The Four Most Important Financial Tips for Graduates

By Mary Jo Healey, Market Manager, Iowa

It’s that time of year – students in caps and gowns are marching down the aisles of high schools and colleges around the country to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.” It’s also the time of year many of those same graduates start getting serious about their finances.

Graduation means adulting, and adulting inevitably means finances. Finances are much more complex than the pre-graduation world of part-time jobs, allowances, and the occasional card filled with birthday money from Grandma. Instead, it’s things like car payments, rent or mortgages, retirement savings, and credit scores. And while financial literacy is a lifelong learning subject, here are four of the most important financial tips for graduates as they flip their tassels and move out into the real world.

  1. Accessibility Is Not Affordability – As graduates, you will have access to more credit than you dream of, and likely much more than you can afford to repay. It’s important to understand that just because we have access or ability to buy something does not mean we can afford to buy it. There are daily temptations, and it’s easy to justify certain purchases – what’s a new pair of shorts or a sweatshirt added onto the bill at the college bookstore, or the new iPhone with the MacBook required for your design class? But remember – you’re ultimately in control of yourself and your spending. And just because you took out a student loan for more money than you’ve earned in four years of working your part-time job during school doesn’t mean you’re rich! It bears repeating: just because we have the access or ability to buy something does not mean we can afford it. Say this to yourself daily. Write it on your hand when you go shopping. Make it your first tattoo during spring break! However you remember it, just make sure it’s your guiding financial principle as you head out into the world.
  2. Credit Cards Are Not Money – This one goes along with #1, and for good reason. Credit cards are as convenient – if not more convenient – as using cash. And it seems like you are spending money when you use them – a simple swipe, and the cashier gives you what you “paid” for. But in reality, each time we swipe, we’re not spending money – we are borrowing money. Every swipe of a credit card leaves us owing money and creates debt just like a loan would. This ties into what we said above: don’t confuse having “access” to buying (in this case, a credit card with an established credit limit) with actually affording to buy. Credit only creates access to a pool of debt, whereas, real money creates real ability.
  3. Wants Are Not Needs – This is a tough one for anybody to swallow, regardless of their age or stage in life. The truth of the matter is that once we have the ability to actually have the things we want, we tend to see them as needs and no longer as wants. Do you ever wonder how celebrities who make millions of dollars on a single movie or lottery winners who win hundreds of millions of dollars in a single day end up bankrupt and penniless in a few short years? It’s because they’ve confused their wants for needs, because they’ve developed the ability and access to buy nearly anything they want. They’ve fallen for the idea that the more they have, the more they need.
  4. Be Grateful – There is no way to express how important an attitude of gratitude is, particularly as it concerns finances. Gratitude affects every area of our lives every day. Make sure you take particular notice of how it affects your financial life. Are you able to work? Does your job allow you small pleasures like a good meal at a restaurant or a night out with friends? Concentrate on the memories that money is allowing you to create with people you care about. Were you given scholarships to attend a college or university? That’s free money that you don’t have to pay back via a loan after you graduate, and that you can potentially earmark for future goals like buying a house or starting a business.

Graduation’s an exciting time, but it’s also the time when many of us make decisions that impact the rest of our lives. Use these tips to make the best financial decisions possible and walk confidently into all the future holds for you! Congratulations!

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