your child may feel he needs every cent of his paycheck to cover expenses, but there’s always a bit extra that can be put aside. A separate savings account can be a short-term emergency fund that’s available in case of job loss or illness.

Don’t set unrealistic goals, but rather advise him to start saving something now — even just a small amount. Talk about setting up an automatic transfer into a savings account, maybe 10% of his income. That money will quietly build over time.

Thinking ahead

Your recent grad just entered the workforce, but it’s never too early to start saving for retirement. The sooner he thinks about long-term saving, the more his account will potentially grow in the decades ahead. You can use the example of how you saved for his 529 education savings plan!

Jump-start this conversation by asking if there is a 401(k) or similar retirement plan available at the new company. Contributing to an employer’s tax-advantaged retirement plan may be the easiest way to get started on retirement savings. And taking advantage of an employer match is like getting bonus money simply for participating in the program.

If your child doesn’t have access to a 401(k) plan, he can still contribute money to an individual retirement account (IRA). Even if it’s just a little bit, he has so much time ahead of him, he’ll be way ahead of the game when many of his peers will probably be playing catch up.

Starting a new career, moving in to his own place, thinking about future plans… it’s all part of being a grown-up. Reassure him that you’re there to guide him or simply listen as he develops that all-important independence.

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