Pursuing FI is well and good if you have an established job that pays you well. But what about those fresh out of college? I know when I graduated, I barely had enough in the bank to put a downpayment on an apartment, let alone start pursuing Financial Independence. What should a person do with their money after graduation?
It may not seem possible, but even recent college grads can start pursuing FI right now.Some of the best ways to manage your money after graduation include reading FI books, determine a budget, start investing, pay off student loans, and keep a positive mindset.
- Start Saving In College…Seriously
- Read A Ton Of Books About FI
- Find A Budget That Works For You
- Make A Smart Checking Account Choice
- Find Your FI Number
- Start Investing
- Start A Side Hustle As Soon As You Can
- House Hacking
- Pay Off Your Student Loans
- Use Your Credit Cards Correctly
- Keep A Positive Mindset
- Little Ways To Start Saving While You're Still In College
- Bottom Line
Start Saving In College…Seriously
All through college, I was constantly told I needed to start saving money or when I entered the “real world.” I, like 90% of other college students, completely ignored this advice for the most part. I went to bars most nights (when I was over 21, of course), went to the movies, and spent way too much in Target’s back-to-school section.
All of that in between paying tuition, room and board, and all of my other expenses. So by the end of each year, I was left with next to nothing from my two jobs. What does this whole story tell you? Don’t be like me, that’s what.
I should have been able to save more–or I should have at least opened a savings account (I only had a checking account.) So, heed my warning and start off on the right foot by opening a high-yield savings account.
I recommend CIT’s Platinum Savings Account because to get the very high APY, you’ll need to deposit at least $100 per month–so you’re essentially forced to save, or else you’re just losing money!
Read A Ton Of Books About FI
Any college student knows that you can learn a lot from books. There are plenty of books that can get you started on your FI journey.
To start, you can check out Brad, Jonathan, and Chris Mamula’s book ChooseFI: Your Blueprint For Financial Independence. They offer the basics of FI and include topics that cover:
- Developing a growth mindset
- Defining your values and aligning them with your spending
- Cutting years from your estimated retirement date
- Questioning the status quo on “required expenses”
- Cutting travel expenses and putting family vacations within your reach
- Learning how to earn more and live with abundance
Another favorite is JL Collins’ book Simple Path To Wealth. In this book, Collins talks in-depth about investing, retirement, avoiding debt, and more.
Related: Best Financial Independence Books
Find A Budget That Works For You
Until recently, there weren’t nearly as many budgeting apps and software programs as there are now. So there’s really not any reason you shouldn’t be budgeting your money.
I went through tons of apps…a ridiculous amount, in fact, until I finally found one that works for me. Actually, I use a combination of a couple of different methods.
I budget more old-school than most millennials–I use what is known as the “envelope method” of budgeting. The point of this budget is to take out cold, hard cash every month and put your allotted amount into different envelopes, which represent spending categories. When you have to take out cash, you see the money leaving the envelope, so you’re more aware of what you’re spending and how much you’re spending.
I pay many of my bills online, so this system doesn’t work for everything. I do, however, use it for the following categories:
- Eating out
- Grocery shopping
- Gas for the car
- Treats/food/toys for my cat and dog
- Clothes/and other miscellaneous shopping
Once I spend the money in these envelopes, I either have to draw from other envelopes or stop spending. I don’t use credit cards (unless they offer 5% on gas) or debit cards to spend in these categories.
If you’ve ever checked out the site before, you’ve likely seen a couple of articles mention You Need A Budget (YNAB). What I like about YNAB is the fact that every single dollar you make has a job. I put all my money in high-yield savings accounts or towards my monthly bills. Not a cent is left unaccounted for.
I’m not going to lie, I’m cheap, so I don’t actually pay for YNAB’s software, I just stole their philosophy and used a spreadsheet to manage my expenses. But that’s also because I don’t feel comfortable linking my bank accounts, and YNAB requires that for their best plan.
Make A Smart Checking Account Choice
The checking account you choose to place your money in may not seem like it should matter much. However, checking accounts today can either be a source of depletion for your money or a source of revenue.
Instead of choosing to open a checking account at a bank that charges you fees, find a checking account that will pay you for giving them the privilege of storing your money there.
Find Your FI Number
If you want to get a head start on your way to FI, understanding what goes into your FI number can help–that way you can see when you’ll really be able to reach your goal.
Here’s a handy calculator that can help you estimate when you’ll reach FI. Put in how much you’re saving and investing and how much money per year you’re putting into these accounts. The calculator can then give you a rough estimate of when you’ll be Financially Independent, and when you’re able to retire early.
Investing seems near impossible when all you have at the end of the month is a few bucks to your name. Lucky for you, there are investing apps that let you invest just a few dollars.
I recently started using Acorns–an investing app that automatically rounds up your purchases and invests the difference.
The sign-up process is easy, and you can get companies to invest in your Acorns account by shopping through them.
When you’re ready to start investing a little more than spare change, low-cost index funds are where you should consider putting your money. Index funds are portfolios of various stocks, that gives you exposure to many parts of the market, without you having to purchase individual shares.
VTSAX (Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund) is one of the most popular index funds, and for good reason. Vanguard only charges a 0.04% expense ratio. But know that you’ll need a minimum of $3,000 to get started.
Avoid Financial Planners
While it may sound easier to let someone else deal with your investing decisions, financial planners aren’t a good idea for beginner investors. There’s one simple reason why – advisor fees are extremely high. Most fees range from 0.25% to 7% of all your assets under management.
Compared to the 0.04% expense ratio that Vanguard charges on VTSAX, you can see why, when you’re starting out, taking the DIY approach is a lot better.
Start A Side Hustle As Soon As You Can
I had never heard the term side hustle until after I graduated and got into the personal finance writing game. But I’ve come to learn that side hustles are one of the most talked-about steps to FI.
