After countless hours of preparation and rocking multiple interviews, you receive the glorious news that you’ve been hired at the company you’ve had your heart set on since you first discovered the job posting. Landing your first job brings a flood of excitement and elation — but also a lot of worries and anxiety about whether or not you’re doing things right. Besides the stress of fitting in with your new team and learning the ins and outs of your new job, there’s the financial aspect of learning how to plan for your future.
You might be reading this and thinking: “Negotiate my salary? For my first job?”
Absolutely. While interviewing for a position, do your homework and research similar positions in the surrounding area to see what the usual pay range is. Keep in mind that you should be realistic, and shouldn’t necessarily shoot for the high end of the range. However, you can respectfully present the data to the hiring manager, and ask if there is any room for negotiation, given that you have x, y, and z skills from the internships you have completed (again, you’ll need data and valid reasons on why you deserve the pay bump, so be prepared!). Also, keep in mind that the employer may not budge on their offer, but you can use this discussion to talk about performance expectations. Nailing those will help get you there for your next review. Check out this article for a complete how-to negotiate your salary.
2. Learn about and actually use your company’s benefits.
I know, I know: the employer handbook and benefits package is a lot to absorb. But I promise it’s worth it. I’ve been at my current company for over 2 years, and just discovered my company offers a benefit which has an advocate call my insurance company to deal with and negotiate my medical bills on my behalf. I detest spending time doing that myself, and could have saved myself lots of time had I taken the time to read through the leaflet they gave me. Plus, other perks such as commuter benefits equal tax savings. Obviously, benefits differ by company. But the point is that you could be leaving free money (and time) on the table by not getting up to speed on what your company offers.
3. Contribute to your employer-sponsored retirement account, and meet the match (if one is offered).
To piggyback on the point above, use and prioritize your employer-sponsored retirement account. The best retirement savings advice is to start as early as you possibly can. There are a number of articles out there that illustrate the power of compound interest, but here’s one that shows the difference between two savers: one who starts at 25, and another who starts a mere ten years later. And if there is an employer match, contribute at least enough to meet it. You’re literally throwing away free money if you don’t.
4. Create a budget and plan for your future.
Once you know what your paycheck will be, write down the money coming in, as well as monthly and annual expenses that you can track. Then, think about the goals you want to reach in the next five to 10 years. Do you want to travel, buy a house, get married, or have a baby? Create an action plan on how you’re going to save for and achieve these financial milestones. There are tons of apps to help you get started, like You Need a Budget (YNAB) and Mint.
5. Pay yourself first; automate those payments to your savings account.
If you don’t already have one, create an emergency fund (you can choose an online high yield savings account, there are quite a few currently offering 2% interest or more). You’re never going to know when an inconvenient flat tire or other emergency can happen, so better to be prepared. Set up the account so that every time you get paid, it automatically deposits a set amount. Experts recommend 3-6 months of expenses in case of job loss or other emergencies (because when it rains, it pours). Additionally, you can set up savings for other short and long term goals as well — like that vacation you want to go on or the house you’re hoping to buy in a few years. You’d be surprised how fast savings build when you set it and forget it.
6. Make a plan to pay off student loans and other debt.
After you have your emergency fund situated, focus on the outstanding loans or consumer debt you have. There are different methods for paying them down: the Snowball method focuses on paying off the smallest balances first, thereby eliminating a balance and giving you a sense of achievement. The Avalanche method focuses instead on your highest interest debt first (regardless of balance), saving you more money in the end. Ultimately, whichever method works best for you is all that matters as you work to eliminate your debt and make your money work for you.
7. Meal prep your meals and take your lunch to work.
Possibly the most underrated way to save money is to take your lunch to work every day (and if you can’t do everyday, most days). It’s easy to drop $10 or more on lunch, which really adds up over time. If you can try to limit eating out to once per week (or less if you really have the motivation and willpower), you’ll be saving lots of cash that you can put towards debt or your emergency savings.
You’re making real money now, and you can spend it any way you want. That’s exciting. Sometimes it takes real willpower to remember that you don’t want to end up like Carrie from Sex and the City (with $40k of shoes and nowhere to live). Extreme example? Sure. Just remember that future you deserves the best, and by making these smart money moves you’ll be a step ahead.