The magical moment of throwing your graduation cap up in the air is the culmination of years of studying and hard work in the name of that one suspended second of celebration. And when it's over, coming down can be a hard fall. The reality of finding employment and paying back student loans is infinitely more stressful than any problem that you struggled with in college.
The easiest way to minimize post-grad financial stress and strain is to lessen financial demand. That means finding ways to cut back on as much spending as possible so that you can allocate more money not only to debt repayment, but also to savings, and dare I say it, retirement, as well.
Here are some simple ways to start saving after the graduation glory fades away and the real world bills start rolling in:
Move back home.
After four years of freedom from Mom and Dad's house rules, the thought of moving home might seem like the biggest buzz kill to your post grad party, but the reality is, housing is going to be by far your largest expense, and the more you can do to reduce it or eliminate it, the better.
Just don't go home expecting a free ride. If Mom and Dad are nice enough to let you stay for free or on the cheap, be ready to contribute to the food and household supplies and help out with regular household duties. It will still be a lot cheaper than getting your own place and having to manage it all on your own.
While microwaving ramen might have been enough to get you by between the surplus servings of prepared foods included in your meal plan, taking the time to develop a little more skill in the kitchen can pay off big time. Eating prepared foods in the "real world" comes at a premium. One trip to the salad bar at Whole Foods will teach you that lesson quickly. Instead, find recipes for the dishes you love online and learn to make them yourself. Start with one or two go-to meals you can master and expand from there. And don't forget to make extra servings to package up and take to work. It's time to start brown bagging again!
Find the deals and freebies.
The sooner you get into the habit of questioning traditional retail pricing, the better. There's almost always a cheaper or better way to do or purchase something. Take the time now to research the best values, develop price comparison strategies and learn to use money saving websites and apps to their full capacity.
It will be a lot easier to go to the grocery store and take the time to calculate which product's unit pricing serves you best now than when you're carting around your screaming first-born.
Ditch the party lifestyle.
Blowing all your earnings on booze is so not cool, or sexy, or smart. You might still be enjoying your prime partying years, but that doesn't mean serial splurging on expensive club covers and $14 cocktails. Instead, find ways to be social without committing budget suicide. Potlucks, free concerts and events and the occasional happy hour are all great alternatives to overpriced restaurants, costly entertainment and pricey drinks. In other words, find a lifestyle that fulfills your appetite for fun without totally destroying your finances
Kick the habit.
Whether it's smoking or Starbucks, anything that you spend money on habitually is worth cutting out, if only to break the habit. For me it was hot chocolate. I know it sounds innocent enough, but at three dollars a day, my constant sweet tooth satisfaction was costing me $90 a month!
I'm all about finding alternatives, like making your own treats, or indulging in moderation only (except when it comes to cigarettes -- those should be cut out altogether). Knowing that you can stop and choose to make that purchase rather than mindlessly buying out of habit is a powerful lesson that is best learned early on.
These savings strategies will not only help you put more money toward your bills and in the bank, but they'll also help you develop a pattern of responsible spending and a conscious approach to making purchases of any kind, making you better prepared for whatever the "real world" throws your way long after graduation day.
Stefanie O'Connell is a New York City based actress and freelance writer. She chronicles her struggle to "live the dream" on a starving artists' budget at thebrokeandbeautifullife.com.
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