According to SmartAsset’s 2020 ranking1 of best cities for new grads, seven of the top 10 cities for new college grads are located in the Midwest. All seven cities rank within the top half of the study in the fun category and within the top 60% in the job placement category.
Even with good job prospects and affordable living options, getting your finances in order as a young adult can seem daunting. So, whether you crossed the stage in person (socially distanced, of course) or virtually this year, here are four tips to get your post-college finances on track:
One of the perks of living in an affordable city is that every dollar you earn buys more, which helps your budget. The biggest key to creating financial success is focusing on your budget surplus – the amount of money left over after all your expenses. You may not be able to save a lot right after graduating but taking full advantage of the affordable living in your city is a great way to pay down debt, start saving, or finally get your own place.
A budget helps you figure out whether your income is enough to cover your spending – or if your spending is at the right level to be covered by your income. There are many different budgeting methods to choose from, but a simple way to start is writing down your monthly income and expenses and seeing how they line up. Our Panorama budgeting app can help you track and categorize your spending, so you have a clear picture of where your money is going.
If your spending exceeds your income, you may need to look for ways to cut back on expenses. For example, you may need to eat out less often. If public transportation is available in your city, you may want to consider using it to commute to work rather than paying for gas and parking. Once you’ve made some adjustments and your budget is squared away, you can start directing any surplus income toward your other financial goals.
Often, one of the largest expenses for new grads is student loan payments. No matter what your balance is, it’s important to have a plan of attack for your student loan debt. Most student loan programs don’t require payments until after graduation, so start factoring these payments into your budget now. In 2019, the average monthly student loan payment for U.S. graduates was $393.2 And according to the Ohio attorney general’s office, Ohio students graduate with an average debt of more than $30,000.3
As you enter the job market, be sure to consider the availability of student loan assistance, which some employers offer as a perk. If you elect to work for a nonprofit, you may qualify for federal student loan forgiveness.4 When comparing job offers it’s important to evaluate the entire benefits package, including fringe benefits that can have a long-term impact on your finances. If you’re struggling to meet the monthly amount of your federal loans, you can look into income-based repayment options5 that cap your monthly payment at a percentage of your income. If, on the other hand, you’ve got extra cash on hand, consider paying more than the required monthly minimum to pay down your debt faster.
An emergency fund is a critical part of your financial security. It can keep your budget on track even when something unexpected happens such as repairing your car because of the daily adventure on I-75 or covering your living expenses if you lose your job. (Sadly, it’s not for last-minute tickets to a Reds, Colts or Wildcats game.)
Without an emergency fund, you’d need to cover those bills with credit cards or other high-interest debt, which is not the path to financial success. It’s important to focus on an emergency fund early in your adult life, even if it puts other financial goals on hold. Start right by paying yourself first and building an emergency fund even if you’re just saving a little at a time. Set a goal for saving three- to six-months’ worth of expenses to help you be better protected.
It may seem a long way off right now but saving for retirement early can have a major impact on your financial success. The average American spends about 20 years6 in retirement, which is a long time to live off what you’ve been able to save up. The sooner you start putting money away for your post-work years, the easier it will be to grow your nest egg into something big enough to support your retirement goals.
One way to start saving is to contribute to your company’s 401(k) plan if available—especially if your employer provides a matching contribution that could increase your investment right from the beginning. Start out saving what you can, then gradually increase the amount over time.
Even though you’re just starting out, the decisions you make today will affect you for a long time. Because of compounding, the earlier you save every dollar, the more chances those dollars will have to grow before you retire. It’s important to make sound financial decisions while achieving balance so that you can enjoy our wonderful city. So, work hard and create a budget so that you can take time out to enjoy the Colts, Pacers, FC Cincinnati games, the Kentucky Derby, or a day at the zoo.
1 2020, SmartAsset “Best Cities for New College Grads – 2020 Edition.” https://smartasset.com/checking-account/best-cities-for-new-college-grads-2020
2 2019, Credit.com “U.S. Average Student Loan Debt Statistics in 2019.” https://www.credit.com/personal-finance/average-student-loan-debt/
3 Ohio Attorney General. https://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Individuals-and-Families/Consumers/Student-Loan-Center
4 Federal Student Aid, Office of the U.S. Department of Education. https://studentaid.gov/manage-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service
5 Federal Student Aid, Office of the U.S. Department of Education. https://studentaid.gov/manage-loans/repayment/plans/income-driven
6 2019, Employee Benefits Security Administration, United States Department of Labor. https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/EBSA/about-ebsa/our-activities/resource-center/publications/top-10-ways-to-prepare-for-retirement.pdf
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