You can budget and cut expenses, but if you just don’t have enough money to accomplish your goals as quickly as you’d like, then a side hustle is your answer.
A side hustle can earn you a little extra cash or could become a long-term career. When I finally got my act together, I took up a couple of side hustles in addition to my full-time job. I cleaned office buildings at night, worked my full-time job during the day, and wrote for a couple of blogs whenever I had extra time.
The FI community talks a lot about house hacking, which usually involves getting roommates or renting out an extra room so you can pay off your mortgage quickly.
Consider Living With Your Parents…Yes, Really
Right out of college, many of my friends lived with four or five roommates, and they still paid $700-$900 per month for an apartment that was much too small for that many people.
I hate to say it, but one of the best house-hacking tips for young folks is to simply stay living with your parents (if they let you.)
You won’t have to pay rent (or at least not a lot of rent,) you can help with the food bill, rather than paying everything off yourself, and you can save money in a high-yield savings account (see above) or even invest it.
If you’re lucky enough to own a home right out of college, Airbnb is one of the best ways to house hack. But, may actually be able to rent out your apartment on Airbnb (with the permission of your landlord, of course.)
If your lease allows you to sublet, you can do exactly what Zeona McIntyre did in Episode 133 of the podcast. She got to live alone but sublet her old roommate’s room on Airbnb. The guests she had through Airbnb ended up paying for her rent.
Since then, Zeona has bought six properties of her own and has built a successful Airbnb business.
Pay Off Your Student Loans
Do not put off paying your student loans. You can only reach FI when you’ve paid off all of your debt, and student loans tend to be the biggest hurdle.
Jonathan has talked in-depth about his own experience paying off a very large amount of student debt in just a few years.
If your debt is bogging you down, listen to Episode 4, where Jonathan tells his personal story and gives some suggestions on how to get off the hamster wheel and pay off your debt once and for all.
Refinancing is a key tool for paying off your student debt. When you refinance your loans, you combine all of your loans into one monthly payment, which often comes with a much lower rate than you’re currently paying. This allows you to get ahead of the interest payments and pay off your loans faster.
Travis Hornsby from The Student Loan Planner has been on the podcast several times this past year to talk about the incredible results he’s been able to get for those with high student loan debt with his customized student loan plans.
Cutting expenses and putting that money toward your loans is one of the fastest ways to pay down your debt. When you first get started, it may seem like you’re already living with the bare minimum, but there are still plenty of ways you can cut your bills.
Two of the easiest things to do to save money are:
- Try a different, less expensive wireless company like Mint Mobile – a FI community favorite. Check out our full review of Mint Mobile here.
- Work on cutting your food bill using resources like our collection of $2 recipes you can find right here.
Related: 12 Ways To Save Money On Groceries
Use Your Credit Cards Correctly
I’ll preface this by saying: if you can’t control your spending, don’t use a credit card. But if you can use a credit card to buy things you were already going to buy, and pay off your balance in full every month, you can earn some extra cash by using a rewards credit card.
My personal favorite is the Chase Freedom as I love the rotating bonus categories.
If travel is more your game and that’s one of the reasons you’re working towards FI (you’re like me!), then the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card might serve you better. It earns the ultra-valuable Ultimate Rewards points.
Keep A Positive Mindset
When you’re on the road to FI, and especially when you’re just starting out, it can seem like you’ll never reach FI. But know that it does. And you won’t get there without cutting expenses, budgeting, and saving now.
We talked about your FI number above. When you can save more, your FI number goes down, which means you’re one step closer to reaching FI!
Never Try To “Keep Up With The Joneses”
Keeping up with the Joneses is all about showing your wealth and spending lavishly to “keep up” with your wealthy social circle. But, in Episode 015R, The ‘Joneses’ Are Bankrupt, Brad and Jonathan talk about the fact that “the Joneses” will eventually end up bankrupt if they keep spending with abandon.
The lesson here? Wealth is not all about income. It is about your net worth (how much you have in wealth after all your debts are taken out). You need to save money, rather than constantly inflate your lifestyle by buying more and more.
Saving is so incredibly important because, as Mr. Money Mustache points out – Your savings rate, as a percentage of your take-home pay, is the shockingly easy way to determine how long it’ll take you to reach retirement.
Little Ways To Start Saving While You’re Still In College
Don’t Rack Up The Streaming Services
Streaming services may seem like they are cheap, but once you start using five or six of them, the cost can add up. Think about it: If you subscribe to all the basic plans of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, HBO, and Spotify that’s about $50 per month. Plus, that doesn’t include the hundreds of other subscription services out there.
If you can curb your spending now, you’ll be better off when it comes time to cut expenses on your way to FI.
Get A Low-Cost Cell Phone Plan
This may seem difficult for millennials or Gen Zers, but I’m a millennial and I’ve found that I prefer saving money to staring at Facebook on my expensive phone.
Mint Mobile is a great go-to for most people. They offer unlimited text and talk starting at just $15.
Buy A Used Car
A new car is not a necessity. In fact, many folks don’t even think it’s a good financial decision.
Every car I’ve owned has been a used car, and they’ve all served me well and lasted for years. You just need to do the research and make sure the car you buy is a reliable one.
I live in Maine, so I have to focus on cars that can withstand harsh winters. That means I stay away from sports cars, cars with rear-wheel drive, and any car that has some rust on it.
Anyone can work towards FI. It’s all about intentionally saving and spending your money in the right places.
Start small–open a high-yield savings account and invest your spare change. As you and your money grow, you can start being more aggressive with cutting back and investing.
- Beginner’s Guide To Financial Independence
- 6 Types Of Side Hustles You Can Start Today
- How To Get Started With House Hacking