Starting your first post-graduation job? Here’s how to organize your finances (2024)

NEW YORK (AP) — With graduation season over, many college grads are embarking on summer internships or their first full-time jobs. Navigating your finances when you start adult life can be challenging, from understanding your health insurance and benefits to managing a budget.

Finding a job is often the first hurdle, so if you’ve accomplished that, take a moment to be proud of yourself.

“Once you do get that first job, pat yourself on the back,” said Nick Holeman, director of financial planning for Betterment, a financial advisory company.

Then it’s time to think about your financial future. With credit card delinquencies growing and interest rates still high, it’s more important than ever for recent graduates to start their adult lives on the right financial track.

Here are recommendations from experts about how to do that:

Pay attention to onboarding instructions

Getting your first job is exciting, but the onboarding process can feel overwhelming. When you start a new job, most companies offer guidance about benefits such as your 401(k) and health insurance. It’s a lot of information, but it’s important not to ignore it, Holeman said.

One key thing to focus on is your employer-sponsored retirement plan. While many companies automatically enroll you, Holeman recommends you save more than the typical 2% to 3%. Automatic enrollment allows your employer to take a set amount from your paycheck to allocate to a retirement investment account. You can choose to opt out or increase the amount you contribute.

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“Because you’re automatically enrolled doesn’t mean you can’t go in and increase how much you’re contributing,” he said. “And that’s a great way to build those automatic savings habits that around going to take you throughout the rest of your career.”

Figure out your health insurance

This article is part of AP’s Be Well coverage, focusing on wellness, fitness, diet and mental health. Read more Be Well.

Some recent grads might stay on their parents’ health insurance while others might enroll in an employers’ health insurance plan. But if your job doesn’t offer health insurance, experts recommend you enroll in the Affordable Care Act.

“You shouldn’t go uninsured if you are going to be working for an employer that doesn’t offer health insurance,” said Louise Norris, health policy analyst for

While you’re navigating the ACA’s marketplace, you must take into consideration your budget, health, and availability of doctors in your area. If your employer offers several health insurance plans, Norris recommends learning the details of the plans, such as your deductible, co-pays and use policy.

If you’re generally healthy and don’t go to the doctor often, Holeman recommends you choose a high-deductible health plan, because it will allow you to save money in a health savings account, also known as an HSA. An HSA lets you set aside pre-tax money to pay for medical expenses, which can help you cut out-of-pocket costs when you visit the doctor.

Save for emergencies

Emergencies are tough to prepare for because you never know when they will happen and how expensive they will be. However, it’s a good practice to have an emergency fund that will alleviate some of the financial burden if something goes wrong.

“Think of your emergency fund as a ‘break glass in case of emergency,’” said Holeman, who recommended that you keep your emergency savings in a separate bank account.

Emergency fund amounts vary depending on each person’s circ*mstances but Holeman recommends that you save three to six months of expenses. This is an ideal scenario, but any amount of savings can be helpful in case of an emergency.

Manage your credit card usage

Credit cards can help build your credit score and develop good borrowing habits, but if not used carefully, they can also get you in a lot of debt.

If you’re taking out your first credit card, Holeman recommends that you choose something that you can keep for a long time, since an important factor in your credit score is the length of your credit history. Holeman recommends your first credit card is one that doesn’t have a yearly fee and is easy to maintain.

If you’ve had a credit card before, remember that to maintain a good credit score and not fall into credit card debt, you must pay off your balance on time every month. It’s best if you use your credit card to pay for things you can already afford, recommended Steve Pilloff, associate professor of finance at Costello College of Business at George Mason University.

“Use it as a way to make payments rather than a way to borrow money. Focus on the card and not the credit,” Pilloff said.

Adjust your budget

Budgeting is a key component of your financial life, whether you’re trying to save for your emergency fund or pay down debt.

Budgets change along with your finances, so when you land that first full-time position and maybe move to a new city, you need to change your budget to reflect your current financial reality, Pilloff said.

If you’re using your budget to find ways to cut costs, Holeman recommends you focus on big expenses, such as rent or transportation costs, rather than small ones such as coffee or shopping. If you have debt, Holeman also recommends you first focus on paying off high-interest debt. If you don’t have debt, focusing on building an emergency fund and saving for short-term goals is also a great place to start setting goals for yourself.

Budgeting is not a one-time process. In order to achieve your financial goals, you have to continuously assess and adjust, Pilloff said.

With apps like YNAB and EveryDollar, you can access and easily modify your budget at any time. However, the best way to stick to a budget is finding the format that best works for you, whether that’s an Excel sheet or a notebook.


The Associated Press receives support from Charles Schwab Foundation for educational and explanatory reporting to improve financial literacy. The independent foundation is separate from Charles Schwab and Co. Inc. The AP is solely responsible for its journalism.

Starting your first post-graduation job? Here’s how to organize your finances (2024)


How do you manage finances after graduation? ›

How Can You Save Money as a New Graduate? Your first priority should be to create an emergency fund. Also, take advantage of employer-sponsored retirement savings plans such as a 401(k), if possible. Pay off high interest debt, like credit card debt, as soon as possible, and make a plan to pay back your student loans.

How to organize your finances for beginners? ›

Five Ways to Organize Your Finances
  1. Create a budget. Take a serious look at where your money goes. ...
  2. Track your spending. One of the easiest ways to keep your finances organized is to track your spending. ...
  3. Pay bills on time to avoid late fees. ...
  4. Keep joint accounts balanced. ...
  5. Set a savings goal.

