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5 money lessons I learned after graduation

By Georgie Miller

5 money lessons I learned after graduation

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 1.7 million students will graduate from college this year. Graduation season is one of my favorite times of year. It reminds me of a time when the future was full of possibility.

However, there are some things about life and money that I wish I had known before entering the "real world."

1. Don't pigeonhole yourself

When I started looking at job ads, I was worried because I didn't see any that specified my major. However, I've been working happily for five years in a job with no explicit connection to my degree.

Employers want people with strong critical-thinking skills and the ability to work independently and collaboratively. The thing is, you can gain those skills in any major. Craft a resume that makes it clear your skills are transferable. Then be ready to articulate how you'll put those skills to work for your potential employers.

2. That grown-up salary sounds bigger than it is

When I got my first full-time job and learned the annual salary, I divided it by 26 pay periods in a year. My mind was blown! Then I actually got that first paycheck, and saw deductions for taxes, Social Security, Medicare, health insurance, vision insurance, dental insurance, a retirement plan and a parking permit. My take-home pay was only two-thirds of my salary!

While you can buy clothes at thrift stores and rent an apartment with roommates instead of buying a house right away, there also are start-up costs to being an adult. Bottom line: You'll make less than you thought, and spend more than you want. Consider planning for that spending by getting a zero-interest credit card or a rewards card in a category you know you'll spend in, such as a grocery credit card. You gotta eat, right? Just make sure you pay it off each month to avoid interest charges.

3. Retirement plans are your friend

Contributing to a retirement plan is mandatory at my employer, and every day I'm grateful. I love watching my balance grow faster than my contributions thanks to compound interest and the stock market's performance. I also love the peace of mind I get knowing my future is secure.

If retirement isn't mandatory at your first job, sign up anyway. You can also divert a portion of your paycheck to an online savings account throughout the year to build an emergency fund. If you never see the money in your paycheck in the first place, you'll never miss it.

4. There's still a lot to learn

When I graduated, I thought my learning days were over. Ha! I no longer take formal classes or get to pick and choose what I'm interested in. However, there's more to learn than ever. Some "grown-up" topics, such as insurance, don't fascinate me. Others have become unexpected new hobbies, like cooking from scratch or researching the best online savings accounts so I can get the biggest bang for my buck.

Plus I learn on the job every day. From people skills to computer programs, there's always something new. And I get paid to do it!

5. Adults have the real fun

Finally, just because your student days are behind you doesn't mean that fun is behind you too. The satisfaction I get from my financial successes has become an important part of my life.

And when I am able to budget in something fun, whether it's going to a movie or taking an international vacation, it's even more fun. Why? Because I earned it.

So get out there and earn it too.

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