5 Financial Tips for Grads

Passing your final exams and getting the last of those 15-page papers written might have seemed tough. But as graduation looms, so do the challenges of the real world, including the challenges of personal finance. You're likely to get lots of advice from many different people as your high school or college graduation approaches. These financial tips for grads will help make sure you get your post-academic life off to a great start, at least from a monetary perspective.

Don't Ignore Student Loans

If you attended college, it's likely that you have at least some student debt. About 70 percent of graduating seniors in 2015 had student loans, according to The Institute for College Access and Success. The average amount of debt was more than $30,000.

Whether the total of your loans is close to the average or not, you don't want to bury your head in the sand about them. Make at least the minimum monthly payments on your loans or more if you're able. If you have student loans from the federal government and are struggling to make payments, check out the various repayment plans available. Several repayment plans are based on your income and offer loan forgiveness options after 10, 20 or 25 years.

Make (and Stick to) a Budget

To avoid financial stress and debt, you need to spend less than you earn. One of the best financial tips for grads is to make and stick to a budget. Look at how much money you have coming in each month, total up your expenses, then find ways to trim if necessary. Using a budgeting app will help you keep track of your income and spending and can also show you where you're going over on a regular basis.

Start Saving for Retirement

You're young, and retirement seems so far away. But the truth is that the earlier you start setting money aside for retirement, the more money you'll have, even if you ultimately save less. For example, according to CNN, if you save $3,000 per year for 10 years and start at age 25, by the time you reach 65, that $30,000 will have increased to $338,000 (with an annual return of 7 percent). But if you don't start saving until age 35, and save $3,000 per year for 30 years, your money will only grow to $303,000 (with a 7 percent rate of return), even though you set aside more money for a longer period.

Even if you can only save $100 or so per month, start making a dent in your retirement as soon as possible.

Try to Avoid Lifestyle Creep

The student lifestyle of cheap foods, hand-me-down furniture and dollar store decor is only appealing for so long. But, as you start to make more money after graduation, try to hold back on upgrading your lifestyle too much. Instead, focus on saving as much of your disposable income as possible. There'll be plenty of time for designer furniture, fancy trips and better cars later in life.

Get a Side Hustle if You Need One

Even if you quickly find a full-time job in your field, the salary might be a bit less than you were expecting or low enough that you have difficultly making ends meet or having enough money left over for saving or for other financial goals each month. This is where a side hustle--a part-time job or independent contractor gig--can come in handy. A side hustle can be something you dedicate just a few hours each week towards, such as driving for a ride share company or writing blog posts for a business. It can also be a traditional part-time job, such as working at a coffee shop or clothing store.

Your side hustle might be a temporary gig until you can find a better paying full-time job. Alternatively, you might find that your side hustle is where your passion really lies and decide to devote your life to it.

Your local credit union can help you get your financial life off to a great start after you graduate. Whether you need a savings account or checking account or are looking to open a retirement account, there are a variety of options available to help you on to a bright financial future.

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