How to get your finances organized in 12 steps? ›

12 Steps to Financial Wellness
  1. Step 1: Track your spending. ...
  2. Choose your tools. ...
  3. Review your checking account and credit card statements. ...
  4. Review and categorize your purchases. ...
  5. Step 2: Create a budget. ...
  6. Step 3: Pay down debt. ...
  7. Step 4: Talk money with your partner. ...
  8. Step 5: Practice mindful spending.

How do you sort out your finances? ›

  1. Review Your Budget Monthly.
  2. Use a Financial App.
  3. Keep Bills in One Place.
  4. Pay Bills the Day You Get Them.
  5. Use a Checklist for Bills You're Expecting.
  6. Coordinate with Significant Others.
  7. Verify that Your Paycheck is Direct Deposited.
  8. Use Two Bank Accounts.

What is the 50 30 20 rule? ›

The 50-30-20 rule recommends putting 50% of your money toward needs, 30% toward wants, and 20% toward savings. The savings category also includes money you will need to realize your future goals.

How to make a post-grad budget? ›

How to Create a Post-Grad Budget
  1. Step 1: List your income sources. The first step to creating your post-grad budget is evaluating your current financial situation. ...
  2. Step 2: List your fixed expenses. ...
  3. Step 3: List your new expenses. ...
  4. Step 4: List your variable expenses. ...
  5. Step 5: List your savings expenses.

What are the 4 basics of financial planning? ›

In this article, we'll explore the four steps that form the foundation of effective financial planning.
  • Assess your financial situation and typical expenses. ...
  • Set your financial goals. ...
  • Create a plan that represents your present and desired future. ...
  • Fund your goals through saving and investment.

What are the four walls? ›

Personal finance expert Dave Ramsey says if you're going through a tough financial period, you should budget for the “Four Walls” first above anything else. In a series of tweets, Ramsey suggested budgeting for food, utilities, shelter and transportation — in that specific order.

What is a simple rule for managing your finances? ›

The rule is to split your after-tax income into three categories of spending: 50% on needs, 30% on wants, and 20% on savings. 1. This intuitive and straightforward rule can help you draw up a reasonable budget that you can stick to over time in order to meet your financial goals.

What is the 1234 financial rule? ›

§1234, Options

An option is the right (granted in return for consideration) to buy or to sell property at a stipulated price on or before a specified future date. "Property" means stocks and securities (including stocks and securities dealt with on a "when issued" basis), commodities, and commodity futures (Reg.

How do I start keeping track of finances? ›

How to Track Expenses in 4 Simple Steps
  1. Step 1: Create a Budget. You won't be able to track expenses without one. ...
  2. Step 2: If You Make Money, Track It. When your regular paycheck comes in, enter that amount in the income part of your budget. ...
  3. Step 3: If You Spend Money, Track It. ...
  4. Step 4: Set a Regular Rhythm for Tracking.
Apr 17, 2024

How to make a simple financial plan? ›

9 steps in financial planning
  1. Set financial goals. A good financial plan is guided by your financial goals. ...
  2. Track your money. ...
  3. Budget for emergencies. ...
  4. Tackle high-interest debt. ...
  5. Plan for retirement. ...
  6. Optimize your finances with tax planning. ...
  7. Invest to build your future goals. ...
  8. Grow your financial well-being.
Jan 5, 2024

How to start organizing finances? ›

Organize and Automate Your Bills

List all of your bills, including utility bills, subscriptions and minimum debt payments, in one place. Write down the due date and typical amount due next to each provider's name. Use your bank or credit union's bill payment center to make it easy to track and pay bills.

How do I manage my finances like a pro? ›

How to manage your money better
  1. Make a budget. According to the Capital One Mind Over Money study, people dealing with financial stress struggle more with budgeting. ...
  2. Track your spending. ...
  3. Save for retirement. ...
  4. Save for emergencies. ...
  5. Plan to pay off debt. ...
  6. Establish good credit habits. ...
  7. Monitor your credit.

How to start budgeting? ›

Follow the steps below as you set up your own, personalized budget:
  1. Make a list of your values. Write down what matters to you and then put your values in order.
  2. Set your goals.
  3. Determine your income. ...
  4. Determine your expenses. ...
  5. Create your budget. ...
  6. Pay yourself first! ...
  7. Be careful with credit cards. ...
  8. Check back periodically.

How do you manage finances in grad school? ›

Tips for managing your finances

If possible, set an emergency fund aside in a savings account that covers at least three months of core expenses. Strive to pay off your credit card and other high-interest balances every month. Never be late on a payment, since late payments usually incur fees or other penalties.

How much money should you have after graduating college? ›

Make saving for an emergency a priority.

A good rule of thumb is to strive to have 3-6 months' worth of expenses saved.

How do I manage my student loans after graduation? ›

The Top 10 Student Loan Tips for Recent Graduates
  1. Know Your Loans: ...
  2. Know Your Grace Period: ...
  3. Stay in Touch with Your Lender: ...
  4. Pick the Right Repayment Option: ...
  5. Don't Panic: ...
  6. Stay out of Trouble! ...
  7. Prepay If You Can: ...
  8. Pay Off the Most Expensive Loans First:

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