Five Mistakes College Graduates Make (And How To Avoid Them)

You made it! You’ve graduated from college (or graduate school) and are well on your way to that job of your dreams. Not to mention – no more studying for finals! Is anyone else singing “It’s the most wonderful time…” No? Wrong season, I guess.

With graduation comes a wealth of new life experiences for recent college graduates. You are likely dealing with issues including figuring out living expenses, finding and obtaining a new job with the degree you’ve just earned, and determining how to manage all of the debt you accumulated in student loans over the past few years.

Honestly, these situations could make anyone a nervous wreck, and my guess is that you are feeling the stress of it as well. Knowing that and having been there at one point in time myself, I’d like to give you a little advice as to how to move forward with regard to your financial situation, advice that has been passed down from generation to generation, and yet disregarded by most.

In fact, college graduates are notorious for making the following five mistakes regarding goal setting, budgeting, credit cards, student loans, and employment that can (and do) result in a lifetime of grief and frustration.

They Don’t Create Goals

I say this over and over again, but creating goals is critical for future success. Just having a goal of wanting to make money and be successful doesn’t give you a real plan. How will you make the money? What is your definition of success? What steps will you need to take to make money and achieve that success?

You’ve graduated college now and it’s time to make goals for your future in the real world. If you had a list of goals you created after high school (good for you!!) it’s time to revisit it now. You can happily check off the goals you’ve completed over the past few years, and add any new ones related to your current dreams for the future.

If you’ve never created life goals, the time is now. Check out the printable goal planning worksheet and be specific in creating your and outlining the methods and steps you will take to achieve them. You will be able to measure the progress as you proceed, even when it doesn’t seem like you are making any headway.

Additional Goal Creating Resources:

Designing Goals Worksheet

Making Goals (and Reaching Them…)

They Don’t Have a Budget

Not having a budget is the easiest way to ensure that you will never have financial success. A budget is a tool that allows you to see where your money goes each and every month and to ensure that it’s paying the bill that need paying and funding the fun stuff as well (i.e. vacations, family gatherings, new purchases, etc.). College graduations, though, tend to get out of college, have a six-month grace period before paying off their student loans, and often find themselves in a job making more money than they know what to do with. It’s tempting to spend that money and, if you haven’t created any goals, you won’t have any reason not to.

I could point you in the direction of dozens of people in their thirties, forties, and even into their fifties who made the same decisions to spend instead of budget. Each and every one of them would tell you not to do it – not because they don’t want you to enjoy this newfound “wealth,” but because you will always be struggling to find feeling of financial security and will have a hard time achieving those long-term goals.

Create that budget, if you haven’t already, or reevaluate the one you do have. It might seem like the future is a long way off, but it’s not. These years matter more than you know.

Additional Budgeting Resources:

11 Things to Consider When Starting a New Budget

Four Opportunities to Consider When You Have No Money

The Art of Family Budgeting

Grocery Budget Survival: Strategies for Success

They Use Credit Cards

Speaking of things that will matter to you later in life: don’t even think about using those credit cards. They are NOT free money and they will result in additional frustration, possibly even including missed vacations, inability to purchase a home, and even, in extreme cases, the need to declare bankruptcy. If you find yourself tempted to use those cards for purpose of paying your monthly living expenses, revisit the budget and determine how you can cut back in order to prevent the need for those cards.

You will have to pay them off in the future, so it’s best to get your financial situation in order now, because those credit cards will max out quickly and you’ll be back to square one (plus the additional debt).

If you do currently have credit card debt, determine how you will pay it off. Include it in your budget and make a payment plan for yourself to get rid of it ASAP. The longer you have it, the more you will spend in interest and fees.

Additional Resources on Debt:

Eliminating Debt for Good: in 7 (Not Always) Easy Steps

They Don’t Assess Their Student Loans

One of the biggest mistakes a recent college graduate can make is not to address their student loans. If you were blindly accepting all of the financial aid offered to you over the course of your education and anxiously awaiting the excess payout at the beginning of each semester, you may not even be aware of how much money you owe now that you’ve graduate.

It’s time to find out.

Make a list of each loan you owe on, the financial institution the payments will be paid to, and the interest rate for each one. Apply for the repayment method that best suits your financial situation. Try to stick with a ten-year plan, even if the payment stretches your budget a bit. No one wants to be paying off those student loans twenty-five years out of college. And no, getting a higher paying job won’t make you want to pay more on them down the line. Make the plan to do it now and you’ll thank yourself later.

If you have a grace period, but have already received employment, immediately begin making payments. It will save you a lot of money in interest in the long run, and you will find that beginning your budget by including those payments, will make the budgeting part of your life much easier in the future.

Don't Make Mistakes today that will ruin tomorrow's plan!

Keep in mind that if your student loans default it will result in wages being garnished from every paycheck. Don’t make mistakes today that will destroy your opportunity to reach the goals you have laid out for your future.

Don’t make mistakes today that will destroy your opportunity to reach the goals you have laid out for your future.

They Don’t Seek Employment Immediately

Keeping in mind those student loans you just listed and the goals you created, it’s time to find employment immediately. One of the bigger mistakes college graduates make is to wait for that perfect job to come available. From a financial and employment standpoint, it’s better to take a job now, and work until that perfect one (if there is such thing) is available.

When I graduated college, my husband was still working on his degree. We lived in a college town, and employment in the field of education was hard to come by. I took an entry level job working at the University for a year, and am still amazed that, over a decade later, that short stint in that position opened up a myriad of opportunities for employment. Additionally, it allowed us to pay for our living expenses and food that year. Get a job – you won’t regret it.

Interviewing? Don't forget the Shoes!

There are a couple things you should keep in mind when searching for a new job. First, you can’t attend an interview wearing tennis shoes. Even if you are planning on being a gym teacher at the local elementary school, tennis shoes are not the right interview attire, however, we often focus on the clothing part of the interview and forget until the very last minute that we need shoes to go along with it. Check your shoes well in advance. (Give them a good polish if they looked scuffed like the ones in the photo!)

The second thing to remember is that your cover letter is the first thing a potential employer will see. In fact, it often is the reason a hiring manager will choose to disregard your application entirely or give you a call requesting an interview. Don’t skimp on the cover letter.

Need some tips and a template to get yours in order? Come back next week for an extensive tutorial on creating the best first impression and, hopefully, getting the job!

Welcome to Adulthood

Keep in mind, when life gets hard to handle and you’re looking around for an adult to deal with the issues – you are the adult now. Welcome to the real world!

Have an awesome day!

Love,

Sarah

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What I Wish I'd Known When I Graduated College...

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